Weight loss and loss of appetite in Cats



Weight Loss and Loss of Appetite in Cats


Underweight Bengal Kitten - continued


Question:  Dr. Mike,   My next exam in regards to the below email I sent you earlier didn't turn out as I hoped.  The vet said the kitten lost weight (from 1.90 to 1.70).  The kitten eats at least 6 times a day (Walthams wet food).  The vet   said she is probably going to be a "sickly" cat.  She couldn't get blood from the kitten in which she would have done a battery of tests to "see what is going on".   The kitten has occasional "hard and heavy" breathing as well. The vet didn't give the kitten her FVRCP vaccination due to her low weight.  The kitten's stool is also somewhat loose at times---I contributed that to her eating all wet food.  The vet recommended giving her back to the breeder.  Isn't there something I can do other than return the kitten?   The kitten has an excellent attitude and is very strong willed.  How about a food supplement?   M  

Answer: M- I think that the choice of returning or not returning this kitten is entirely yours, so there are lots of options for the next things to consider doing.  Your vet is probably trying to spare you from large expenses and potential heartbreak if there is a physiologic cause for this kitten's size, though.

There really aren't pediatric veterinarians in private practice, that I am aware of.  There isn't even a whole lot of information on pediatrics, because it is usually less expensive to do away with kittens and puppies who are not doing well than it is to treat them.  This hampers efforts to figure out the incidence of congenital and acquired juvenile onset diseases in dogs and cats.

There are a lot of possible problems that might cause poor weight gain. Poor nutrition and worm infestations might be the most common overall causes of poor weight gain in kittens but that doesn't seem likely in your kitten's case.  Feline leukemia virus and feline infectious peritonitis virus can infect young kittens and cause problems like you are seeing. Congenital kidney, heart or liver disorders (especially portosystemic shunts) can occur. Malabsorption disorders in the digestive tract inhibit growth in some kittens. There are a few cases of congenital hypothyroidism and hypoadrenocorticism reported in kittens and these would cause poor weight gain, as well.  It is going to be necessary at some point to consider testing for these conditions if the problems with weight gain persist.  A general blood panel is a good first step and the kitten is large enough for blood to be drawn, although it might be necessary to pay extra to have a pediatric panel run on small quantities of blood and serum, unless your vet uses an in-house chemistry machine that uses small amounts of blood, such as a VetScan (tm) and a blood count estimator like a QBC-V (tm).

There is likely to be a fair amount of expense in caring for this kitten IF the weight gain is the result of a physiologic problem. If the kitten is just small, which also happens, then there may not be much expense. This is a concern that you have to figure out the importance of.

If there is a congenital problem or one of the viral diseases present, there is a potential for a lot of heartache as you become more and more attached to the kitten if the ultimate outcome is bad.

I'm pretty sure your vet is thinking of the expense and the potential for you to be hurt and thinking that the best option is to return the kitten. However, this is your choice to make. As long as you realize that there is a chance that the kitten may have an illness that will be costly, or fatal, or both, then you have the facts necessary to make a decision. The flip side of this is that the kitten's attitude is good, it is eating and there is a chance that it may turn out to be OK despite the low weight and growth problems. I would feel better about this if there hadn't been an actual weight loss, but I still lean heavily on the patient's attitude as an indicator of how it feels and unless I am misinterpreting your note, the kitten still seems to feel OK.

You have to do what you think is best. If you want to keep the kitten you need to convince your vet to go ahead and do the testing she thinks is necessary to determine what the kitten's problems might be.

Mike Richards, DVM


Underweight Bengal Kitten


Question: Dr. Mike, I have an 8 week old Bengal Kitten. I took her to the vet Monday, April 3rd. The vet was concerned about her weight (1.90) and though she looked more like a 6 week old kitten. She doesn't eat dry food and won't drink water all by itself.  I mix water in her wet food and she drinks it that way.  The vet said it is important that she gain weight or I'll have possible problems (liver, etc.) The vet also found Coccidiosis which I'm treating and said we should treat for round worm as well since usually round worm is present with Coccidiosis.  Do you have any suggestions/comments on any part of this note?  Do you have a suggestion on how to help the kitten gain   weight?  The kitten is surprisingly frisky and chases the 10 week male Bengal around sometimes.

