Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

Feeding the older, skinny cat can be a challenge. Older cats do not digest food as efficiently as younger ones and can require more calories. Due to disease and natural aging processes, the older cat often suffers from a reduced appetite. Reduced appetite means that less food is eaten. Less food eaten means the cat will lose weight and muscle mass.

Reduced appetite in the older, skinny cat can be due to:

  • Chronic kidney disease which can cause nausea
  • Pain due to dental disease or arthritis
  • Decreased odor and taste sensitivity (part of the aging process).

How can you get your older, skinny cat to eat better?


  • Offer a palatable food with the appropriate nutrients
  • Feed her in a way that mimics a cat’s natural behavior
  • Use appetite stimulants if necessary

 

palatable, nutritious food


“Senior” Diets

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State, Colorado State, and University of California, Davis found that the only difference between commercially available “senior”diets and the adult diets was that there was higher fiber in the senior diets. So find an adult food your cat likes – preferably one that has been evaluated in a feeding trial.

A therapeutic diet may be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat has kidney disease or another medical condition.

 

“Aging Cats Prefer Warm Food”

Ryan Eyre and colleagues investigated the effect of temperature on how much older cats eat. Thirty-two cats between 8 and 14 years of age participated in a “two bowl” study of a chunks and gravy food at different temperatures.  The food was refrigerated or heated as needed to 43° F , 70 °F and 98 °F.

In a series of trials, each cat was presented with one bowl of colder food and a second bowl of warmer food. The amount of food consumed by the cats was recorded. The researchers also measured 1) thickness of the gravy at the different temperatures and 2) the volatile compounds released when the food was heated.

What they found:

  • There was no change in gravy thickness with temperature, so the texture of the food remained the same.
  • Heating increased the release of volatile compounds associated with a “meaty” flavor
  • Heating decreased the amount of volatile compounds that give rise to scents like orange peel

The cats preferred the warmer food in each of the pairs tested. They overwhelmingly preferred the food heated to 98 °F.

Other reasons cats may like warmed food:

  • The warmest food had a temperature similar to the prey a wild cat would eat – so maybe a little bit of instinct is at work here.
  • Heat is thought to activate taste receptors. Cats are thought to have about 470 taste buds and have taste receptors that detect salt, sour, bitter, and umami (meaty). So, heating food may also make it more palatable to cats by making it taste more “meaty”.

Heat your cat’s food before serving it – make sure to test before feeding. It should be “baby bottle” warm

Feeding your older, skinny cat: mimic natural feeding behavior


  • Feed small meals frequently
  • Use food puzzles to engage the cat in foraging behavior
  • Put food out in different locations
  • Consider elevated feeding stations for arthritic cats
Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

Reduce inter-cat stress in multi-cat households

medical intervention – appetite stimulants


  • Mirtazapine: Tetracyclic antidepressant that stimulates appetite in cats.  Mirtazapine comes in pills and a transdermal ointment called mirataz. Mirataz is FDA-approved for cats.
  • Capromorelin stimulates the production of Ghrelin, a hormone your stomach produces and releases. It signals your brain when your stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. Capromorelin (Elura) comes in an oral liquid for once daily administration. It was developed to manage weight loss in cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Make sure your old cat eats – fasting longer than 2-3 consecutive days can result in hepatitis lipidosis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly 

Keeping your older, skinny cat well-fed is essential to maintaining a good quality of life for him or her.

Warm canned food

Feed small meals frequently

Talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant if necessary.

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Cat hunting treat ball

Your cat went in for her annual exam and your vet suggests that she lose some weight. Most likely, you were also given some daily calorie estimates and food amounts. Perhaps your vet recommended a weight loss food. What’s next?

Three ways to help your cat lose weight:

  1. portion control
  2. feeding multiple small meals
  3. keeping your cat moving

Portion Control


If you have not done this already, measure how much your cat is eating. Make sure to include treats and table scraps. If your cat is a grazer, put out a measured amount of food in the morning and measure what remains the next morning, 24 hours later.

