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Tales from the Pet Clinic

with Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Weight Loss in Older Cats

Billy the Cat

“Billy” / Photo by Lauren Marti

I saw a couple of my geriatric feline patients today. Billy and his companion cat, Melissa, are 16 and 17 years old respectively. According to the Feline Advisory Bureau, WellCat Lifestage Chart, my patients are 80 and 84 years old! Both cats are doing pretty well given their age and various maladies. Billy has hyperthyroidism and intestinal lymphoma. Melissa had another type of intestinal cancer over 2 years ago, has kidneys that don’t work quite so well and is hyperthyroid too. Not surprisingly, Melissa and Billy are typical for geriatric cats; they have more than one disease and have experienced weight loss over the past couple of years.

Why is weight loss common in geriatric cats? The answer is not as simple as running a blood test, diagnosing a disease and prescribing treatment. As cats age, many factors conspire to change your fat feline into a trim tabby.

Lymphoma, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are all perpetrators of weight loss in older cats. Like Melissa and Billy, many older cats suffer from multiple diseases. In cats with multiple diseases, treatment for one may worsen another. Take for example chronic kidney disease and heart disease. Kidneys need lots of fluid to work well and heart failure occurs when the body has more fluid than the heart can pump. When these two diseases occur simultaneously in a cat, appetite suffers.

Melissa the Cat

“Melissa” / Photo by Lauren Marti

Somewhere around 12 years of age, metabolic changes occur in cats and they are less able to digest fat and protein. Most cats will merely increase their intake of food to compensate. But older cats can also have a decreased sense of smell and taste, resulting in a diminished appetite. Couple a diminished sense of smell and taste with decreased digestion, add in a couple of bad teeth and you have a cat who is reluctant to eat and loses weight.

If you think your older cat, or any cat, is losing weight, see your veterinarian to confirm the weight loss and develop a plan for intervention. This plan will typically include a thorough physical examination, blood work and possibly x-rays to determine if there is an underlying cause for the weight loss.

Your veterinarian can also recommend a diet suited to the optimal management of your geriatric cat’s diseases. Some cats will benefit from a highly digestible diet, rich in calories and protein. These diets are typically high in fat. Cats find fat very tasty and high fat diets will encourage your trim tabby to eat. Other cats need protein restriction to manage their medical conditions. For cats with sore mouths or many missing teeth, a canned diet may be beneficial.

What are your tricks for keeping weight on your geriatric cat? Post your questions on the Pet Health Community.

Posted by: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM at 8:46 am

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