How many calories does a cat need to eat to gain weight? This is a common question asked by pet owners as they try to make sure their furry friends are getting the healthiest feeding possible. Sadly, most pet owners know very little about what goes into their cat’s bowl. However, there is a misconception that all foods labeled with “Cat Food” are healthy and offer the necessary nutrition for your cute kitty companions.
What to Feed a Cat for Weight Gain
When veterinarians talk about a cat’s weight, it’s usually focused on feline obesity.
While obesity is a prominent health issue among cats, many cats are also struggling with being underweight. And similar to losing weight, gaining weight gain can also be a tricky issue for cats. It’s not just about changing food portions.
First, you’ll need to find out why your cat is losing weight. Then you can determine a plan of action that includes a diet that will safely help your cat return to a healthy weight.
- Intestinal parasites
- Kidney disease
- Dental disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Lung disease
- Chronic pain
Create a Plan of Action for Your Cat
Once you and your veterinarian have a plan for treating the underlying disease, you can get to the hard work of weight gain. Your veterinarian will likely have specific suggestions for your cat based on their age and medical needs.
A diet that is customized to your cat’s specific medical condition is likely to result in the best outcome. Your vet will also identify your cat’s ideal weight, and can do regular weigh-ins to make sure that your plan is effective and that your cat does not exceed his/her ideal weight.
For sick cats, returning to a healthy weight is about more than just calories. Diets for specific conditions are customized to have the right macronutrients and micronutrients to provide weight gain while addressing the unique disease-related concerns.
How to Calculate Calories for Weight Gain
Some cats can be too thin and may need to put on some extra pounds. Thin cats have a body condition reflected in a narrowed waist, protruding rib cage, and exposed bony processes of the spine.
Here is an example of how to calculate calories for weight gain. Let’s say you have a 6-pound cat and you want to calculate the energy requirements for weight gain. When we look at Table 1, the basic RER requirements for a 6-pound cat is 149 calories. When you look at Table 2, you see a factor of 1.8 x RER for ideal weight.
The calculation is 149 calories x 1.8 = 268.2 calories. This 6-pound cat needs to eat approximately 268 calories to gain weight.
What to Feed a Cat to Help Them Gain Weight
If your cat’s medical problem is under control—parasites are treated or painful teeth are pulled—correcting the calorie deficit may be the only treatment necessary.
Here’s what your veterinarian will look for in a healthy cat food for weight gain.
Find a Type of Food That Fits Your Cat’s Preferences
The most important first step is to find a food that your cat enjoys eating but that doesn’t cause stomach upset. You want a food that fits their dietary requirements but is also highly palatable so they will want to eat it.
It’s not unusual for a cat to have a strong preference for a specific flavor, type (canned/dry) or even texture of food. The same goes for a cat being repulsed by one or more of these factors.
Navigating your cat’s preferences is the first, and most important, step of getting your cat to eat well.
Make Sure the Food Fits Their Nutritional Needs
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that cats need to get the essential nutrients for their health from animal products.
The natural prey for cats, such as small rodents, are estimated to contain around 55% protein, 45% fat and 1–2% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis.
Although the macronutrient breakdown of prey is only 1-2% carbohydrate, most cats can use up to 40% of their diet in the form of carbohydrates as a good source of energy.
In general, dry food contains more carbohydrates than wet food.
Cat Food Options for Weight Gain
Good quality kitten food is an excellent choice for weight gain in healthy cats. And most cats enjoy eating kitten food.
Royal Canin Feline Health nutrition dry cat food for young kittens is nutrient- and calorie-dense and tends to be highly palatable to most cats.
Your veterinarian can also prescribe high-calorie cat foods like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Recovery RS canned cat food or Hill’s Prescription Diet a/d Urgent Care canned cat food.
These formulations are highly digestible and provide the extra calories your cat needs to gain weight.
Calculate How Much to Feed Your Cat
Once you have found a food that fits your cat’s needs and also gets them excited about mealtime, it’s time to work out the right portion sizes.
Math is our friend here. In general, for gradual and healthy weight gain, it’s best to assess your cat’s resting metabolic needs and then to feed this amount of calories plus 20% more.