Gradual weight loss is best. The rule of thumb is to cut your cat’s food portion by no more than 10-20% at a time. Drastic food reduction can lead to a cat who is frantic for food, begging and sometimes biting you in his quest for food. It may take some time to reach the calorie allowance recommended by your vet.

The Behavior of Feeding: Multiple small meals daily


Now that you know how much to feed, let’s look at how you feed. Cats have small stomachs; in the wild, they follow a nocturnal schedule, hunting and feeding about 4 times, starting in the late afternoon and finishing in the morning.  In between hunts, the cats nap and groom; sometimes they play with the kittens.

Your cat is designed to eat multiple small meals a day. If your cat is a grazer, this is what she is doing and she may be fine with her portion set out in a bowl for the day. Other cats may want to eat everything at once, which can lead to GI upset and boredom. To help your cat lose weight, portion control can be done by using a timed feeder or you can follow a feeding schedule. Here is a sample schedule for a working owner feeding 4 meals a day.

  1. AM before leaving for work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  2. Day Time: food puzzles or feeders with dry or canned food
  3. PM arrive home from work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  4. Bedtime Snack: Treat Time – treat toss or training

Strategies for the Multi-Cat Household


Life is rarely simple – often you have one cat who needs to lose weight and a “skinny” one who is a “grazer”.

Technology to the Rescue: Microchip feeders

SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder:

Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

This plain vanilla feeder is ideal for grazers who tend limit themselves. The feeder is programmed to sense an individual cat’s microchip and only opens for the particular cat. Put the “skinny” cat’s food in the Surefeeder and the “fat” cat’s food in a timed feeder or in bowls spread out through the house. The Surefeeder can also accommodate canned food.

 

 

 

Timed Microchip Feeders:

These feeders sense the tag on the pet’s collar and allow a pet a certain amount of time to eat. Many of these feeders can accommodate more than one pet if they are eating the same food. However, some reviews note that a persistent pet will refuse to leave when the doors try to shut, keeping his head in the bowl and continuing to eat.

The Meowspace:

This is a ventilated transparent “box” with an access door. Some models have a microchip flap while others have a magnetic flap. The Meowspace also has a timed access option, allowing the cat to access the “space” only at certain times of the day.

The DIY version: You can make a “meow space” out of a closet by installing a microchip cat flap in the closet door. To add a “timed” option, place an inexpensive automatic feeder in the closet.

Low Tech Solutions to help your cat lose weight:

Some cats prefer to be up high while others are “ground dwellers”. If this is the case, you can feed the cats who climb up high on a shelf, top of a bookcase, or on the upper level of a cat tree while the other cat eats at ground level. Another option is to meal feed and separate the cats in different rooms when feeding.

keeping your cat moving


In the wild, cats prowl around looking for food. You can mimic this behavior by placing portions of food in different places around the house. Your cat has to go look for it. This is the idea behind Doc & Phoebe’s indoor hunting system.

Puzzle feeders also can also stimulate and engage your cat while feeding. Make sure to introduce your cat to his puzzle feeder gradually, increasing the food in the puzzle and decreasing his food in the bowl as he learns to use the puzzle feeder.

Using the indoor hunting system or puzzle feeders can be challenging in the multi-cat home: some cats will catch on more quickly than others, getting more to eat in the process. Indoor hunting and food puzzles may not be appropriate. In that case, help your cat lose weight by engaging him in a daily play session or taking him for a leash walk outside.

Treat Toss
If you are feeding dry food, you can make one of the meals a tossing game. Dental treats or dental kibbles are large and can be tossed for your cats to hunt down. Space the cats out so each cat has his own “territory” to hunt in and make the rounds, tossing the kibbles. This is also a great way for the cats to interact with guests, who usually enjoy tossing the treats to the eager felines!

Help your cat lose weightreduce his risk of medical problems such as diabetes and arthritis, and form a closer relationship with your cat through daily play and exercise activities.

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Cat using food puzzleWhy slide a block aside to uncover food when there is food freely available in a bowl nearby? Psychologists call the behavior “contrafreeloading” – it refers to animals (and people) preferring to work for food when there is freely available food.