Answer: M- I agree that the kitten is underweight for its age, based on average kitten weights. The average kitten gains about 1 pound a month for the first four months of life. But that is just an average. I think it is more important to assess the overall health and attitude of the kitten. In this case, with it acting pretty normal, I wouldn't worry too much. Deworming and treating the coccidiosis may be all that is necessary to correct the slow weight gain. It is acceptable to use wetting the food as a method of getting water into the kitten. Some cats drink very little and it is a good idea to do something like adding water to the food to get more moisture into these guys. Allowing access to running water, like a dripping sink, a fountain or one of the cat bowls designed to simulate running water can help a lot. Some cats just seem to need to see the water move before they are drawn to it. I think your vet might have been trying to tell you that if the kitten doesn't gain weight normally that it will be necessary to look for a cause, such as liver problems, heart problems or kidney problems. I am not aware of a liver problem induced by low body weight alone, although it is always possible that your vet knows something I don't. As long as this little one continues to play hard, eat well and act OK otherwise there is a good chance that she is OK.  It seems reasonable in this circumstance to wait and see how she is doing on the next vet visit.

Mike Richards, DVM 


For weight loss


Q: I took my cat to the vet yesterday....he has had rapid weight loss and won't eat or drink...the vet ran a test for cancer and aids but it showed neg...he gave him some tonic and amoxill for infection....what would cause the rapid loss in weight with no pep at all...I feel like I am losing him...please answer me back...thank you m.

A: You didn't say how old your cat is and the differentials for weight loss do vary some according to age. Young kittens with rapid weight loss: parasitism, feline infectious peritonitis, feline leukemia virus, congenital defects involving the liver or kidneys, malaborption or maldigestion syndromes (not enough digestive enzymes for instance) Young adult cats with rapid weight loss: cardiomyopathy (more common in male cats), feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline infectious peritonitis, hepatic lipidosis (usually secondary to some other illness), diabetes, kidney or liver disease other than hepatic lipidosis, cancer, other systemic illnesses, parasitism rapid weight loss in older cats: cardiomyopathy (usually eating less), diabetes (appetite variable), hyperthyroidism (eating a lot and losing weight anyway), kidney failure (appetite variable), cancer (usually eating less), feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline infectious peritonitis, other systemic illness Your vet will sort through these possibilities, I'm sure. In many cases it is easy to eliminate a number of the possibilities with a good physical exam and history. Some testing is usually necessary to confirm or rule out the other possible problems.

Mike Richards, DVM


Cat not eating


Q: My sisters cat, 11 yrs. old, recently had a heart attack (4 days ago). He was diagnosed with diabetes 1 year ago and has been on insulin ever since.  It started a .4 cc and was decreased to .1 cc 2 weeks ago.  He was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection 11 days ago and was on cefa..... (can't remember) liquid for 5 days which ended Sunday (5 days ago). He was on Bactrim first for 2 days (made him sick) then to cefa.... The last 4 days he's been given fluids through iv. 4 days ago blood test showed low in calcium & thyroid.   Xrays showed slightly enlarged heart.  Was put on lacix 4 days ago & enacard started yesterday. He quit eating (on the cefa... 9 days ago).  No one can get the cat to eat.... we are freaking out,  they want to put a tube in his stomach to feed him..... who can help? Doug  

A: Doug- You have to let the vets put in a stomach tube if you want to give your cat a good chance to live through the current problems. This can be an nasogastric tube, one that is put in a nostril and runs down into the stomach or it can be a tube placed through his side directly into his stomach. It is often necessary to feed cats for some time when they refuse to eat and the tube that is surgically placed in the stomach is usually a better choice for long term use but it is OK to start out with a nasogastric tube just in case your cat does start eating on his own quickly. From an immediate treatment standpoint it doesn't matter what else is wrong, you have to get him to eat and that is the most reliable way. However, at some point it will be necessary to identify the underlying problem. I wish I could help more with that but you probably have to consider further testing, such as an ultrasound exam of the heart, as that is the only sure way to know if cardiomyopathy is present. I wish you the best of luck with this.

