Usually when you adopt a cat from the street it is highly likely it will be malnourished, especially if it suffered from some other disease which prevents it to look for and find food. A starving cat or kitten develops many physical and neurological problems, which become a problem for their caretaker after adoption. However, this problem can be fixed by feeding your pet the right way. We will help you understand feeding and find the best food for an emaciated cat.
What is Emaciation in Cats?
Emaciation is a severe and progressive condition in which the cat undergoes significant (>20%) loss of body weight. In simple words, if you feel that your cat has lost a significant amount of weight at a rapid pace or is too skinny from the moment you invited it to your life, it means you are dealing with an emaciated cat. Malnourishment indicates trouble brewing inside your cat as it brings along many adverse health issues.
What Causes Emaciation?
Sometimes malnourishment is not only caused by imbalanced and/or infrequent meals. Some medical conditions can cause chronic weight loss in cats as well. It is essential to rule them out before trying dietary changes to treat a malnourished cat. Older cats may appear malnourished despite receiving regular meals. Some of the medical conditions that can cause malnutrition in cats include:
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or another intestinal disease
- Kidney failure
- Dental disease
- Liver disease
Make sure to check with your vet if you are unsure about any of the symptoms.
How to Determine if Your Cat is Emaciated?
This is a matter of calculation.
For instance, a 6.5 pounds average cat would be an underweight cat, whereas the ideal weight would be around 8 to 10 pounds.
The caloric intake for a fully grown cat in good health condition weighing between 8 to 10 pounds is around 180-220 kcal/day.
To maintain ideal weight, this formula always works = Resting Energy Requirement (RER) = 30 x Bodyweight in kilograms + 70.
It is also essential to monitor your cat’s body conditions score and mobility and activity level to adjust the calorie count accordingly. When you feel that the cat has reached an ideal body condition and weight, try maintaining it by feeding it best cat food you can find. The process of rehabilitating a malnourished cat is slow and demanding, as it may take several months.
Starvation in Cats Symptoms
Malnourishment cannot stay hidden for long. Here are a few symptoms that indicate starvation in cats.
- Dry and scaly skin
- Hard or runny feces
- Muscle weakness
Malnourishment also causes neurological issues in cats. Vitamin B1 deficiency causes the cat’s head to tilt, have seizures, or become uncoordinated.
The body condition score can help you understand what type of care your malnourished cat needs. Severely emaciated cats have very little to no body fat, protruding bones, and virtually skin and bones. A body condition score basically refers to a number assigned to a cat’s body type. It ranges between 1 and 9, where the score of 1 indicates underweight and 9 indicates overweight. The ideal body condition score for an average, healthy cat is 5.
Feeding an Emaciated Cat:
The first thing to remember is that different cats have different food choices. If you want to transition your cat to an entirely new type of food, do it slowly over one week to prevent GI (gastrointestinal) distress.
Examine the calorie count of the old and new foods. Start decreasing the amount of old food by 10 to 20% and replace it with the new food in the same amount. Keep following this routine until the cat learns to tolerate it.
If your feline gulps wet food and kibble and doesn’t want to eat new food, remove the chicken broth as it makes the food palatable. Chicken broth doesn’t add any nutritional value to the food, and commercial foods generally have a high sodium content. You can find the calorie content of the pet food on the label.
How to Care for a Malnourished Cat?
Take it to the Vet:
Malnutrition is a serious issue in cats as it leads to other serious medical conditions. If your cat is malnourished and emaciated, it is essential to consult the veterinarian for a comprehensive examination of the cat. The vet will run various tests, including urinalysis and bloodwork, to identify the stage and severity of malnutrition. Test results will also reveal if the cat suffers from a disease, such as a fatty liver disease called Hepatic Lipidosis. Once the examination is over, the vet will suggest the appropriate treatment option and dietary supplements.
It is imperative to weigh your cat regularly to check if it is gaining weight or not. To weigh, first step on a scale while holding the cat, observe the weight and note it down. Then step on the scale again without holding the cat and weigh yourself. Write down this number too. Now, subtract the weight while holding the cat, which will be higher, to the lower weight. This will reveal the actual weight of your cat.
Allow Easy Access to Food Bowls:
Ensure that the cat can access food bowls easily. Older cats may find it difficult to reach food dishes if you place them in inconvenient places like a countertop. Always place food and water dishes in areas that are easy for them to access.