This behavior sounds counter-intuitive – after all, you would expect an animal to choose the option that requires the least effort. But psychologists and behaviorists propose that contrafreeloading is a manifestation of the SEEKING system – one of the seven basic emotional systems proposed by Jaak Panksepp, the father of “affective neuroscience”.  Affective neuroscience studies how the brain produces emotional responses.

The SEEKING system is thought to be the strongest of the primary emotional systems. It’s what gets animals out looking for food, looking for a mate, looking for other resources.

When the SEEKING system is activated

  • the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure.
  • It is the rewarding feeling you get when you are looking for something and find it.
  • Once you’ve found the object of your desire, the brain shuts off the dopamine and other emotions are activated.

So the action of SEEKING can be more enjoyable than finding what you’re looking for. Think about those travel advertisements that tell you that “getting there is half the fun”!

Dogs, mice, rats, birds, monkeys and even humans have been found to engage in “contrafreeloading”.

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


A recent study by Mikel Delgado and colleagues enrolled 20 domestic cats to observe this behavior. They investigated the behavior of cats eating from a food puzzle versus eating food from a tray.  Cats eating from a food puzzle have to manipulate the puzzle to get the food out.

The cats were first trained to the puzzle by having increasing amounts of their food in the puzzle and decreasing freely available food on a tray.

  • At first, only 25% of their food was in the puzzle.
  • Once they started to eat some food from the puzzle, the amount in the puzzle was increased to 50%, then to 75%.
  • Three cats refused to eat any food from the puzzle and were dismissed from the study.
  • Cats were exposed to the equipment for 4-12 days before testing.

Cats underwent 2-4 trials a day, no less than 2 hours apart. The puzzle and the food tray were placed next to each other, and were the same distance from the cat. The cat’s daily food ration was divided equally between trials. In each trial, the food was divided up equally between the puzzle and the food bowl.

Cats are freeloaders!


Half of the cats ate less than 10% of their food from the puzzle. All of the cats ate most of their food from the tray – no cats were strong “contrafreeloaders”. Eight cats were definitely “freeloaders” – the rest seemed willing to do some contrafreeloading. Although a number of cats approached and sniffed the puzzle first, all the cats ate from the tray first. 

Cats seem to be one of the few species that does not seem to be inclined to work for their food in a captive environment. But cats have been known to STOP EATING to hunt prey – that certainly involves working for food!

why are cats freeloaders?


Cats eating from a food puzzle are engaging in “foraging” behavior.

Cats are solitary predators

  • They must conserve their energy for the energy burst needed when hunting
  • They are not above scavenging a free meal
  • Maybe it makes sense to a cat to eat some of the “free food” first before putting energy into foraging?

Is hunting more “fun”?

  • Is the SEEKING system stronger for cats when they hunt compared to when they forage? 
  • Do their brains release more dopamine when they are stalking, pouncing and chasing?
  • Do their brains release less dopamine when they are foraging?

cats eating from a food puzzle


Does this mean you should not bother offering your cat food puzzles for enrichment? No – food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

training your cat to use a food puzzle


  1. Start by offering 25% of the meal in the food puzzle and 75%  in a bowl or tray. 
  2. When your cat is eating some of the food in the puzzle, increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 50% and decrease the amount in the bowl to 50%.
  3. Increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 75%; decrease the amount in the bowl to 25%
  4. When your cat is eating most of his meal in the puzzle, offer him the puzzle only.

A demonstration can help your cat learn. Cats are able to mimic the actions of humans and they are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies.

selecting a food puzzle


Cats using a puzzle feeder
Two cats using the Catit Food Tree.

 

There are many food puzzles you can make or purchase. Start your cat with a “beginner” puzzle and see what he likes to do. My ex-feral cat, Gus, easily mastered the Catit “Food Tree” but it was almost a year or so before he was willing to try a flat panel puzzle where he had to move pieces to uncover the food.

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

You may want to make some puzzles first to find out your cat’s preferences before purchasing one. Visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com!

