What to Feed a Cat for Weight Gain

by Liz Bales DVM

When veterinarians talk about a cat’s weight, it’s usually focused on feline obesity.

While obesity is a prominent health issue among cats, many cats are also struggling with being underweight. And similar to losing weight, gaining weight gain can also be a tricky issue for cats. It’s not just about changing food portions.

First, you’ll need to find out why your cat is losing weight. Then you can determine a plan of action that includes a diet that will safely help your cat return to a healthy weight.

Create a Plan of Action for Your Cat

Once you and your veterinarian have a plan for treating the underlying disease, you can get to the hard work of weight gain. Your veterinarian will likely have specific suggestions for your cat based on their age and medical needs.

A diet that is customized to your cat’s specific medical condition is likely to result in the best outcome. Your vet will also identify your cat’s ideal weight, and can do regular weigh-ins to make sure that your plan is effective and that your cat does not exceed his/her ideal weight.

For sick cats, returning to a healthy weight is about more than just calories. Diets for specific conditions are customized to have the right macronutrients and micronutrients to provide weight gain while addressing the unique disease-related concerns.

What to Feed a Cat to Help Them Gain Weight

If your cat’s medical problem is under control—parasites are treated or painful teeth are pulled—correcting the calorie deficit may be the only treatment necessary.

Here’s what your veterinarian will look for in a healthy cat food for weight gain.

Find a Type of Food That Fits Your Cat’s Preferences

The most important first step is to find a food that your cat enjoys eating but that doesn’t cause stomach upset. You want a food that fits their dietary requirements but is also highly palatable so they will want to eat it.

It’s not unusual for a cat to have a strong preference for a specific flavor, type (canned/dry) or even texture of food. The same goes for a cat being repulsed by one or more of these factors.

Navigating your cat’s preferences is the first, and most important, step of getting your cat to eat well.

Make Sure the Food Fits Their Nutritional Needs

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that cats need to get the essential nutrients for their health from animal products.

The natural prey for cats, such as small rodents, are estimated to contain around 55% protein, 45% fat and 1–2% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis.

Although the macronutrient breakdown of prey is only 1-2% carbohydrate, most cats can use up to 40% of their diet in the form of carbohydrates as a good source of energy.

In general, dry food contains more carbohydrates than wet food.

Cat Food Options for Weight Gain

Good quality kitten food is an excellent choice for weight gain in healthy cats. And most cats enjoy eating kitten food.

Royal Canin Feline Health nutrition dry cat food for young kittens is nutrient- and calorie-dense and tends to be highly palatable to most cats.

Your veterinarian can also prescribe high-calorie cat foods like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Recovery RS canned cat food or Hill’s Prescription Diet a/d Urgent Care canned cat food.

These formulations are highly digestible and provide the extra calories your cat needs to gain weight.

Calculate How Much to Feed Your Cat

Once you have found a food that fits your cat’s needs and also gets them excited about mealtime, it’s time to work out the right portion sizes.

Math is our friend here. In general, for gradual and healthy weight gain, it’s best to assess your cat’s resting metabolic needs and then to feed this amount of calories plus 20% more.

Your vet can help you translate this into the correct amount of the food to feed.

Tips for Helping a Cat Gain Weight

Addressing the underlying health issues, selecting the right food and figuring out how much to feed are vital for success.

But that’s just the starting point. Once you have that sorted, you will need to establish a feeding routine.

Here are a few tips for getting your cat to eat reliably and gain weight safely.

Feed Small, Frequent Meals

A cat’s stomach is only about the size of a ping-pong ball. So it’s normal that your cat won’t eat a lot all at once.

Whether your cat prefers wet food, dry food or both, try feeding one tablespoon of food every few hours.

These small, regular meals are better tolerated than large meals and can reduce the risk of vomiting after a meal.

Try Warming Up Your Cat’s Wet Food

Cats are stimulated to eat by the smell of their food. Warming up wet food can help make the food more aromatic and enticing to your cat.

To heat your cat’s food, put their food in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it for a few seconds.

The optimal temperature for most cats is at, or near, their body temperature—38.5°C (101.5°F).

Offer the Right Snacks Between Meals

Healthy snacks between meals can aid in putting weight on your cat.

Try tempting your cat with a few high-protein, simple bites of freeze-dried chicken, like PureBites chicken breast freeze-dried raw cat treats, between each meal.

Decrease Your Cat’s Anxiety

A calm cat is a happy cat, and happy cats are more likely to have a good appetite.

Cats are solitary hunters and solitary eaters. That means that they prefer to eat their meals without being bothered.

When your cat has been unwell, it’s normal to want to hover over them. But your cat will likely eat better if you give them some space.

Talk to Your Vet About Appetite-Stimulating Medicine

There are a few medicines available from your veterinarian that can help stimulate your cat’s appetite.

An hour or so after talking the medicine, your cat will feel the urge to eat. You can even ask if your vet can get the medicine in a transdermal form (patch or gel for the skin or gums), so that you can avoid having to give a pill.

Grow Fresh Air With Plants That Are Safe for Cats and Dogs

By Carly Sutherland

Plants that are safe for cats and dogs are great for decorating, but they can provide the benefit of fresh air for pets and pet parents alike.

