The Best Food to Avoid Shrinking Kitty Syndrome

By Dr. Karen Becker

If you’re a cat person, you’ve probably noticed that many kitties seem to get thinner as they get older. This isn’t your imagination — in fact, research shows that a decrease in body weight is quite common in kitties over 11 years of age.1

There are a variety of reasons older cats lose weight. Today I’m discussing dietary considerations, but it’s important to note that other factors, such as stress and certain diseases can also play a role. For more information on those issues, read Shrinking Kitty Syndrome.

Studies show that both protein and fat digestibility decrease in cats after age 10.2,3 Dietary fat contains more calories per gram than either proteins or carbohydrates, so if older cats’ ability to digest fat is limited, it can have a major effect on their ability to extract calories from food.4

Research also shows that about 20% of cats 14 years of age and older don’t digest protein efficiently.5 A compromised ability to digest both fat and protein is likely a major reason senior and geriatric cats lose both fat and muscle mass.

The cause of this phenomenon hasn’t been identified, but in my opinion, long-term consumption (often a lifetime) of ultra-processed cat food containing poor quality, hard-to-digest ingredients plays a significant role.

Reducing Your Older Cat’s Protein Intake Isn’t the Answer

For many years, the veterinary community’s answer to the problem of reduced protein digestibility in older cats was reduced protein diets to mitigate compromised kidney and liver function. However, reduced protein cat food can be a recipe for disaster, because we now know aging cats actually need more protein than their younger counterparts.

In the 1990s, retired veterinary nutritionist Dr. Delmar Finco discovered protein requirements actually increase as pets age. He demonstrated that even in animals with kidney failure, restricting protein didn’t improve their health or longevity.6

In fact, Finco’s research proved cats on low protein diets develop hypopro­teinemia, which is an abnormally low level of protein in the blood. The cats had muscle wasting, became catabolic (lost both fat and muscle mass), and lost weight. The more protein was restricted, the sicker these kitties became.

Finco discovered it was the level of phosphorus in foods, not necessarily the amount of protein that exacerbated kidney disease, and thanks to his groundbreaking research, veterinary recommendations have changed.

These days, we recommend a diet containing excellent quality (human grade) protein that is highly digestible and assimilable for animals struggling with under-functioning kidneys and livers. We also recommend restricting phosphorus in the diet, but not necessarily protein.

If your cat is in the later stages of kidney failure, as defined by the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS), a reduced amount of protein is suggested, but should still be offered in a high-quality, kidney-friendly fresh food format.

We now know that cats, as true carnivores, require lots of high-quality, human grade animal protein not only to maintain good organ and immune function, but also to maintain healthy muscle mass as they go through life and the aging process.

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

The quality of the protein you feed your senior cat is of utmost importance. Highly digestible and assimilable protein, coupled with high moisture content, is the type of nutrition that causes the least amount of stress on your kitty’s aging organs.

It’s sort of a well-kept secret, especially among ultra-processed pet food manufacturers, that protein quality is extremely variable. There are highly assimilable and digestible animal proteins (proteins your cat’s body can easily absorb and derive nutrition from), and there are plant proteins that are both biologically inappropriate and difficult to process.

All protein has a biologic value, which is its usable amino acid content. Eggs have the highest biologic value at 100%. Fish is a close second at 92%. Feathers, as you might guess, have zero biologic value. They are technically animal protein, but they are neither digestible nor assimilable.

There are also foods that are high in (plant) protein but biologically inappropriate for cats. Soy is a good example, with a biologic value of 67%. Many popular pet foods contain soy as a protein source, as well as corn. This is an inexpensive way for pet food manufacturers to increase protein content on the guaranteed analysis printed on the label. But because soy and corn are not species-appropriate, they don’t belong in your cat’s diet.

Since digestion and assimilation are not always measured for pet foods, manufacturers are not penalized for adding protein that has little to no nutritional value for the species of animal eating it. Call your pet food manufacturer and ask if their meat is human-edible quality. “Feed-grade” meat is substantially cheaper (and potentially much less assimilable), which is why 99% of pet food companies use it.

