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How to Care for a Malnourished Cat

Malnourished Cat Said Dr. Hanen Abdel Rahman If you find a starving cat-like Gloria, avoid what is known as Refeeding Syndrome by feeding it very small amounts of high protein wet food, instead of dry food, which is often high in carbohydrates. You can also add additional nutrients to the wet food using very small amounts of fish oil or Brewer’s Yeast.

Malnourished Cat

How do you take care of a malnourished kitten?
If a malnourished cat shows up on your doorstep, your first impulse may be to treat him to an all-you-can-eat feline buffet. Resist that impulse — it could harm the cat. Try feeding him small amounts of quality cat food, and take him to the vet as soon as possible for a checkup. She will assess the cat’s body condition and recommend a feeding plan, as well as check the animal for diseases such as feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus.

The kittens will need to be bottle-fed with milk replacer every 2-3 hours (including overnight) and kept warm and dry:

  • 1 – 4 weeks old: will need to be bottle-fed kitten formula.
  • 5 weeks and older: can be offered canned food for kittens Only but they may still need to be bottle-fed. Canned food must be creamy texture with no chunky food or big pieces. Please try to find the best quality canned kitten food from the pet store.
  • If you, a neighbor, friend, or relative are able to take on this responsibility, you can give these abandoned kittens a shot at life! If your schedule does not allow for it, there may be resources in the community to help. Be aware that most local shelters do not have the staff to feed kittens around the clock and mortality rates in these kittens are very high.

Nutrition instructions:

  • Do not feed cow’s milk, milk, or rice: Milk replacement (kitten formula) and nursing kits can be purchased at pet stores. Follow the instructions on the packaging for cleaning and preparing the bottles, nipples, and for the appropriate mixing ratio of the milk replacement. Do not heat the liquid directly, rather place the bottle in a pan of hot water to warm it, and test on your own wrist. Wash your hands before and after handling the formula and feeding the kittens. Do not feed kittens on their backs. Place them on their stomachs and gently lift their chins. Rub the nipple back and forth across the lips and gums until the kitten begins to taste the formula and latches on. Remember to tilt the bottle up so that the kitten is not sucking in air. An eyedropper may be necessary for the first week or two. Every third feeding, offer some water in the bottle to start. Kittens will usually stop suckling when they are full. Do not feed too fast or force the formula. Kittens eating formula need to be burped. This is performed by keeping them on their stomach and either placing them on your lap or on your shoulder and then gently patting their backs.

Body Condition Scoring
The type of care your malnourished cat requires depends on his body condition score. Truly emaciated felines — those with no evidence of body fat and all of their bones protruding, or virtual “skin and bones” animals — need different care than those cats who are just thin.

Refeeding Syndrome
While the thin cat probably will do well on a standard diet of high-quality cat food, that’s not the case with an emaciated animal. A starving cat can die from metabolic disorders, known as refeeding syndrome if given too much food too fast. Food must be gradually reintroduced to the starved cat. While the cat was without food, his body depleted his reserves of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, resulting in electrolyte imbalances and reduced organ function. Feeding him too much at once can cause severe, possibly fatal electrolyte imbalances, along with fluid overload in the depleted heart and kidneys. Your vet may recommend an initial low carbohydrate, high-fat diet, fed in small amounts numerous times a day.

Vitamins and Supplements
Certain vitamins and supplements may help a malnourished cat regain weight and health more quickly. These include probiotics, which help restore “good” bacteria to the intestinal tract. Your vet may give the cat a vitamin B-12 injection, and suggest vitamin B-12 supplements to mix in the animal’s food. In addition to recommending vitamins and supplements, your vet will deworm the cat and treat him for any parasites.

Medical Problems
Various medical problems can cause severe feline weight loss, and these must be ruled out or treated in a malnourished cat. Older cats, especially, may appear malnourished, even if they receive regular meals. Aged cats often have trouble digesting nutrients in their food. Conditions that cause weight loss include:

Intestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome:

  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Cancer
  • Dental disease

Your vet will perform various tests to diagnosis these diseases, including bloodwork, urinalysis, fecal exams, and thyroid tests. She’ll likely conduct X-rays and/or ultrasounds to look for tumors or changes in organs. Treatment depends upon the diagnosis.