Your vet can help you translate this into the correct amount of the food to feed.
Tips for Helping a Cat Gain Weight
Addressing the underlying health issues, selecting the right food and figuring out how much to feed are vital for success.
But that’s just the starting point. Once you have that sorted, you will need to establish a feeding routine.
Here are a few tips for getting your cat to eat reliably and gain weight safely.
Feed Small, Frequent Meals
A cat’s stomach is only about the size of a ping-pong ball. So it’s normal that your cat won’t eat a lot all at once.
Whether your cat prefers wet food, dry food or both, try feeding one tablespoon of food every few hours.
These small, regular meals are better tolerated than large meals and can reduce the risk of vomiting after a meal.
Try Warming Up Your Cat’s Wet Food
Cats are stimulated to eat by the smell of their food. Warming up wet food can help make the food more aromatic and enticing to your cat.
To heat your cat’s food, put their food in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it for a few seconds.
The optimal temperature for most cats is at, or near, their body temperature—38.5°C (101.5°F).
Calculating Weight Gain
When it comes to weight gain, your cat really isn’t all that different from you. If a normal, healthy cat eats more calories than his body needs to maintain his current condition, he will gain weight. A normal adult cat who weighs between 8 and 10 pounds will need to take in between 180 and 220 calories a day to maintain his weight. To safely gain weight, that the same cat gradually would need to increase his daily calorie intake 25 percent. This means that your cat would need to consume approximately 230 to 270 calories per a day.
Emaciated or Starved Cats
UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program recommends limiting the amount of food a severely underweight or emaciated cat receives when you are beginning a program to help him gain weight. Introducing too much food or food that is too rich to a starved cat’s system can cause serious health problems. If your cat has not been eating regularly, your veterinarian should help you determine how many calories he can receive per meal. Your veterinarian may suggest limiting a cat’s calorie intake at the beginning of any feeding program if he has not been eating well prior. An emaciated cat may require as much as a 50 percent reduction from the normal amount of calories he would receive.
How to help your cat gain weight
In many cases, helping your cat gain weight requires a few changes in his diet. But remember you’ll want to make them gradually. Suddenly switching up his food can lead to digestive upset. Instead, gradually introduce any food modifications.
Step 1: Upgrade their kibble.
Start by looking for a food that delivers better nutrition than the one you’ve been feeding him. Opting for a high-calorie food can help your cat get more calories with every meal, even though he may be eating the same amount.
Step 2: Increase their intake.
Consider making dry food available to your cat continuously so he can graze as he pleases. If your cat is eating only a dry or a wet food, try offering the other type to encourage him to eat more. Sometimes, just changing up the food you offer can pique a cat’s interest.
Step 3: Add some flavor.
If your cat’s picky appetite is affecting how well he eats, consider changing the flavor of his food or adding a cat food topper. Food toppers make your cat’s meals more interesting and appetizing, encouraging him to finish every bowl.
What does my cat need to eat?
We all want to keep our cats as healthy as possible for as long as possible and nutrition plays a big role in that. As veterinarians, we understand that making good decisions about your cat’s diet can be overwhelming. There are so many food brands, protein choices, formulas, and treats out there that really complicates things.
Cats are carnivores. As carnivores, cats should not eat a lot of plant material, which is necessary to produce dry kibble. Cats should ideally eat a protein-based diet without too many carbohydrates, some brands have a lower protein base than others. If you have questions about your cat’s food, you can bring the bag with the list of ingredients to your veterinarian.
Canned food has low carbohydrates and high protein and is ideal. The high moisture content in canned food is beneficial to cats with urinary tract problems, diabetes, and kidney disease. Not all cats have these problems, but many do, and these diseases can potentially be prevented with the right diet. Ideally, a cat should be fed a high-protein, quality canned food diet. It is highly palatable for most cats and many different varieties are available, which can be helpful if your cat is a finicky eater.
What are a cat’s nutritional requirements?
