Don’t Let Your Senior Cat Become Skinny

I had always thought that domestic cats go through a phase in life when they become older and more sedentary, burn up less calories and therefore put on weight unless you fed them less or modify the diet. This is not entirely true.

20 year old cat
20 year old cat. You can the age in his face. The photo is from Wikimedia Commons.
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When domestic cats become older still to an age where they could be described as “geriatric”, they often lose weight and becomes rather frail. We have all seen the geriatric cat with the sad, old eyes and the dull coat looking rather skinny and accepting this is as a normal consequence of advanced years.

This need not be the case according to Dr Mark Peterson DVM writing for the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

He states that the idea that older cats be fed reduced energy senior diets is questionable.  Geriatric cats have increased energy requirements and nutritional needs.  They have a “higher maintenance energy requirement”.  In addition, geriatric cats do not digest protein as efficiently as they did when they were younger.  Further, “older cats also require high amounts of protein to maintain protein reserves compared with younger adult cats”.

Therefore unless the geriatric cat has an increased calorific intake through protein he/she is liable to lose muscle mass. Cats get most of their calories through protein and fats not carbohydrates.

This is where it gets complicated and I don’t want to go down a complicated route but simply flag up the concept that geriatric cats require increased daily protein intake compared to young to middle-aged cats.

Young to middle-aged cats require approximately 5.5 g/kg up to 11.5 g/kg.  This means, at the lower end, the normal, middle-aged cat requires five and a half grams of protein per every kilogram of body weight daily.  As both energy needs and protein requirements increase progressively as the domestic cat ages (starting at 10 to 12 years of age), in order to maintain lean body mass and optimum health, geriatric cats should be on a diet which provides at least 6 to 8 g of high quality protein for every kilogram of bodyweight, daily.

The big question is how do these figures translate to what we give our cat by way of commercial cat food?  How do you know that you are giving your geriatric cat 6-8 g of high-quality protein per kilogram of body weight?

It is going to be complicated to work out in my opinion and it may be too complicated for the average cat caretaker or too bothersome.  I would suggest that your veterinarian is consulted but the chart below may help.

chart to work out protein needs of geriatric cat

I hope this helps or at least raises some questions in the minds of cat caretakers. It did for me.

Source: Senior Cat Becomes a Skinny Old Kitty – Feline Nutrition

6 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Senior Cat Become Skinny”

  1. 1-What is the difference between crude and fed protein content? How does one convert it?
    2-if they have just lost weight and have not been fed enough protein based on the above, how do do you increase their protein and ergo weight?
    Note: they are almost 13 yrs old

  2. I share space with an 11yr. old Maine Coon female. She has has numerous health issues due to a hormone imbalance > wrong time for spaying ] and her genetics Part Bobtail Part Main Coon; which means a large body and short legs. Her tail is fluffy and long. She has had ear infections, cystitis once and several bladder infections and some arthritis_exacerbated by a jump she miss-calculated.She even had infected anal glands the vet had to treat. Her name Is Theo & we are a part of her family. I bathe her once or twice a week and spray her hind end in between with a top quality wound cleaner and aloe wipes. I run warm water and use natural oatmeal soap. I also pour 2-cups of braggs apple cider vinegar in her bath as this has stopped any more yeast infections. Theo’s ears are better since I no longer use any type of liquid ear drops [ the inner ear has to be dry to heal. I clean hers with a Q-tip and some alcohol on the tip and gently inside._____

    For her body I wash with Pantene & Conditioner with 1/2 tsp. of castile peppermint soap mixed in. This keeps the fleas off and keeps her coat shiny using the pantene smooth and sleek conditioner.Of course keeping fleas out of the house goes a long way. The last 2-times I applied Frontline and or Advantage to their necks-ALL my cats foamed at the mouth and got sick. Calliope still suffers long term effects from it’s past use and she has a weak heart and severe allergy sensitivities. I have to keep her environment calm and give her Dexamethasone. All of the long-term issues I am caregiving for them are an indirect result of the toxic poisons I finally threw out.
    Do they eat well you may ask? Yes. We serve fresh wet meat twice a day and smaller portions of natural dry 38% protein.They are normal weight. Theo, the 11-year old momma is large and always will be. Eva
    ftnt: I receive second glances whenever I have to take her to the vets. I don’t think this is fair.
    I have three other Maine Coons-her daughters who have their own set of priorities to deal with.
    Eva say’s_

  3. It’s noteworthy that there may be a natural decline in weight with a senior cat. Just as we do, cats lose muscle mass as they grow older.

  4. Thank you for posting this, Michael. The information you shared is exactly what my vet told me. When I recently took Samirah in for her senior wellness exam Dr. Nieberg told me that she’d gained 2 pounds. He said he really wasn’t that concerned because she looked better than he expected she would and the weight gain told him she felt relaxed enough to eat. She’s a tall, rangy cat with a very anxious personality.

    With her previous owner Samirah weighed nearly 16 pounds, which was way too big. The shelter got her down to 8.5 pounds; they fed her only Purina One dry food. I showed Dr. Nieberg the kind of wet food I feed her and he gave me a small plastic scoop for the dry food. He told me how many grams she should have a day and filling the scoop with dry food should round out that requirement. I know I can slightly increase or reduce the amount of dry food depending on how much wet food I give her.

    Naturally I don’t want her to pack on the pounds because of her possible arthritis. I read labels and I buy the best food for her. The vet and I agreed that she should maintain her present weight.

    • Watch for eating in older cats as well.
      My baby battled Feline Hepatic Lipsidoisis or Fatty Liver disease, She’s fine now. But it sure was scary. And she is about 6.


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