In addition to corn and soy (as well as other grains) that are inflammatory and incomplete proteins for carnivores, there are many other reasons not to feed carbohydrates to cats. Mycotoxins, GMO’s, glyphosate exposure and sugar load (which leads to lifestyle-induced diabetes), as well as obesity and arthritis are all solid reasons to avoid offsetting high quality protein with cheap fillers.

The Best Diet for Most Older Cats

Some foods are metabolically stressful; for instance, grains and potatoes prompt a big insulin release. The nutrition that generates the least amount of metabolic stress for most cats, regardless of age, is whole, unprocessed, organic, non-GMO, and minimally processed (raw or poached). This of course includes human quality animal meat, which should be the foundation of your kitty’s diet throughout her life.

Foods that have not been highly processed are the most assimilable for a cat’s body. All the moisture in the food remains in the food, whereas foods that have been extruded (most dry food) can have drastically depleted moisture content — as low as 12%.

If you can’t feed fresh food (raw or gently cooked), second-best is a dehydrated or freeze-dried balanced diet reconstituted with plenty of water. Your cat’s kidneys and liver can be further stressed as a result of chronic low-grade dehydration, so all foods served dry can pose a problem long term.

I recommend serving your cat food in its natural state to provide needed moisture, and to insure the highest level of biologic assimilation and digestion. That means feeding a nutritionally optimal, antioxidant rich, species-specific diet that includes omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil.

Moisture is an aging cat’s best friend, so encourage yours to drink by offering a variety of glass, metal or food grade ceramic water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing (or preferably eliminating) dry food.

However, if your kitty is addicted to terrible food, adding a whole body supplement, such as Feline Whole Body Support is a good idea. Adding bone broth to a dry food addict’s meal is also a great way to increase hydration and fluid balance.

Additional beneficial supplements include SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) as a safe and effective way to stall mental decline, improve mobility and assist in liver detoxification. Consult your integrative veterinarian for the right dose size.

Periodic detoxification with milk thistle, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh cat grass to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.

For aging kitties with a cognitive shift that makes them prowl the house at night and vocalize, consider low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. I also use rhodiola, chamomile and l-theanine with good results.

Tips for Encouraging Your Cat to Eat

If your kitty is eating ultra-processed pet food, again, my first recommendation is to try to slowly and safely transition her to a balanced, fresh, organic, non-GMO, species-appropriate diet made with human grade ingredients. Whether her diet is fresh or processed, however, the goal should always be to make sure your cat eats something.

Unlike dogs and humans, it’s dangerous for kitties to go any length of time without nourishment, as it can lead to a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. Keeping your older cat well-nourished can require creativity along with some gentle prodding, and lots of patience. Things you can do to tempt her include:

Warming her food to bring out the aroma
Offering gently cooked food with a strong smell or topped with a sardine (packed in water)
Offering new food from a paper plate in case she’s developed an aversion to her food bowl for some reason
Offering a small selection of different flavors and textures of canned cat food or home cooked meat or bone broth
Enticing her with species-appropriate human food she has enjoyed in the past, such as warm baked chicken or salmon
If she’s addicted to dry food and refuses everything else, try adding warm water to each meal or add an aromatic enticement like tuna juice, warm goat’s milk, chicken broth or bonito flakes

It’s also important to make kitty’s mealtime a very low-stress, pleasant experience. Make sure you feed her in a calm, quiet environment that is optimally comfortable.

 

Cat losing weight? This may be why….

Cat losing weight?  This may be why….

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on November 8, 2019 by Dr. Elizabeth Bales, DVM as seen in PetMD

 

It’s not always easy to detect weight loss in your cat. The fluff of fur covering most cats can serve as camouflage for weight loss until there is a big change.

 

Unintentional weight loss in cats can be a cause for concern. If you weren’t trying to help your cat lose weight, and especially if your cat is a senior, there might be a health issue to blame.

 

The causes of unintentional weight loss in cats range from simple lifestyle changes to serious illness. Any noticeable weight loss in your cat warrants a visit to your veterinarian to rule out serious health conditions. They will be able to run the necessary tests to determine what might be at the root of the problem.