All cats need protein, amino acids, fat, fatty acids, and water to function and thrive. The one thing that you might expect on the list is carbohydrates but cats do not need carbohydrates. Because cats are carnivores, not omnivores (like humans and dogs) they do not need carbs. If you are feeding a commercial diet, you will see that it will have all the minimum and maximum amounts of nutrients that are needed per serving. If you are cooking a meal for your cat, we recommend that you consult a veterinary nutritionist to make sure that you are meeting your cat’s daily nutritional needs.
Proteins and Amino Acids:
Cats can use proteins as an energy source and proteins are a source of amino acids that are necessary to produce antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and tissues. These proteins must come from meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. Proteins from plants and grains do not have all of the amino acids that are essential to feline health.
Fat and Fatty Acids:
Fat provides a concentrated energy source and is the source of fatty acids. Fatty acids are a component of the fat cells that have many complex roles, like:
- It aids fat-soluble vitamin absorption
- It regulates inflammation
- It promotes healthy growth and development
- It affects skin and coat health
Vitamins and Minerals:
There are several vitamins and minerals that all cats need. As long as you are feeding a commercially prepared diet it should have all the vitamins and minerals that are essential to your cat’s health. Do not give your pets any vitamin supplements unless prescribed by your vet. Some vitamins and minerals can be harmful to your cat in excess quantities. Read the label to make sure that your cat’s food is meeting the minimum standard of balanced feline nutrition look for the Nutritional Adequacy Statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Somewhere, in tiny letters, the label should say something like “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.” It should also mention “animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures,” which means the food went through a feeding trial.
Water might be obvious and is necessary for all living things. Water plays many roles in life; some of the most vital are:
- The distribution of nutrients and oxygen to cells body temperature regulation elimination of toxins by flushing out waste products in the liver and kidney
- It moistens mucus membranes in the eyes, nose, and mouth
- It protects organs and tissues
When should I switch my cat food from kitten to adult to senior?
Once kittens are weaned from mother’s milk (5-6 weeks) and eating kitten food they should stay on kitten food until they are approximately 80% of their ideal weight—about 9-12 months old. Kitten food is specifically formulated for rapid growth and development which means that it has more fat content and protein than adult formulas. Switching from adult cat food to a senior or modified diet depends on the individual cat. Cats that are maintaining the weight and muscle mass do not need to change their diet. Cats start to show signs of aging anywhere between 7-12 years. Some of these changes can not be avoided but others can be managed by a diet change. You should always discuss your pet’s diet and any diet changes with your veterinarian so that they can evaluate your cat’s needs and medical conditions.
While increasing your cat’s food is one way to promote weight gain, this strategy might not work when used alone. A cat with a poor appetite may not eat enough of the food to gain weight, so supplementation becomes important.
Weight-gain supplements contain concentrated calories to give your cat a nutritional boost without requiring him to eat more food. Many of these supplements contain calories from fish oils for a healthy addition to your cat’s diet, and they’re packed with the necessary minerals and vitamins for cats to gain weight.
Supplements are available in many different forms, including liquid and gels. You may have luck mixing a supplement into your cat’s food, which might appeal to your cat if he’s a picky eater. Some supplements are so palatable that your cat will lick them right off a spoon. Alternatively, you can feed a liquid supplement with an eyedropper, ensuring that your cat gets the full dose.
- Miracle Vet High Calorie Weight Gainer is one of those convenient liquid supplements. It’s suitable for both dogs and cats and delivers 150 calories per ounce.
- If you’re looking for a gel, TOMLYN Nutri-Cal High Calorie Nutritional Gel is safe for both cats and kittens. It provides extra calories and vitamins and works as an appetite stimulant, calorie booster, and weight gainer.
- If your cat loves his wet food, you can easily mix in Lexelium Weight Gainer and Appetite Stimulant. This powdered supplement is all natural, and it’s odorless and tasteless, perfect for picky eaters.
- In cases where your cat isn’t eating, such as if he’s recovering from a serious illness, ensuring he gets the calories he needs is essential to his health and recovery. Under the Weather Ready Cal for Cats & Dogs is designed for just this situation. This high-calorie nutritional supplement contains nine vitamins and seven minerals to support your cat’s health. It’s delivered in an oral dosing syringe with measurements so you can make sure that your cat gets just the right amount.