 

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Zelda gets a snack from a plastic cup

Feeling “gutsy”? “Butterflies” in your stomach? These are the signs that your brain and your gut are communicating with each other. There is constant “crosstalk” between these two organs.

The tiny microbes that call the gut their home form a community or “microbiome”.  Some of the ways this microbiome communicates with the brain are:

  1. Millions of neurons line the GI tract and signal the brain of changes in the microbiome.
  2. If the brain triggers the release of fight or flight hormones, the movement of the intestines and the content in them changes.
  3. The GI microbiome affects the development of neural systems that control stress.
  4. Gut microbes can affect immune cells in the GI tract. These changes are picked up the neurons in the walls of the GI tract.
  5. Gut microbes produce short chain fatty acids and neurotransmitters that directly affect the brain.

Our cats are also mammals with a similar gut-brain communication. Imbalances in your cat’s GI microbiome can result not only in diarrhea but also can affect mood, anxiety, and conditions such as dermatitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

How and what we FEED our cats affects the microbiomes in their guts. As we learn more about how the gut talks to the brain, we are finding specific ways to influence these microbiomes through diet. This gives cat owners a low-stress way of managing their cats’ health by feeding them.

probiotics for cats


A microbe is microorganism, usually a bacterium, that causes disease or fermentation. We can influence the GI microbiome through prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics.

  • Prebiotics refer to indigestible fiber that feeds the “good” (beneficial) bacteria in the GI tract.
  • Probiotics are live bacteria or yeast that are beneficial to the health of the host – human, cat, dog… – who consumes them.
  • Synbiotics refer to the combination of pre- and probiotics – fiber and bacteria/yeast.

The bacteria/yeast can be freeze-dried and packaged as a supplement. The bacteria remain in a “dormant” state until they are exposed to the right conditions of acidity, temperature and water and become active and “live” once more.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS FOR YOUR CAT’S GI MICROBIOME


Some of the more common probiotics for cats include Fortiflora and Proviable.

Fortiflora is manufactured by Nestlé-Purina. The supplement contains the bacterium E. faecium SF68 and has been shown to reduce viral and antibiotic-induced diarrhea in cats. A newer version of this supplement, Fortiflora SA, includes the prebiotic psyllium, resulting in an improved resolution of diarrhea. Fortiflora has also been studied with regard to reducing side effects from feline herpes virus.  Fortiflora is available over the counter; Fortiflora SA is available through your veterinarian.

Nutramax Proviable is another powdered synbiotic for cats found to be effective in  resolving feline diarrhea . Proviable contains seven strains of bacteria: E faecium,
Streptococcus (Enterococcus) thermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, L bulgaricus, L casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and L plantarum. Proviable is available over the counter.

Another probiotic on the market features the bacterium Bifidobacterium longum, that has been shown to help cats and dogs stay calm. Calming Care is a Purina product available over the counter.

a diet to maintain your cat’s gi biome


Hill’s Pet Nutrition has developed a canned and dry diet for cats designed to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome. The food incorporates a blend of prebiotics designed to encourage the growth of “good” bacteria in your cat’s intestines.

Research on cats at the Hills Pet Nutrition Center showed that feeding the “biome” diet increased the “good” bacteria and post-biotics – those short chain fatty acids (SCFA) from fiber fermentation. SCFA are thought to regulate processes in the Central Nervous System and ultimately shape behavior and cognitive function.

MORE ABOUT probiotics for cats


A company called Animal Biome offers to tailor the use of probiotics to the individual cat or dog. The company cites problems with the “one size fits all” approach using probiotics to manage the microbiomes. The composition of the your pet’s microbiome is identified using DNA sequencing. Supplement therapies are available to restore your cat’s microbiome balance.
Other companies offering similar services include Nom Nom and MIDOG.

Probiotics provide us with additional ways to manage not only GI upset but possibly anxiety, skin issues and IBD in our cats. More research should identify additional probiotics for cats that target specific conditions.

SHOULD I USE PROBIOTICS/SYNBIOTICS FOR MY CAT?


