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Feeding Your Senior Cat

There are several serious medical causes for weight loss in cats, particularly senior cats. Often weight loss is the earliest sign of a problem, so it should always be investigated. However, if after diagnostics are done we have not identified a cause, one thing to consider is that your senior cat may have simply developed some subtle changes in eating patterns as they age.

There are a few reasons that senior cats may not be taking in enough calories:

  • Young cats tend to “cat nap” – doze and wake up frequently in response to sounds or other disturbances in their environment. Some percentage of the time they wake, they may go looking for food or treats. As cats age, their hearing is not as good and they may sleep more soundly and for longer periods of time. Even if there is food out and available to them, they are not snacking as much during the day.
  • The senses of smell and taste can diminish with time, making it more difficult to find foods they like.
  • Brain aging affects cats, too. They can develop cognitive and dementia disorders and may “forget” to eat, get distracted in the middle of a meal, or become incredibly picky about what foods are appealing (commonly “changing their mind” about liking any particular food).
  • The extra water in canned food is beneficial in managing some age-related diseases such as chronic kidney disease, but canned foods are also generally less calorie dense than dry foods. So a recommended diet change might result in some weight loss.
  • Senior cats in a household may “give up” easier if younger cat is muscling in on their food portions.
  • Senior cats may have arthritis, and it may not always be “worth it” to them to get up and go eat something if they are feeling achy.


How can we help our senior kitties? Fortunately there are several options, most of which are simply a little extra TLC:

  • If your cat becomes “picky,” rotate flavors and brands frequently as needed.  You can also warm canned food slightly in the microwave (careful of hot spots!) or add a small dab of a “stinky” food your cat likes (sardine, tuna, cooked chicken) on top of your cat’s food to increase the odor and appeal.
  • Offer your cat small amounts of food frequently. (I offer my 18 year old cat who struggles to keep weight on a small amount of dry food or cat treats almost every time I see her pass through the kitchen), even if you also leave dry food out all the time.
  • If you have changed your cat from primarily dry to primarily canned food, you may need to feed more than recommended on the label to maintain weight.
  • If you have multiple cats, consider separating your senior to feed extra portions, even if you also leave dry food out all the time
  • Ask us about managing arthritis, and keep food available in accessible locations or bring food to your cat if she is cozy in a comfortable spot at mealtime.


Do you have a favorite technique for getting your senior cat to eat? Share in the comments! And as always, please feel free to call the clinic and speak to one of our doctors if you have questions.


Karen Christopherson, DVM