What Are the Causes of Emaciation in Cats?

A healthy cat has just enough fat to protect his vital organs.
i Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

If your poor kitty is losing weight at a rapid pace, or if you've found a too-skinny kitten, it's time to bring out the big gun -- your veterinarian. While some cats are naturally slender and there's no cause for alarm, emaciation means there's trouble brewing for your cat's health.

Body Basics

A healthy cat has a layer of fat protecting his bones and organs. If you can see a cat's ribs or hips, he's unhealthily underweight. If you touch the base of his tail and it's bony rather than smooth, the cat is underweight. Not to get too repetitious, but if you look at the kitty from the side and there's a steep slope from his belly to his chest, he's underweight.

Simple Causes

Causes for low body weight can be simple. Say, your high-energy cat is a finicky eater. If he spends his days running, playing and jumping rather than snoozing, increasing his portions and the frequency of his meals can pack the pounds back on. If you've just found a cat and he's emaciated, chances are good that he's just hungry, and fixing the problem may be as easy as feeding him -- after having a veterinarian check him for diseases, of course.


Unfortunately, sometimes it's not as easy as just feeding a cat who's lost weight. The underlying condition has to be determined and treated first. Some diseases, such as feline infectious peritonitis -- which has neither a cure nor an effective treatment -- feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus cause cats to lose weight. That's just the tip of the iceberg, as far as illnesses that drain the weight away. The cat in question could have diabetes, a thyroid condition, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, liver problems or renal failure.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When you take your super-skinny cat to the veterinarian, he'll likely order a blood panel and urinalysis. He'll listen to your cat's heart and feel his stomach area to make sure there are no blockages. He may also check the kitty's lymph nodes for signs of swelling. Ask the veterinarian if having your cat put on intravenous fluids is an option -- in emergency situations, in which your cat has lost too much body mass, the vet may start the poor kitty on fluids immediately. Once the cause of the weight loss becomes apparent, work together with the veterinarian to come up with a treatment plan.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

the nest