Mike Richards, DVM 


Rapid weight loss in male cat


Q: Dear Sir: I have a male cat approximately 2 years old. Just prior to moving 6 months back, I had Junior neutered, and the first session of vaccinations administered. Circumstances have prevented me from returning for the second series. Also, I chose not to test for Feline Leukemia before vaccination. His new environment includes a particularly vicious neighboring male cat and a roving band of tormenting boys. Formerly choosing to be outdoors as much as possible, his new world lead him to go into hiding indoors. Recently, he's begun to venture out again. Spending much of his time eating grass. Now suddenly he's developed a bald patch on his head with no evidence of a bite or scratch. Also, there has been a very rapid weight loss. I know this is a broad area, but could you advise of some possible causes. Through research, I may become a little more aware of symptoms I am overlooking. Thank you, R

A: R- In a male cat of this age the two things I would worry about most with rapid weight loss would be cardiomyopathy and feline leukemia. Feline immunodeficiency virus is a possible problem as well. After that there are all sorts of possible problems, as you suspect. Ruling out parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal lymphoma, kidney and liver disease, etc. are all necessary. Your vet can help you sort through these problems.

Mike Richards, DVM    


Weight loss and bad breath


Q: Dr. Dr. Mike my cat marge is a rather chubby girl, but she has always had plenty of energy and always seemed healthy and happy. Her eating was normal, her play & naptimes normal, even her excretions were always normal. that is until recently. She has lost a considerable amount of weight (considering how chubby she is) she doesnt eat as much as she did before, her energy level has dropped to the point where all she does now is sleep most of the day, and when she does get up its only a forced effort to get food/ water/ or to use the litter box. These activities are rare I might add. her ribs are no longer "hidden" behind her fat but more pronounced, and easier to feel. She has also developed a severe breath odour problem.

I have 3 cats, one of which is her brother, and I am concerned that if she has caught something that it might be contagious. In your opinion, what do you think, based on what I told you, is her problem? and what efforts can I make to help her get over this at home? thanks for your help. g.

A: I would be very concerned about diabetes, kidney disease and liver disease, especially hepatic lipidosis, with the signs you are seeing. I can't help you with treating her at home because all of the problems I can think of are pretty serious and require a veterinarian's assistance. Please have her examined by your vet.

Mike Richards, DVM    


Not eating


Q: Cat was vomiting routinely and not interested in food. Vet workup indicates low protein and low white cell count. Weight went from 10.5 lbs to 9.4. X-rays show nothing. Changed food to Limited Diets both dry and canned. Cats appetite returned and started eating normally. Vet perscribed metronidazole250 in pill form and Hi-Vite Drops. No problems for 2 days then cat got very upset at pill time and started fighting pill. After pill she had siliva dripping from her mouth for 5 minutes. She would hide. Stopped eating entirely for a day. Next day she wouldn't eat the Limited Diets but got her to eat Tender Vittles and canned Friskies with no vomiting. Quantity consumed was 3 tablespoons per day. Hand fed the Tender Vittles. She is still drinking water normally. Vet said to stop all medication and get her to eat. What can be done at home to stimulate appetite.

A: It is very important that cats continue to eat when weight loss is occurring for some reason. If they stop, sometimes even for short periods of time, they can develop a liver disorder (hepatic lipidosis) which is a serious problem.

The following things help to stimulate appetite without the use of medications:

Encourage your cat to eat.

Pet it and talk reassuringly. Cats will sometimes respond to encouragement.

Warm the food. Many cats prefer food that is warm.

Feed your cat something it really likes. There is a time for giving in to cat's finicky desires and this would be it.

If upper respiratory disease is present, a nasal decongestant can increase appetite -- ask your vet about this suggestion for medication advice.

If your cat has kidney disease or is geriatric, potassium supplementation can help increase appetite. Diazepam (Valium Rx) is a pretty consistent appetite stimulant for us. Periactin (I can't remember the generic name) may also work. These would have to be used by prescription from your vet, though.

Don't ignore the lack of appetite. Let your vet know this is going on if your cat doesn't respond very well to the things you can do at home to stimulate appetite. Even a few days of not eating can cause problems

Mike Richards, DVM    


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...