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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 10 year old Bengal who has never had health issues. She’s a strictly indoor cat. Recently she dropped from 11 lb 8 oz to 9 lb 13 oz. It seemed to happen over a matter of weeks but may have been more gradual. I took her to the vet who did an exam and took blood. According to the results, there appears to be nothing wrong with her — no disease and no parasites, no tumors. Throughout this entire time, her behavior never changed: she eats and drinks, urinates and excretes, is interested in toys and petting, no signs of withdrawal. My question is, have you heard of anything like this? Any advice? And most importantly, what kind of high caloric nutrient rich food should I give her to increase her weight?

~ Tara

Brown spotted tabby Bengal cat

The Bengal is a naturally lean breed. Photo by V. Sauvaget, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Siouxsie: Tara, you did the right thing when you noticed your cat’s weight loss. Because you took her to the vet, you’ve been able to rule out common causes of weight loss such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, tumors and parasites.

Thomas: When we looked at photos of Bengal cats, it seems to us they tend to be a bit on the lean side naturally, probably because of the Oriental breeds that were added to the mix to create the Bengal kitty.

Dahlia: That probably makes it even more alarming when they start to lose weight!

Siouxsie: Cats, like humans, tend to go through weight changes as they age. They may get a bit plump during their middle age years — between about 6 and 9 — and then start losing weight again as they age further.

Thomas: Ha ha, Siouxsie. I remember when you were 7, you were so big that Doctor Sarah threatened to put you on a diet if you gained any more weight!

Siouxsie: Don’t make me get out of my throne and smack you! Besides, 11 pounds isn’t fat; it’s … pleasantly plump!

Thomas: Too bad you wouldn’t let me snuggle with you when there was more of you to love.

Dahlia: Anyway … Tara, age 10 is about the equivalent of 56 human years, so she’s not quite what I’d consider a senior. But she is on the downhill side of middle age, and that is about the time cats start losing weight.

Siouxsie: That’s how it happened for me. I gradually slimmed down to 8 pounds, and I tend to hover around that weight these days.

Thomas: But why do older cats tend to lose weight? Well, part of it has to do with the fact that our bodies don’t process nutrition as well as they used to. Because of that, you may need to feed your cat more calories in order for her to maintain her weight.

Dahlia: Sometimes cats don’t eat because their teeth are hurting them, and that can cause weight loss. Dental disease is fairly common in older cats. However, since your cat is eating and drinking normally, we don’t think this is the case with her.

This chart shows feline body conditions. A 1 is emaciated and a 9 is grossly obese. If your cat looks like a 7 or a 9, he is at a high risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Siouxsie: So, as you’ve figured out, what you need to do is offer her a more calorie-dense food with more high-quality nutrients than she’s getting right now.

Thomas: Canned, home-made or raw diets are typically much richer than kibble. As an added bonus, these foods have more moisture, which can protect against dehydration, another common problem in older cats.

Dahlia: If you’re going to go with canned food, we’d recommend that you feed a grain-free premium product such as Wellness CORE, Evo, or Nature’s Variety Instinct grain-free (there are quite a few grain-free canned foods out there, but these are three brands we’ve tried and liked).

Siouxsie: Home-made and raw diets also offer of appropriate protein levels and moisture content. However, opinions on raw food in the veterinary community are divided. Some vets see it as a great way to keep cats healthy and give them the nutrition they need; others express concern about potential contaminants (salmonella, for instance) and the possibility of malnutrition if the owner doesn’t feed a balanced diet.

Thomas: I’m not sure the salmonella argument passes the logic test, though. We cats are evolved to eat raw meat: we have short, highly acidic digestive tracts, and that makes us naturally resistant to bacterial pathogens in our food.

Dahlia: The balanced diet issue can be addressed by using tested and proven recipes. You can find them in books like Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats and Anitra Frazier’s The Natural Cat. (These links go to our store at amazon.com — if you want to buy these books through our shop, Mama puts the money in our treat allowance jar. Please support our catnip habit!)

Siouxsie: Websites like the Feline Nutrition Education Society offer great information for people interested in feeding a homemade or raw diet. (For the sake of transparency, we should say Mama is a member. She also knows the people in charge of the website and can testify to the fact that they really know what they’re doing and are passionate about their mission to get cats eating species-appropriate diets.)

Thomas: Tara, we’d also recommend you monitor your cat’s weight. You want to make sure she doesn’t gain too much weight, and you want to know if she’s continuing to lose weight despite her richer diet.

Dahlia: There are two ways you can do this. The most accurate way involves purchasing a digital baby scale and using it to weigh her at least once a week.

Siouxsie: Alternately, you can stand on the scale and weigh yourself. Then pick your cat up and weigh yourself again. The difference in the two numbers is your cat’s weight. Unless your scale is digital, you may not get as accurate a reading as you would with the baby scale.

Thomas: We hope we’ve been able to help you. Good luck getting some meat back on your kitty’s bones!