 

Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, author and pet health expert, explains it like this, “These days, many houses are built for energy efficiency. This can mean fewer fresh air opportunities for people or their pets. For those who can open their windows wide, city living/pollution might make it such that the better air is on the inside.”

 

She goes on to say, “Stale air can adversely affect health. Stale air has higher levels of carbon dioxide, possibly carbon monoxide and other waste gases. Higher wastes mean less oxygen availability.”

 

Houseplants cleanse the air we breath from toxins found in many household products—formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide, just to name a few. These toxins are found in household cleaners, paint, solvents, vinyl, cigarettes—the list goes on. Plants play a vital role in improving indoor air quality and helping to remove trace levels of toxic vapors from the air.

 

Indoor, Pet-Friendly Plants Release Oxygen

 

One standout benefit is more oxygen. You may be wondering why more oxygen in the home is ideal. When we breathe, we inhale oxygen, and when we exhale, we are releasing carbon dioxide.

 

During photosynthesis, plants essentially do just the opposite. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which creates a healthy and symbiotic relationship between plants and animals (both human and nonhuman). Plants undoubtedly increase oxygen levels, and our bodies—as well as our pets’ bodies—certainly appreciate it!

 

Dr. Alinovi goes on to explain, “Oxygen is critical for good brain and muscle function. Therefore, stagnant air can lead to tiredness and brain dizziness, and can even affect heart function. The good news is, safe indoor plants help clean the air and increase oxygen concentration while decreasing waste products.”

 

As Dr. Alinovi explains, plants make great natural air purifiers!

 

Houseplants Can Raise the Humidity Level

 

According to a study conducted by Virginia Lohr of the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Washington State University, increased oxygen in the home isn’t the only benefit plants provide for both pets and owners. They also raise the air’s humidity by releasing water in the form of moisture vapor. This means softer skin, less dandruff on your furry family members, and clean and healthy airways for both you and your pets.

 

In a natural environment, a plant’s roots tap the groundwater table, and through a process known as transpiration, the water evaporates through its leaves. Evidently, the same thing happens in our home—of course with a different water supply.

 

Choose Plants That Are Safe for Cats and Dogs

Dr. David Dorman, DVM and professor of Toxicology at North Carolina State University of Veterinary Medicine, explains the importance of researching safe plants for dogs and safe plants for cats.

 

“Exposure of dogs and cats to household plants occurs commonly, especially with younger animals that tend to be very inquisitive. Some plants are extremely toxic to our pets. For example, cats ingesting small amounts of Easter lily leaves can develop life-threatening kidney failure. This is just one of many examples,” he says.

 

Dr. Dorman goes on to explain, “It’s important to remember that your pet cannot distinguish between safe-to-eat plants and those that are dangerous. The key to preventing poisonings in your pets is to prevent exposure.” Thus, don’t bring poisonous plants into the home with cats and dogs, period.

 

“Some plants can cause vomiting without actually being poisonous. Poinsettia and spider plants are an example [of this]. On the other hand, many lily species are poisonous, can cause kidney failure and should not be used in the home with pets,” says Dr. Alinovi. She suggests trying succulents and herbs in the home.

 

If you’re concerned that you pet has ingested a poisonous plant, or they’re showing symptoms of poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. The ASPCA and Pet Poison Helpline have valuable information regarding safe, non-poisonous plants for use around pets.

 

Here a few examples of plants that are safe for cats and dogs:

 

Ferns:

  • Boston Fern

Herbs:

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Lemon Balm
  • Rosemary
  • Sage

Perennials:

  • African Violet
  • Aluminum Plant (aka Watermelon plant)
  • Bamboo
  • Friendship Plant
  • Spider Ivy (aka Spider Plant)
  • Swedish Ivy

Succulents:

  • Blue Echeveria (aka Wax Rosette, Painted Lady)
  • Christmas Cactus
  • Haworthia
  • Hens and Chickens

Palms:

  • Areca Palm
  • Dwarf Palm (aka Good Luck Palm)

 

Consider Edible Grasses

The benefits of pet-friendly plants in the home will only work if they aren’t eaten or chewed-on, Dr. Alinovi explains. “The downside of trying to grow cat mint or edible grasses is they both taste great, and the challenge will be to keep pets from eating the plants. (If the plants are eaten, they will have difficulty cleaning the air.),” she says.

 

Having cat-safe houseplants and plants that are safe for dogs doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be nibbled on from time to time. This is where adding pet grass, such as The Cat Ladies organic pet grass kit with planter, comes in handy!

 

Dr. Dorman explains why some cats enjoy nibbling on indoor plants. “Some cats enjoy chewing on these types of grass materials. Other cats may occasionally develop vomiting even from this ingestion. Most high-quality cat food based diets are complete, meaning they provide all of the nutrients your cat needs—so supplementing their diet with plant materials is not required,” he says.

 

If your dog or cat enjoys a pet grass to munch on and doesn’t get stomach upset, then pet grass kits, like Pet Greens self-grow garden pet grass, might be the solution to keeping a happy pet.

 

Do your research on plants that are safe for cats and dogs, and add functional décor to you and your pets’ most treasured spaces for a healthier and happier home!