Why Is My Cat So Skinny?

All cats, like all people, will go through phases of losing and gaining weight. They’re also as prone to middle aged spread as their owners are. If your cat is gaining weight, there’s probably nothing to worry about so long as you know why. You don’t want them to become obese, of course, and that’s where specialist supplements can assist you. The last thing you want is for your cat to become ill because of its weight. However a cat that’s too thin is a different worry entirely. There’s nothing to say that a skinny cat can’t be a healthy cat. However if your cat isn’t usually skinny and seems to be losing weight for no clear reason, it can be a concern.

Just like with overweight cats, there are health concerns associated with cats that are too thin. Specialised studies have identified several health problems that can be triggered by a cat being below its ideal BMI. If your furry friend isn’t a skinny cat by breed, then it’s important for you to understand what might be wrong. And of course, how you can help. Please however note that all we’re doing here is providing information. If you believe there’s a definite and potentially dangerous weight loss issue with your cat, it’s best to go and see your vet as soon as possible.

Tell-Tale Signs Of A Skinny Cat

Of course, it’s not always easy to visually identify a skinny cat! When a human loses weight, they visibly look thinner, and their clothes appear looser. Your cat

skinny cat

Some breeds of cat, like this sphinx, are just skinny by breed. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

doesn’t wear any clothes. They also have a protective layer of fur which can mask weight loss. It’s even possible that your cat has grown extra fur to compensate for the weight loss. If they have lower body fat content than they used to, the extra fur insulates them and keeps their temperature healthy. Therefore your hands are more use to you than your eyes in monitoring your cat’s weight.

It’s easiest to notice changes in a lap cat. You know the usual weight of your cat when they’re sat on you, and you should be able to tell if they’re a little lighter than usual. A cat who will tolerate being picked up should also be noticeably lighter if they’ve lost weight, too. Trust your own judgement, and go to see the vet if you’re concerned. Your vet should have made a note of your cat’s weight last time they saw them, and so they’ll be able to tell you if something has changed.

The other way to identify a skinny cat is through grooming. Even the thickest of fur coats can’t mask weight loss if you can feel it when you’re stroking them. If you start to notice that you can feel your cat’s spine or ribs when petting them, and it wasn’t the case previously, then they’ve clearly lost weight.

Potential Causes Of Weight Loss In Cats

1. Taking In Less Food

We’ll start by stating the obvious. If your cat is eating less food than normal, it’s quickly going to become a skinny cat. We’re going to assume you haven’t changed its portion sizes, so we’ll look at the reasons why a previously healthy cat might be put off from eating.

  • A change in their usual food. We can all be guilty of this without really thinking about it. One week you go shopping, and the price of your usual cat food has increased. Put off by the price, you change brand. Or, you think you’ll give your pet a treat by buying a more expensive brand than usual. You might change up the balance between their wet food and dry food. Your cat’s weight loss could be purely down to this. Cats can be very, very fussy eaters. They can also be extremely stubborn. If you were served food you didn’t like, but had no other options, you’d eventually eat whatever was in front of you when you became hungry. Your cat may not do the same. A cat sulking about a forced change in their diet can effectively go on hunger strike for days or even weeks! If your cat has stopped eating its meals in full after a change in diet, go back to their previous favourite food immediately.
  • An oral health issue. Your cat will likely refuse to eat if it finds the process painful. Ulcers, dental problems and gum disease can all occur within your cat’s mouth and make eating uncomfortable for them. You may be able to solve this problem yourself, or you might need to seek specialist advice from your vet. Read our post on diet & oral health. You should find useful information there.
  • skinny cat

    There’s a reason the phrase “scaredy cat” exists! A nervous cat might easily be put off its food. Image courtesy of Flickr.

    Problems at the feeding bowl. If you live in a multi cat household, one of your cats will be the ‘leader’. They won’t consult you on the issue, they’ll sort it out themselves! The leader will take priority in a number of places, one of them being at the feeding bowl. If your skinny cat gets bullied away every time it goes to try and eat, you’ve probably found the source of the problem. Eventually it may become too nervous of going to the feeder at all, for fear of being attacked. If your cat’s feeding bowl isn’t secure, you may also have a cat (or even another animal!) coming in from elsewhere in the neighbourhood and helping itself to your cat’s food. There are ways around this! Our cat bowl and feeder guide outlines all of the various options for you.

  • Anxiety or stress. Cats can be very nervous creatures. They’re easily stressed by changes to their environment, and it shows in their behaviour. Unfortunately one of the first ways they’ll show you that they’re stressed is to stop eating. An anxious cat can become a skinny cat. If you’ve noticed your cat is refusing food, consider any lifestyle changes it may recently have experienced. Is their a new cat in the house? A new human, perhaps? Have you recently moved? Has the furniture around them changed? Anything like that could have triggered an anxiety response. See our guide to nervous cats and find out how to help settle them down.

2. Illness And Disease

If you have an increasingly skinny cat, and their food intake isn’t the cause of the problem, it’s unfortunately time to consider that they might be ill. That means it’s time to go to the vet immediately. For your own information, it’s useful to know what illnesses can have an impact on a cat’s weight. Some are more severe than others, and most are treatable.

  • Cat diabetes. If your cat is eating the same amount of food as it was before, but still losing weight, it may well have developed diabetes. Feline diabetes has no impact on a cat’s appetite, but it does change the way their body processes the food. It’s a well researched field, and there are plenty of options for treatment. A specialist diet will probably be prescribed in these instances.
  • Hyperthyroidism. This condition is quite common in older cats, just as it is in older humans. If the thyroid becomes overactive, the metabolism rises with it. When the metabolism rises, fat is burned faster. Just as with diabetes, your cat may be eating as much as it ever has, but losing weight regardless. Again, there are a few options for treatment, and a specialist diet is often part of the solution.
  • Diseases of the intestines. We’re covering a few issues under one heading here. When we talk about diseases of the intestines, we mean inflammation of the bowel, parasite infestation such as tapeworms, and problems with the pancreas. All of them are fairly common within cats, and they may or may not impact your cat’s appetite. Instead, they generally affect the body’s ability to process food contents properly, meaning less of it is stored as it should be, and more is excreted. Whilst these illnesses sound unpleasant – and they are – they generally respond well to treatment.
  • Severe illnesses. If none of the above apply, something more serious may be at work. Weight loss in cats can sometimes be caused by cancer, or failure of the liver or kidneys. Cancer consumes calories from healthy cells, meaning your cat loses weight. Problems with a major organ can affect many functions of the body, and a loss in appetite can be the first visible symptom. In these cases, getting medical help from a vet as quickly as possible is crucial.

Should I Always Take A Skinny Cat To The Vet?

Let’s be very clear here – there is never any harm in taking your cat to the vet. The best case scenario is that it will cost you a little money, and you’ll be told your

skinny cat

If in doubt, see a vet. Your cat will eventually forgive you. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

skinny cat is perfectly fine. In terms of whether your cat needs to go to the vet, that depends on what seems the more likely scenario of the two causes of weight loss outlined above.

If there’s been a recent change in your cat’s diet or environment, that’s highly likely to be the cause. So long as they’re not displaying any other signs of discomfort – i.e. behavioural changes – follow the advice we’ve given you and see if that solves the problem. If it does, there’s no reason to seek professional advice.

If, however, you have even the slightest cause to believe that illness is behind your cat’s weight loss, don’t waste any more time. Contact your vet and get an appointment booked. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post today. We hope it was useful to you!