 

Here are some possible reasons why your cat is losing weight and what you should do about it.

 

Reasons Your Cat Might Be Losing Weight

 

Below is a list of a few common causes of weight loss in cats.

 

Not Getting Enough Food

 

Sometimes, your cat is eating less than you think.

 

Do you have another cat or dog in the house? Additional pets in your home could be eating your cat’s food or obstructing your cat’s access to their food bowl.

 

Or did you recently change brands of food? The calorie content in a cup of food can vary greatly from one brand to another.

 

Is the food dish up high on a counter? Your cat could be experiencing pain from arthritis that is making it difficult to jump up to where the food dish is.

 

Your veterinarian can help you determine if there are obstacles in your home that are preventing your cat from getting enough food.

 

Intestinal Parasites

 

Intestinal parasites are very common in cats and can lead to weight loss if left untreated.

 

Pregnant mothers can give their kittens parasites, and they can also pass parasites through their milk when they are nursing. Cats can also get parasites from hunting and eating prey, or even by walking through contaminated grass and dirt and then grooming.

 

Your vet can examine your cat’s feces to determine if he is carrying parasites that might be causing weight loss.

 

If parasites are the cause, a simple dewormer, directed at the appropriate parasite, can put your cat back on the road to a healthy weight.

 

Feline Diabetes

 

Diabetes is very common in cats and will require immediate veterinary care and ongoing treatment.

 

In addition to unexplained weight loss, diabetic cats typically drink an abnormally large amount of water and urinate large volumes as well.

 

Overtime, without treatment, diabetes is a fatal condition.

 

If your vet suspects diabetes, they will likely take blood and urine samples to confirm the diagnosis. Successful treatment involves diet changes and often insulin.

 

Feline Hyperthyroidism

 

Cats over 8 years old are at risk for hyperthyroidism.

 

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that is located in the throat. It produces hormones that perform many functions, including regulating the body’s metabolism.

 

When a cat becomes hyperthyroid, their metabolism goes into overdrive—they lose weight, are ravenously hungry all of the time, have a very high heart rate, and often meow at night and have trouble sleeping. They may also drink a lot of water and urinate large amounts.

 

Your vet will do bloodwork to see if this is the cause of the weight loss.

 

Treatment of hyperthyroidism involves controlling the thyroid gland, either with medicine, special food or inpatient radioactive iodine treatment. Your vet will guide you in choosing the best treatment.

 

Feline Viral Disease

 

FIP, FeLV and FIV are viral diseases in cats. These viruses have different causes and possible therapies, but weight loss is a common symptom of all three.

 

If your vet suspects that a virus is the cause of your cat’s weight loss, they may perform blood tests and possibly more tests to determine if one of these viruses is the cause.

 

If a diagnosis is made, management and treatment will be based on the symptoms your cat is showing.

 

Feline Kidney Disease

 

Feline kidney disease can also lead to weight loss in your cat.

 

To determine if kidney disease is the cause of your cat’s weight loss, your vet will do bloodwork and a urinalysis.

 

Treatment may include prescription food, medicine and even sterile fluids that your vet can teach you to administer at home on a regular basis.

 

Feline Cancer

 

Many different forms of cancer can cause weight loss.

 

The diagnosis and treatment plan will vary depending on the kind and stage of cancer suspected. Your vet might do some or all of the following to confirm a diagnosis:

 

·         Bloodwork

·         Urinalysis

·         X-rays

·         Ultrasound and/or biopsies

 

Always Discuss Cat Weight Loss With Your Veterinarian

 

Unintentional weight loss is a nonspecific sign that can have many causes. Anything short of a veterinary visit is just a guess.

 

If you notice that your cat is losing weight, you need to call the vet. Make the appointment now.

 

Your vet should have a documented weight from the last visit and can confirm the weight loss.

 

They will take a thorough history and do a complete physical exam. Based on those findings, your vet might recommend a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites, and bloodwork to check for clues to get to the bottom of what is causing the weight loss.