How to Select the Best Food for Emaciated Cat?
Find tasty and nutritious cat food for emaciated cat which will help you increase its calorie intake each day. Increase caloric intake to range of 230 to 270 kcal/day. This means you need to divide the daily caloric needs of 180-220 kcal/day into four meals in a day. Then gradually increase their feed up to 25% to reach the desired caloric needs for weight gain, which is up to 270 kcal/day. If the cat hasn’t been eating previously, then it is a good idea to slowly increase it. Don’t let it overeat in the beginning since this will be its instinct, but could cause stomach problems.
Here are some things to consider when feeding an emaciated cat.
Commercial wet food for emaciated cats:
A homemade diet is a healthier and preferable option, but when the cat is malnourished and emaciated, it is better to switch to commercial wet food. A homemade diet is usually low in essential minerals and vitamins, and if prepared in vegetable oil, the cat will not eat it as cats hate vegetable oil. On the other hand, commercial diets contain a balanced proportion of essential minerals and vitamins, so these are excellent choices for malnourished cats.
Feed meat-based diet:
Meat is an essential component of your cat’s diet since they are carnivores. Meat contains vitamin A and protein, which are essential for their optimal health. Commercial wet foods are excellent sources of meat for the cat. Feeding a meatless diet is never a good thing, and vegan or vegetarian diets will further deteriorate the cat’s health by creating protein, taurine, and vitamin A deficiencies. A taurine deficiency can cause blindness and heart failure in cats. Furthermore, vegan diets lack essential nutrients like vitamin E and calcium.
Avoid fish and liver:
We all know that cats love fish and liver. However, for an emaciated cat, these aren’t the ideal food options. If you feed your cat a lot of fish, it can contribute to the development of thiamine deficiency, whereas excessive consumption of liver causes vitamin toxicities. Fishes are rich in an enzyme called thiaminase that causes a thiamine breakdown, which is a vital nutrient.
Reduce the Amount of Tuna:
Tuna is one of the cat’s favorite foods, but sadly, eating only tuna can cause vitamin E deficiency and promote malnutrition. Vitamin E deficiency causes steatitis- the yellow fat disease. That’s why it is important to reduce your cat’s tuna intake and feed it only occasionally.
Find some more info on re-feeding malnourished cat on this UWM page.
How to Fatten Up a Malnourished Kitten?
Feeding the kitten canned food is the best way to fatten it up. However, it is crucial to avoid grains because they tend to be too heavy for its stomach to digest. We have already identified some of the best high calorie cat foods for weight gain in case your kitten is generally healthy.
Canned food is the ideal choice because it has around a 3-5% carbohydrate rate. Scientists agree that cats can handle this amount of carbohydrates.
However, keep in mind that every cat is different in terms of metabolism and bodily needs. Therefore, these caloric averages only represent the ideal estimates. You can modify them and adjust them accordingly to the rate of your cat’s weight gain. Remember that we don’t want the cat to gain too much weight.
Please do not feed them food in high volumes because it doesn’t help in weight gain. Instead, it puts excessive stress on its digestive system at a crucial time when it is unable to handle so much pressure. An ideal diet for malnourished kittens would be a low-carb diet. When feeding canned food, prefer a single serving.
Trying supplementation is another beneficial strategy. You can opt to feed the kitten supplements that are readily available in the market. These are an excellent source of essential minerals and vitamins that the cat’s body will start absorbing right away. Add supplements to their food, and sprinkle a little amount on the meal every time you feed your cat. For a ten-pound cat, one teaspoon per day should be enough. Fish oil capsules can be squeezed into their food to help the cat receive the vital fat and fat types.
Best Food For Malnourished Cat FAQs
Always feed a weak cat a meat-based diet to help it receive high-quality protein, fat, and vitamin A. Weak cats must eat foods made with the finest quality ingredients. Meat-based foods can be digested quickly and are lighter on the cat’s stomach than plant-based ingredients and grains.Find some recommendations in our list of best foods for emaciated cats.
Kittens five weeks old or above can be fed canned food, which is the best meal option as it offers them a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
You can switch to wet canned foods instead of dry kibble as these tend to be more flavorful, and cats digest them more easily.