When most of us think about the equation of cat + weight issues, we tend only to consider one possibility: fat cats. And while being overweight is by no means good for your feline friend’s health, we often tend to forget about the other side of the spectrum. When your cat is losing weight for no apparent reason, you can’t help but worry.
Unintended weight loss is no less serious than feline obesity — it can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Regardless, it is a blight on your cat’s quality of life.
A handful of health issues can lead to feline weight loss. Many diseases have similar symptoms that an untrained eye cannot easily tell apart, so any official diagnosis requires a veterinarian.
Luckily, all you responsible, worrywart cat owners are in the right place! We’re here to educate you about feline weight loss. Keep reading to learn why your cat might be dropping pounds faster than Jenny Craig and what you can do about it.
Why Is My Cat Losing Weight?
There are a number of reasons why your cat could be losing weight. They may be ill, stressed, or even just picky about their food! You’ll have to do a bit of investigative work to get to the root cause of your cat’s weight loss.
Unintentional weight loss in cats can be concerning. And if you weren’t trying to help your cat shed some weight (especially if your cat is a bit older), there might be an underlying health issue that a professional should check for.
In most cases, cats lose weight because they simply aren’t eating enough. But, there are several other conditions that might cause weight loss even with sufficient food intake.
Cats suffering from psychological distress may willingly ignore their food, which can easily result in unhealthy weight loss. A few situations that may upset your cat include excessively loud noises, dirty food dishes, other animals in the feeding area, new environments, or proximity of their food dish to the litter box.
Being naturally sensitive to change, cats can also become stressed or anxious due to the disappearance of another pet or by a radical change in a routine.
If your cat suddenly stops eating and you notice a drop in their weight, but they’re otherwise healthy, the issue could be something as simple as a sore tooth.
Pawing at the mouth, foul breath, and drooling may be other signs of dental problems. Severe gingivitis or mouth ulcers will contribute to their discomfort and keep them from eating. When in doubt, bring your cat to a vet for proper care!
There are many issues within the gastrointestinal tract that might cause unwanted feline weight loss. When your cat is feeling queasy all the time, they may not want to eat. Digestive issues can also make it hard for them to hold down the food they do consume.
If you notice symptoms like a lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s likely there is something up with your cat’s stomach. Some common GI issues that could lead to weight loss in cats may include food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, or certain infections.
Diabetes is very common in both cats and humans. The condition requires extensive veterinary care and continuous treatment. Diabetes may be caused by a failure to produce the hormone insulin or an impaired ability to respond to it.
Diabetes may cause unwanted weight loss in cats and noticeable changes in appetite. Cats with diabetes may drink an excessive amount of water, act sluggish, urinate more than usual, and have sweetly scented breath.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
This particular virus (which most commonly targets cats raised in catteries) is known to cause significant weight loss. Cats infected with FIP will seem sick and have a fever that refuses to respond to antibiotics.
Cats that are over eight years old are at risk for hyperthyroidism. When a cat develops hyperthyroidism, its metabolism goes into overdrive. They lose an unhealthy amount of weight, have a very high heart rate, lose patches of hair, are ravenously hungry all the time, and often have trouble sleeping. Cats suffering from hyperthyroidism may also drink a lot of water and urinate large amounts.
To see if hyperthyroidism is the cause of your cat’s weight loss, your vet will need to do some bloodwork. Treatment involves manipulating the thyroid gland with either special food, hormones, or radioactive iodine treatment.
Is It Normal for My Cat to Lose Weight?
It depends. Did you put your cat on a diet? If so, then weight loss is normal (and congratulations!). Otherwise, those lost pounds could be a cause for concern. Unless they’re on a specified diet to do so, your cat should not be losing weight in excess. If this is the case, we highly recommend taking your cat to a professional to evaluate the situation.
It can be easy to minimize the impact of weight loss when talking about humans. After all, two pounds don’t tend to make much of a difference for us. But with the average cat weighing in at only 10 pounds, the loss of 20% of their weight could be a substantial risk to their health.
Is It Normal for Cats to Lose Weight as They Age?
Many Cat Parents believe that weight loss is normal, or even healthy, for older cats. This is actually not the case.
This myth is partly due to the fact that senior felines are more likely to develop medical conditions that may cause them to lose weight (such as kidney or thyroid diseases). These issues can contribute to that distinct “boney old cat” look.
If you notice unexplained or unwanted weight loss in your cat, it is essential that you take action and seek medical advice as soon as possible.
How Can I Tell If My Cat is Losing Weight?
Detecting weight loss in your cat is not always as easy as one might think. Their fluff and fur often camouflage lost pounds. This means you may not notice the issue until there is a big change.
