Why Do Old Cats Get So Skinny and Bony? The Truth About Seniors Cats’ Changing Bodies


For many cat owners, nothing is more heartbreaking than watching a feline companion grow old and frail. One of the most noticeable changes that can occur in aging cats is increased boniness and muscle wasting. This gradual thinning out can stir up worries and questions in caring cat parents wondering what’s causing their cat to waste away.

In this article, we’ll explore the various reasons senior cats often get increasingly bony, from normal age-related changes to underlying health conditions. We’ll provide tips on nutrients and activities to help aging cats maintain strength and mobility. And we’ll discuss when it’s time to take your elderly feline to the veterinarian for a checkup. With information and attentive care, you can help make your cat’s later years comfortable despite the natural bony changes.

Normal Bone Changes in Aging Cats

It’s normal for cats to experience some bone changes as they age. One common change is a decrease in bone density, which occurs as cats lose lean muscle mass and gain fat. This can lead to bones becoming weaker and more prone to injury (Bellows, 2016).

Another frequent bone issue in senior cats is osteoarthritis, which is characterized by degeneration of the cartilage in joints. This causes joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Over time, arthritis can limit mobility and impact quality of life (Bellows, 2016).

Some cats may develop benign bony growths on their spines called spondylosis deformans. These feel like small bumps along the spine. They are not usually painful, but can potentially pinch nerves in severe cases (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Underlying Health Conditions

There are several health conditions common in senior cats that can lead to weight loss. These include:


Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid gland, is one of the most common causes of senior cat weight loss according to Why some senior cats lose weight. What’s going on?. The excess thyroid hormone increases metabolism, causing more calories to be burned. This leads to unintended weight loss even with a normal appetite.

Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease leads to poor absorption of nutrients and can cause nausea, reducing appetite and caloric intake according to Reasons Your Senior Cat is Losing Weight. The kidneys have a harder time maintaining proper hydration and fluid balance in older cats, contributing to weight loss.


Similar to hyperthyroidism, diabetes increases metabolism and calorie burning explains Older Cat Losing Weight: 8 Common Causes | Great Pet Care. Glucose passes out of their systems unused when cats are diabetic, depriving them of those calories. This also leads to weight loss despite a normal appetite.


Feline cancers like lymphoma, pancreatic and intestinal cancer can cause nausea, poor appetite, malabsorption, and increased calorie needs for tissue repair according to Reasons Your Senior Cat is Losing Weight. Weight loss is often the first sign of cancer in senior cats.

Poor Nutrition

As cats age, their nutritional needs change but they often have trouble getting adequate nutrition for several reasons. One major reason is that elderly cats simply don’t eat enough. Their appetite declines but their caloric needs don’t, leading to unintended weight loss if they don’t eat enough. According to https://hare-today.com/feline-nutrition/nutrition/dont-let-your-senior-cat-become-a-skinny-old-kitty, caloric intake should actually increase 10-60% for senior cats.

Even if they eat the same amount, senior cats may miss key nutrients needed to maintain muscle mass and organ function. Their digestive system isn’t as efficient at absorbing nutrients as it once was. They may need higher protein, more easily digestible fat sources, increased B vitamins, and antioxidants but aren’t getting enough in their regular diet.

Finally, elderly cats often have dental issues like gingivitis, resorptive lesions, and tooth loss which makes it painful for them to chew. Hard dry food becomes difficult for them to eat. Providing wet food, adding water to make a gruel, or warming the food to release aromas can entice aging cats who have trouble chewing to eat.

Lack of Movement

As cats age, they tend to become less active and playful. Arthritis and joint pain can limit their movement and make it difficult for them to jump, climb, and play like they used to. This lack of movement can cause cats to lose muscle mass, especially in their legs and spine, resulting in a bony appearance.

According to the VCA Hospitals, “If their nutrition does not meet their requirements, they will lose muscle mass resulting in the ability to easily feel the bones of their spine and hips when petting or picking up our cats.” Source

Arthritis is very common in older cats and can make it painful for them to move around. As cats decrease their activity due to arthritis pain, they will lose muscle mass and tone. This contributes to the bony, wasting away appearance of some senior cats.

Tips to Keep Cats from Getting Too Bony

There are some things cat owners can do to help keep their cats from becoming too thin or bony as they age. Here are some tips:

Encourage movement and play. Make sure your cat has access to toys, climbing areas, and spaces to explore safely. Interactive play with wands, balls, and other toys will promote exercise. Just be careful not to overtire an elderly cat.

