Cat Metabolism: How it Affects Your Feline Friend

Metabolism refers to the complex chemical processes in the body that break down food (especially protein, carbohydrates and fat) to yield energy. The average cat metabolism can be affected by a multitude of factors, such as hormone levels, age, neuter status, illness, certain diseases, physiological states (such as pregnant or nursing), meal plan and exercise. To understand how a feline metabolism can shift continue reading.

Orange tabby cat with green eyes flopped on a bedspread

Metabolism Fluctuates With Age

An understanding of cat metabolism and how it is impacted by life stages, food, exercise and neutering status can help cat parents understand the importance of providing proper nutrition and daily activity to feline family members.

During their first year, kittens grow a lot. Cat metabolism is very high during the kitten phase, and a complete and balanced kitten food such as Hill's® Science Diet® Kitten Healthy Development, is recommended. After your cat is spayed or neutered, your veterinarian might recommend decreasing the amount of food you feed her, as it is suspected these procedures reduce a cat's metabolic rate. If your cat is spayed or neutered before turning one, then kitten food should still be fed.

Once your cat is fully grown (approximately one year) she can be slowly transitioned to an adult formula food. Since it is much easier to prevent obesity than to reverse it, yearly veterinary examinations and weight assessments are important. Your vet will make suggestions if any meal plan changes are needed. Your cat's vet can recommend food based on her age and the American Animal Hospital Association's Body Condition Scoring, a numerical assessment that helps you to visual classify your cat as underweight, overweight or normal/ideal.

Particular care and attention is needed when your cat is middle-aged (4 to 9 years old). During this period, her metabolism slows and her caloric needs decrease. Pet parents need to be extra vigilant in monitoring their cat's weight and must provide daily exercise and activities to keep their cats mobile.

As cats enter their senior years, their metabolic rate and energy requirements once again increase. At this stage, preservation of muscle mass is very important. Feeding a specially formulated food for your senior cat, such as Hill's® Science Diet® Adult 11+ Indoor Age Defying Cat Food, provides her with a high-quality and easily digestible protein source.

Long-haired calico with paws on table, feet on floor.

Metabolism's Tie to Overall Health and Weight

Professional nutritional guidance and an awareness of your cat's metabolism speed are crucial, since both dictate her weight and overall health. Cats possessing a slower metabolic rate are predisposed to obesity. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60 percent of cats in U.S. households are considered clinically obese. Excessive weight is associated with many health issues including diabetes mellitus, arthritis, cancer, respiratory disease and bladder stones. Although the irresistible pleas from a furry face are admittedly hard to ignore, the cause for the obesity crisis is primarily in the overfeeding hands of pet parents.

Ideally, providing your cat with an appropriate amount of calories and exercise will help to ensure that she maintains a healthy body weight. If your vet has informed you that a weight-loss program is needed for your cat, they can take measures to help your cat slowly and safely achieve an optimal weight.

It is very important to seek professional veterinary advice before initiating a weight loss program for your cat. Dramatic and rapid weight loss in cats can result in life threatening hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. If your cat is overweight and has not eaten in more than a day, contact your vet immediately.

Cats who have had unsuccessful weight-loss efforts on reduced calorie foods are good candidates for another approach. Hill's® Prescription Diet® Metabolic Feline naturally works with your pet's unique metabolism, and helps avoid weight regain after weight loss. It also helps regulate appetite and spare lean body mass. Over 80 percent of cats who participated in a home study lost weight on Hill's® Prescription Diet® Metabolic Feline. Extra weight can impact your cat's quality of life and relationship with the family because it can reduce play time, impact mobility and affect your cat's lifelong general health.

Fluctuations in Weight and How They Relate to Metabolism

It has already been established that cats with a generally slower metabolic rate will burn fewer calories and store more fat than cats with a faster metabolism. There are several medical problems that impact your cat's metabolism and result in weight loss or weight gain. A sudden change in weight is often what reveals an issue by prompting a pet parent to bring their cat to the vet:

  • Hyperthyroidism results in an increased metabolic state, with cats losing weight despite normal or often increased appetites.
  • Diabetes can cause rapid weight loss and blood sugar imbalances and is more common in overweight cats, writes the Cornell Feline Health Center.
  • Cancer cachexia is a common and complex result of cancer that causes a cat to lose fat and muscle at equal rates, explains PetCoach. Since cancer can often have a gradual onset, this disturbance in a cat's metabolism can serve as the first warning sign of a problem.

Staying in tune with your cat's metabolism is an intricate process that is important for cat parents as your cat's weight serves as a gauge of wellness. Bring your cat to the vet for frequent checkups as she ages and keep a close eye on her appetite.

Contributor Bio

Mindy Cohan, VMD

Mindy Cohan is a veterinarian in the Philadelphia area and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She has a rescue dog named Jem. Mindy enjoys hiking with Jem while listening to podcasts about the American Civil War and Abraham Lincoln.

Related Pet Care Articles