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How to Help a Cat With Kidney Disease Gain Weight: 6 Vet-Reviewed Solutions

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

The gray big long-haired British cat sits on the scales and looks up

Vet approved

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Kidney disease, whether acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), is a common affliction for our feline friends. To manage this disease, you’ll need to work closely with your veterinarian and make changes to your cat’s lifestyle. Nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining a good quality of life for kitties with kidney issues, many of whom struggle to stay at a healthy weight.

If your pet has been diagnosed with kidney disease and needs to gain weight, here are six possible options to help.

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The 6 Potential Solutions for Helping a Cat With Kidney Disease Gain Weight

1. Treat Underlying Nausea

cat vomit on the floor
Photo Credit: ThamKC, Shutterstock
Prescription required: Usually
Vet visit required: Usually

To gain weight, your cat needs to have an appetite to eat and also be able to keep down the food they consume without throwing up. Unfortunately, cats with kidney disease often struggle with nausea. Ailing kidneys cannot perform their usual function of filtering the cat’s blood, allowing toxins to build up. Those toxins often make the cat feel nauseous or start vomiting.

To help your cat feel better, eat, and gain weight, see your veterinarian for advice and possibly medications to treat your cat’s underlying nausea.

2. Feed a Prescription Kidney Diet

british short-haired cat eating dry cat food
Photo Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock
Prescription required: Yes
Vet visit required: Usually

Cats with kidney disease have a lot of precise nutritional and hydration requirements. We’ll discuss this in more detail later, but your cat may be struggling to gain weight because their regular diet is inappropriate now that they have been diagnosed with kidney disease. Ask your vet if your cat could benefit from a prescription feline kidney diet.

These foods are formulated using careful scientific research and diet trials, providing the most accessible nutrition for kidney cats.

3. Switch to Canned Food

Cat is eating canned food from ceramic plate placed
Photo Credit: Veera, Shutterstock
Prescription required: Sometimes
Vet visit required: Sometimes

If your cat refuses to eat a prescription kidney diet, switching from a dry to a canned food diet could help them gain weight. Canned food tends to be more calorically dense than dry, allowing your cat to eat less to maintain or gain weight. The smell and texture of canned diets may be more appealing to cats with questionable appetites. The soft food may also be gentler for those who suffer from mouth sores, one of the more painful side effects of kidney disease.

Finally, feeding canned food is another trick to help your cat consume more water and stay hydrated.

4. Ask About High-Calorie Food Additives

cat at vet with owner and veternarian
Image Credit: 4 PM production, Shutterstock
Prescription required: No
Vet visit required: No

If your cat with kidney disease has a good appetite but still can’t seem to gain weight, ask your vet if there are any high-calorie supplements or foods you can try. For example, high-calorie gels or pastes are available to help undernourished animals pack on some pounds. There may be suggested human foods you could use as well. However, don’t start feeding your cat anything new without checking with your vet first.

Remember, cats with kidney disease need to eliminate, reduce, or carefully control their intake of certain nutrients that healthy cats don’t have to worry about. You don’t want to help your cat gain weight at the expense of making their kidney disease worse.

5. Appetite Stimulants

Veterinarian giving a drug to a cat_
Image Credit: Thodonal88, Shutterstock
Prescription required: Yes
Vet visit required: Yes

Cats with kidney disease may need more than tasty food to help them eat and gain weight. The cats may benefit from taking an appetite stimulant prescribed by your veterinarian. The FDA recently approved a medication specifically designed to help cats with kidney disease gain weight, and there are other options as well.

If you’re worried about giving your cat medication, ask your veterinarian and their staff to provide you with tips. You could also ask if the medication can be compounded into a liquid form with added flavor.

6. Supplemental Feeding

The veterinarian feeds the cat using a syringe
Image By: Frantic00, Shutterstock
Prescription required: No
Vet visit required: Sometimes

One of the last-ditch options for helping cats with kidney disease gain weight is through supplemental feedings. Sometimes, this means your vet will ask you to feed your cat soft food or a nutritional blend with a syringe. Often, cats with kidney disease will have a permanent feeding tube inserted. This allows the owner to give medications more easily, extra water for hydration, and supplemental feeding. If your cat struggles to gain weight or your vet worries they are becoming dehydrated too quickly, they may suggest a feeding tube.

With practice and guidance from your veterinarian, most owners can adapt to managing and using a feeding tube, but it does take time and effort. Be honest with your veterinarian about your concerns or limitations before committing to supplemental feedings.

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Nutrition Goals for Cats with Kidney Disease

Because chronic kidney disease must be managed rather than cured, careful attention to nutrition and hydration is essential to prolong and improve your cat’s quality of life.

Modern veterinarians have access to more data and research on this topic than in years past. Because of this, they can create custom nutritional plans based on your cat’s specific body condition, age, and how advanced their kidney disease is.

Common goals for all cats with kidney disease include maintaining and increasing their water intake and making sure almost all daily calories (90%) come from an appropriate diet, with treats limited to 10%.

Cats with kidney disease also need to eat less phosphorous because too much of the mineral can cause more damage to the kidneys. At the same time, they need increased potassium because cats with kidney disease often struggle to maintain normal levels of this electrolyte. These cats can also benefit from increased fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins along with controlled sodium content.

Most importantly, cats with kidney disease need to eat diets with highly digestible, high-quality protein in moderate amounts. Protein is vital to maintaining your cat’s muscle mass and weight, but eating too much can be tough on the kidneys, especially in the more advanced stages of the disease.

When your cat is diagnosed with kidney disease, work closely with your veterinarian to determine what changes you need to make to your cat’s diet and water intake, and follow the plan carefully.

We would also like to hand you a tool to know how much you should feed your cat to maintain their health:

The exact amount of calories an individual animal needs to maintain a healthy weight is variable and influenced by many factors including genetics, age, breed, and activity level. This tool is meant to be used only as a guideline for healthy individuals and does not substitute veterinary advice 

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Managing a chronic disease can be stressful, whether it’s happening to a human or a pet. No one likes to hear the news that their beloved cat has kidney disease, but thankfully, veterinary medicine has made significant progress in understanding how to manage the chronic condition.

Depending on how severe your cat’s kidney disease is, your vet may suggest a referral to a veterinary specialist for advanced management. Additionally, you can request one on your own.

Featured Image Credit: ValeriiaES, Shutterstock

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