What is Weight Loss and Chronic Disease?
A cat that is losing weight, but still consuming food is likely affected by chronic disease. Your veterinarian may refer to this condition as cachexia, the term used to describe the wasting and weakness of one’s body due to chronic illness.
Any time a cat loses a significant amount of weight it is a reason to be concerned, as your cat’s body mass index greatly affects the functions of the body. Cats lose weight for a variety of reasons with most due to anorexia, or refusal to eat. Infestation of internal parasites, stress, anxiety, depression, a change in food and even moving to a new home can cause a feline to stop eating, leading to a dramatic decrease in body weight. Nevertheless, any cat that is losing more than 10% total body weight should be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian, especially if it is consuming food and still dropping pounds.
Symptoms of Weight Loss and Chronic Disease in Cats
Weight loss is fairly easy to note in felines due to their petite stature. You may notice the hip bones, spine, and shoulder blades are now more prominent in your cat after losing weight. The skin may be loose and look a size too big for the body. Your feline’s fur will appear dull, brittle and may even fall out. Additional symptoms may also be noted depending on which chronic disease is causing the weight loss in the feline.
Weight loss caused by chronic disease in cats can result in additional symptoms:
- Muscle wasting
- Hair loss
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes)
- Lack of energy
- Increased thirst (polydipsia)
Causes of Weight Loss and Chronic Disease in Cats
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is the term used when referring to a group of chronic gastrointestinal disorders, not just one single disease. However, the common denominator for each of these IBD conditions is that they are all caused by an infiltration of inflammatory cells, resulting in a thickened intestinal wall. The thick wall prevents the gastrointestinal tract from functioning properly, resulting in poor appetite, anorexia and, of course, weight loss.
Gallbladder disease refers to a group of diseases with the common denominator being the gallbladder organ. Disease of the gallbladder could be gallbladder failure, gallbladder stones, gallbladder infection or cholecystitis (gallbladder inflammation).
Liver disease is known as hepatic lipidosis, or commonly known as fatty liver disease. Hepatic lipidosis is commonly found in starving cats, or those that refuse to eat, resulting in a low functioning organ.
Pancreas disease is a broad term used to describe an improperly functioning pancreatic organ. However, pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas and is the most common exocrine pancreatic disease found in felines.
Hyperthyroidism is the term used for when the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormone than is needed in the body.
Addison’s disease, or hypoadrenocorticism, is the term used to define an inadequate production of adrenal gland corticoids, aldosterone and cortisol.
Diabetes is the inability to produce insulin, the hormone used to balance the body’s glucose levels.
Diagnosis of Weight Loss and Chronic Disease in Cats
Weight loss can be caused by so many ailments, it’s important for you to know your cat. Any information that you can provide the veterinarian can help in the diagnostic process. Important answers to questions you should know in a weight loss case are primarily eating habits, energy levels and any recent injuries the cat might have sustained.
After the veterinarian has discussed your feline’s recent behavior, eating habits and medical history, he or she is likely to conduct the following diagnostic exams:
- Physical examination
- Complete blood cell count (CBC)
- Biochemistry profile: A biochemistry profile measures the components of blood, providing an overview of most bodily functions. It will determine the feline’s electrolyte levels, glucose levels, blood proteins, as well as the pancreatic, liver and kidney functions.
- Urinalysis: A urinalysis will determine the feline’s hydration status and kidney function.
- Fecal sample test
- Abdominal ultrasound
Treatment of Weight Loss and Chronic Disease in Cats
Treating weight loss associated with chronic disease depends on which disease the feline is affected by. Talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate treatment protocol for your cat’s specific condition. The veterinarian may recommend treating symptoms to encourage the feline to eat. Cats in a severe state may be hospitalized to receive intravenous fluids, medications and professional care. Your veterinarian may recommend the placement of what is commonly referred to as a “feeding tube” to provide the feline with nutrients. Types of feeding tubes include:
- Naso-gastric or Naso-esophageal tube (nasal tube)
- Esophagostomy tube (esophageal tube)
- Gastrostomy tube (stomach tube)
Recovery of Weight Loss and Chronic Disease in Cats
A cat with weight loss and chronic disease can have a complete recovery with proper treatment and continuous monitoring. Weigh-ins and follow-ups are expected frequently. Follow your veterinarian’s treatment recommendation to the T. If you do not notice a change in your cat’s condition within the estimated time frame set by the veterinarian, contact him or her immediately.
Weight Loss and Chronic Disease Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat is losing weight and I have been told she may have mammary cancer. She has not been given any medication and I have not received an actual diagnosis. She is eating but always seems to want more food from my plate and not her food. She is also vomiting up lots of hairball with a yellow liquid. She also had gotten into the garbage and has taken raw meat from the counter. Could she have gotten sick from this or could it be she actually has cancer? What can I do for her?
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My 10 year old Japanese bobtail mix suddenly stopped eating when she’s always been a very healthy eater. She lost 1lb of weight in 12 days. She was holding her head down, seemed to not be aware or see us and was doing a weird sort of move while walking (like sort of a drag & pop with her hind feet) After seeing 6 different vets including an internal and neurological no one has any real answers. She’s been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism but it apparently does not explain her ck levels being 15,400 and after 24h on iv fluids 19,645. Her potassium is also low at 3.1.
She’s still not eating, but initially after coming home from the hospital she was purring, rubbing and talking, seemed happy to interact with us.
48 hours later and she is hiding under the bed, doesn’t want to be touched or even talked to, seems as if one of her back legs isn’t working, hasn’t gone to the litter box or voluntarily eaten (I fed her with a syringe a mix of high calorie vitamins and prescription food mixed with kitten milk supplement). She’s being treated empirically for toxoplasmosis, since they believe this is the likely culprit. She is strictly indoor only! I’ve had her since she was 9m old, she was a stray I adopted. She had upper respiratory when I adopted her, but beyond that she’s never had any issues. Her ultrasound says “largely unremarkable with fluid and ingests noted distal to the stomach”
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