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ChristineLVT, Certified Veterinary Technician
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 3307
Experience:  Licensed veterinary technician (B.S. Mercy College), 10 yrs in animal medicine and training
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My 17 year old cat is very thin. I can feel her bones. She ...

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My 17 year old cat is very thin. I can feel her bones. She is an inside cat. We have been battling fleas this past year. We've tried frontline and have been combing her regularly. She is a domestic shorthair. She eats soft food in the morning and I see her eating dry food during the day. She seems hungry and thirsty often though. She doesn't act sick and her bathroom habits seem fine. Is there a supplement that would put weight on her. Could the flea problem be causing her to be so thin?

There is a supplement called Nutri-Cal that is sold in pet catalogues, pet supple stores, pet stores and vet's offices often which is a high calorie gel type of substance many cats love, and lick off your finger like a treat. This is generally utilized for cats who aren't great eaters or have trouble digesting their food appropriately.

However, I would first make sure there is not another problem going on. Fleas can cause anemia which in turn can cause weakness and less of an appetite, but more commonly, a flea gets ingested when grooming or biting due to the itchiness and this causes tapeworms, an intestinal parasite which feeds off the lining of the intestines and this could be one reason your kitty still eats but is losing weight. I would definitely drop off a stool sample with your vet to check for other parasites, treat for fleas with advantage or frontline, and let the vet know you have seen fleas and worry about tapeworms. A cheap, one-time pill called drontal (or droncit) can be given to get rid of this problem.

Another thing to consider in an older cat is hyperthyroidism, which often first presents as a good appetite along with weight loss. This is because hyperthyroidism is caused by a (usually) benign mass located on the thyroid gland, which causes an overactive metabolism. Over time without treatment, the cat starts to "waste away", and other signs are noted as well: hair loss, more vocalizing, weakness, vomiting, etc.

Hyperthyroidism has a few options for treatment/management.

There a 3 main ones:

1. Lifetime management with daily medication. The medication isn't expensive but after years it does add up. With your cat being 17, this is the most feasible choice.

2. Radioactive iodine treatment. This is a one time subcutaneous injection (under the skin) easily given, but does need to be done at a specialized facility, which may be far from you, the cat needs to board for a few days afterwards to clear any iodine safely through the urine so you aren't exposed yourself, and treatment can be expensive.

3. Surgery to remove the mass, expensive, but a cure nonetheless.

Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed easily with a blood test from your vet.

Start with treating the fleas and possibility of tapeworms and possibly try the Nutri-Cal at this time to get weight on faster. If not seeing improvement, you may want to consider having the blood work done.

Best of luck, and let me know if I can help further.


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Reply to ChristineLVT's Post: Would I be able to feel a mass on the thyroid myself? Thank you for your response. The tapeworm, parasite theory did enter my mind. I'll check it out and then go from there. Is it flea droppings that turn to blood when wet that I see on the sink counter when combing her?


If your cat did indeed have hyperthyroidism, it can be felt almost like a little 'notch and slip' on the thyroid itself, though unless used to feeling the way it normally feels, it is quite difficult to determine, and many vets cannot be sure this is the case either until running bloodwork.

It is indeed flea droppings that cause the flea dirt you are seeing. Since they ingest blood, that is what comes out as well. Often it looks brown on the skin, but can appear reddish when wet or smeared.


Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Reply to ChristineLVT's Post: You are so helpful. One last question now. What is the little slender white things I see on the counter when combing her? Is that flea droppings also?
No, flea droppings only look like dirt. Little slender white things? Likely tapeworms, which often stick to the fur on their back end after defecating. If finding elsewhere on the body, she may be lying in them after they fall off. Check where she sleeps most often as you may want to clean these areas well if you find more!
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