For an occasional bout of diarrhea, a probiotic such as Proviable or Fortiflora can be effective. If the diarrhea persists or recurs, see your vet.

Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics are dietary supplements and, as such, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many dietary supplements claim to treat medical conditions and are basically unapproved drugs.

a word to the wise…

Stick with the supplements that have some clinical studies supporting their use. The supplements mentioned in this post are used in many veterinary clinics, have substantial amount of research supporting their development, and are safe to use with your cat.

postscript…

I am moving into a new home and I am concerned about how the process of moving will affect The Feline Purrspective team. As things are getting boxed up, some of my cats were more clingy; my ex-feral cat seemed edgy and paced more. I decided to give the Calming Care supplement a try. So far, the kitties do seem calmer after about a week on the supplement, although, maybe they are just getting used to the moving boxes!cat in moving box

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It’s 1:50 am – you know by the red numbers on your alarm clock. That darn cat meows at night and has woken you up once again.Cat and alarm clock

What is happening?
If this is a new pattern, it is time for a vet visit to make sure that there is not a medical cause underlying the nocturnal activity. High blood pressure and hyperthyroidism are two conditions that can contribute to meowing at night. Treating these conditions may solve the tendency toward night-time activity and meowing.

If your cat has had a physical exam recently and has no untreated health issues, there may different things underlying the “feline nocturnes”. In the wild, cats hunt at dusk, nighttime and dawn when their prey, small rodents, are foraging.

Our indoor cats usually adapt well to being active during daylight hours and snoozing at night.
If this is not the case, what can you do to reset your cat’s internal clock?

Perhaps your cat meows at night because he is bored and awake. He may be seeking your attention.

  • Make sure your cat is active during the day. Give him some play sessions during the day;  engage him in foraging behavior with food puzzles.
  • Establish a night time routine. Cats thrive on routine – it lets them know what is going to happen. Pets can be as good as a clock when reminding you for dinner. Let’s come up with a sequence of activities that signal that the household is slowing down and ready for sleep.

Bedtime Routines when your cat meows at night


Play/Treat time: My cats look forward to treats before bed every evening. After dinner and TV, the litter boxes are scooped and then – IT’S TIME.
All 4 cats proceed to the hallway where they take up their stations and wait to have treats tossed to them. After that, it is time to settle down and they each go to their sleeping place and tuck in.

Your cat might enjoy a play session before treats. This session does not have to be long – 10-15 minutes should do the trick. After that – IT’S TIME FOR BED!

Foraging toys: Try leaving some foraging toys (food puzzles) out and turn in. Again, this is a bedtime routine – you put the toys out and you turn in.

You can try closing the bedroom door. Of course, for many cats, if you close a door, this is the place they have to get into and will shake and rattle the door for access.

My Cat meows at night – Does he need a room of his own?


 

You have tried more play during the day and you are putting out food toys at night – still your cat meows at night.

This may be time for some “tough love” – after all, you need your sleep. If you have the space, give your cat a “bedroom” at night. This could be a spare bedroom or walk-in closet, someplace where you can close the door. Put all his resources (litter box, toys, water) in this room. Put a “calming” pheromone diffuser in this room.

When you are ready for bed…

  • Take kitty to his bedroom
  • Give him a snack.
  • Close the door – do not respond to crying at night once the cat is in the room.
  • He will be safe in there until you get him out in the morning.

While this may seem “cruel”, remember that cats are “socially flexible”. They are able to live socially with humans and other animals but do very well on their own. They don’t get “lonely” the same way we do.

to have a quiet night…


 Be sure to give your cat regular, daily playtime and activities. This may be a good time to review how you are feeding your cat – leaving out a food bowl filled all the time is like having a bowl of potato chips out all the time. Feeding can be self-soothing behavior for a bored cat.

3-4 smaller meals gives kitty something to look forward to – you can put one of these meals in his room for the night.

The Takeaway: if your cat meows at night, try giving him something to keep him busy – some extra play during the day and a bedtime routine just might silence the “kitty nocturnes”.

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