Provide soft food. Many older cats have dental issues that make chewing dry food difficult and painful. Switching to wet or soft food makes eating easier for seniors. You can also add warm water to dry food to soften it.

Consider supplements. Nutritional gel supplements like Nutri-Cal can provide extra calories if your cat is getting too thin. Discuss options with your vet.

Get regular vet checks. Senior wellness exams every 6 months allow the vet to monitor your cat’s weight, prescribe medications if needed, and adjust diet recommendations. Catching issues early is key.

When to See the Vet

As cats age, it’s important to monitor them closely for any concerning changes that may indicate an underlying health issue. Some signs that warrant a veterinary visit include:

Rapid weight loss – If your cat is losing weight quickly despite eating normally, it could signal illness. Any major weight changes in senior cats should be evaluated.

Loss of appetite – An elderly cat who loses interest in food or refuses their normal meals may be dealing with dental disease, nausea, altered sense of smell, or another medical problem.

Lethargy – Increased sleeping and low energy levels can happen naturally with age. But a sudden dramatic shift in your cat’s normal activity levels may reflect illness or pain.

Hiding – If a normally social cat starts retreating and hiding for long periods, it may indicate they are not feeling well. Any behavioral changes should spark concern.

Other changes – Monitor your senior cat closely for vomiting, increased thirst/urination, poor coat condition, balance issues, and any other deviations from normal. Don’t write off changes as just “old age.” Have your vet examine any anomalies.

Early intervention for age-related disorders can significantly improve your elderly cat’s quality of life. At the first signs of trouble, schedule a veterinary visit for a thorough health assessment.

Diagnostic Tests

If a cat is showing signs of aging bone changes, the vet will perform several diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause. This usually starts with a thorough physical exam, paying close attention to the cat’s bones, joints, and muscles. The vet will check for pain, swelling, decreased range of motion, and muscle atrophy.

The vet will likely recommend bloodwork like a complete blood count and chemistry panel. These can reveal issues like kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and cancer which can contribute to bone changes. Urinalysis can also help screen for some of these conditions [1].

Diagnostic imaging like x-rays, CT scans, or MRI are essential to evaluate the bones. These can detect arthritis, fractures, bone cysts, osteoporosis, and bone tumors. X-rays of the affected limbs are especially helpful to confirm diagnosis [1].

Finally, the vet may recommend biopsy to collect bone or tissue samples for pathology. This can definitively diagnose certain cancers like osteosarcoma.

Treatment Options

The treatment for bony changes in aging cats depends on the underlying cause. Here are some common treatments:

Treating Underlying Conditions – If there is an underlying illness causing the cat to become bony, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or cancer, the vet will treat the primary condition first. Getting the underlying illness under control can help improve the cat’s body condition.

Pain Medication – If the bony changes are causing pain and discomfort, the vet may prescribe pain medications like buprenorphine or meloxicam. These can help relieve pain and improve mobility and quality of life.

Supplements – Supplements like glucosamine/chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids may help support joint health and mobility. Vitamin B12 injections can also help stimulate appetite.

Diet Changes – Switching to a high-calorie senior cat food, feeding smaller meals more frequently, or adding nutritional gel supplements can help cats maintain or gain weight if they are becoming too thin.

Providing the Best Quality of Life

As cats reach their senior years, it’s important for owners to focus on providing the best possible quality of life. This involves keeping the cat as comfortable, pain-free, and content as possible. Some tips for providing quality of life include:

Keeping the cat comfortable – Older cats may need special beds, warming mats, or orthopedic cushions to help support their bodies and joints. Soft bedding and blankets will help them relax. Regular grooming and nail trims are also important for comfort.

Adapting the environment – Place food, water, and litter boxes in easily accessible areas. Use ramps or steps to help the cat access furniture or beds. Keep pathways clear and arrange furniture to allow easy movement around the home.

Maintaining an enriching routine – Continue interactive play, brushing, petting, and lap time. Engage the senses with catnip, music, window perches for birdwatching, and access to sunny spots. Consistency in routine helps senior cats feel secure.

With some adjustments and extra care, owners can nurture their aging felines and make their golden years as fulfilling as possible despite health issues. Focusing on quality of life helps extend and enrich the time cats have with their loving families.

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