It can be difficult to tell if a cat is losing weight, especially if it happens gradually, they have lots of hair, or were slightly overweight before. To best determine whether your cat is losing weight, look at their body from above. At an ideal weight, there should be a noticeable (but not extreme) tuck at their waist.
Another method is to run your hands along your cat’s sides. The ribs should be palpable with a thin covering of fat. Your cat is underweight if its ribs feel prominent and are visible.
How Much Weight Loss is Too Much for a Cat?
When limiting calories, veterinarians follow an essential rule for the desired rate of weight loss. When it comes to our feline friends, this is 0.5-2% of their body weight per week.
For example, say you’re the parent of a 100 lb Golden Retriever. Your sweet pup can safely lose about 1 to 2 lbs per week. Now, let’s say you’ve got a 20 lb cat; your friendly feline can only safely lose 0.2 to 0.4 lbs (roughly 4 oz) per week.
What Should I Do If My Cat is Losing Weight?
If your cat is suddenly dropping weight, we advise regularly monitoring their body and visiting the vet for a wellness examination.
Being extremely intelligent descendants of imposing apex predators, cats are natural experts at hiding their illnesses and injuries. But have hope! Your vet is also an expert of sorts (and ideally has received a much better education) and can detect any issues before they get out of hand.
Be sure to keep your vet updated about sudden shifts in your cat’s behavior As is the case for all living creatures, it is much easier (and quite advisable) to treat health issues in their early stages rather than wait for them to worsen. In the meantime, here are some other methods things you can try to help your cat gain weight.
Find More Appetizing, High-Quality Food
Cats can be picky eaters. If they don’t like the food in their bowl, they won’t eat it. Try experimenting with different brands and see if your cat prefers a certain kind. If your kitty is already a bit underweight, it’s best to look for premium cat food that is full of protein (not fillers or meat by-products). This will help them gain weight.
Regulate Their Feeding Schedule
Cats LOVE routine. If you’re not already feeding your feline friend on a regular schedule, try ensuring they eat their meals at the same time each day. This can help ease stomach issues, encouraging them to eat more.
Can I Give My Cat CBD?
You bet! Cats tolerate CBD very well, and it can help with a range of ailments. Best of all, CBD may naturally stimulate your cat’s appetite, helping them combat their weight loss.
CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural compound that comes from hemp. It’s non-psychoactive, so you don’t have to worry about it getting your cat high. Instead, CBD provides calming, balancing effects to many systems in your cat’s body (yup, digestive system included!).
When your cat doesn’t feel as queasy, they will be more tempted to chow down. CBD may help settle upset stomachs by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the digestive system. These receptors belong to a system-wide network called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for maintaining balance in your cat’s body.
How Much CBD Should I Give My Cat?
The amount of CBD you give your cat depends on their weight, metabolism, and the severity of the discomfort. Well, for the most part, it depends on their weight. We recommend 0.25mg of CBD per pound of bodyweight for an average dose and 0.5mg per pound for a strong dose.
So, say you have an eight-pound cat. To find their dosage range, multiply their weight by the desired dosage rate:
Average (0.25) : 8 x 0.25 = 2mg
Strong (0.5): 8 x 0.5 = 4g
Your cat’s ideal dose is 2-4mg of CBD!
What Can Happen if a Cat Loses Too Much Weight?
First and foremost, it is highly recommended that you take your cat to the vet if they are losing weight in excess, even after eating their normal meals.
A cat that loses too much weight can easily become malnourished, opening the floodgates to a stream of negative effects on its health. Harmful effects of feline malnourishment include, but are not limited to:
- Various Neurologic Symptoms. Malnutrition can be the cause of a large handful of neurological issues. For example, a cat deficient in vitamin B1 can develop a head tilt, become uncoordinated, and possibly have seizures.
- Hepatic Lipidosis. A life-threatening condition that develops when a cat uses fat stores for energy, which will generally happen only after 24-48 hours without food. This can quickly cause your cat to suffer fatal liver failure.
- Refeeding Syndrome. While the cat was without proper nutrition, its body burned through its reserves of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. This resulted in an electrolyte imbalance and dangerously reduced organ function. Overfeeding a malnourished cat can cause even more severe and now potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances, along with an overload of fluid in their depleted heart and kidneys.
When it comes to our cats and their health, unchecked weight loss can quickly become an issue just as serious, and potentially more fatal, than feline obesity. While there are a staggering number of pre-existing health conditions that can lead to feline weight loss, it is the responsibility of cat parents and general animal lovers to ensure that our furry feline friends are as healthy as they can be in our care.