In the cat world, a lot of attention is given to overweight and obese kitties. But on the other end of the spectrum, plenty of cats are a little too thin and trim. Thinness in cats can come about due to several things, including medical condition, age, and picky eating. If your kitty could stand to put on a few pounds, one of these cat foods for weight gain might be the way to go.
1. Best Overall Food for Weight Gain: Nulo Freestyle Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
Contains no corn, wheat, soy, artificial preservatives, colors, or flavoring.
Probiotic to support you cat's digestive and immune health.
This food from Nulo packs a nutritional punch. It is loaded with protein (42%) and high in fat (37%). Around 90% of that protein comes from whole animal sources, including turkey, duck, and liver.
This helps make it a highly digestible food and one that will help your kitty gain weight. It is also grain-free, should your kitty have an issue with these ingredients.
Nulo Freestyle is a minimally processed food. Rather than cooking the food down, decreasing digestibility and increasing nutrient loss, Nulo freeze-dries real, raw meat. This creates a high protein, more natural kind of food to help your skinny kitty round out their curves. Also included in this diet are probiotics for healthy digestive and immune systems.
A gradual transition is required with any high-protein cat food to prevent vomiting and diarrhea. Also, whole meat foods, like Nulo, may have a stronger odor than you and your cat are used to. The kibble size isn’t as uniform since this food isn’t processed through a machine like other commercial diets. Some pieces can be almost dog food sized, which can be a problem for picky eaters or cats with dental issues.
- Very high protein, fat diet for weight gain
- High-quality protein from whole meats
- Minimally processed
- Lack of uniformity of kibble size
- Strong odor
- May cause vomiting/diarrhea during transition phase
2. Runner Up: Orijen Dry Cat Food
Up to 90%* premium animal ingredients, providing a strong source of essential protein, vitamins, and minerals.
First 5 ingredients are chicken, turkey, whole mackerel, turkey giblets, and flounder.
If you look at the ingredients list of a bag of Orijen cat food, you might consider eating it yourself. It is packed full of animal proteins in their most wholesome form. That is because Orijen prides itself on creating pet foods that are most like that of a cat’s natural diet. These foods are made from 90% animal protein sources and just 10% fruits and vegetables to provide necessary nutrients.
What these ingredients amount to is 40% protein and 20% fat. This will help your kitty gain the right kind of weight by providing the necessary energy and plenty of lean muscle-building power. This food is also fresh and tasty, with real freeze-dried liver coating every kibble for a flavor that your kitty will love.
With food this powerful, it is natural to have a strong odor. While that odor isn’t necessarily unpleasant, it may be something that surprises you or your cat. This strong odor may carry over to their litter box as well. It is also more expensive than other brands. However, due to its nutrient density, you may end up feeding less of it down the road so that the cost may balance out a bit more.
- High-protein, moderate fat for healthy weight gain
- High-quality ingredients from whole protein sources
- A taste that most kitties love
- Strong odor
- More expensive
- Formulated for all life stages, which makes it challenging to tailor needs for specific cats
3. Honorable Mention: Instinct Ultimate Protein
Never cooked and less processed than other pet food—keeping valuable nutrients intact.
Nutrient Dense: Raw, uncooked foods retain natural flavors, antioxidants, amino acids & vitamins and minerals.
Instinct cat foods believe that raw feeding is the ultimate in natural and digestible nutrition. That’s why every dry kibble is coated with raw, freeze-dried meat. This helps improve the taste and increases digestibility by decreasing the amount of processing. Increased digestibility is important so that your cat can easily glean all of the available nutrients from their food without their guts having to work overtime. This is especially important for older kitties or those with digestive issues, and it can come in handy for cats trying to gain weight.
Instinct Ultimate Protein brings 47% protein to your cat’s food bowl, and 95% of that protein comes from real, whole chicken. To go with that, it also has 17% fat so that your cat can put on healthy muscle weight. Instinct Ultimate Protein also contains probiotics for healthy digestion, omega fatty acids for shiny hair and soft skin, and antioxidants to boost the immune system and benefit the aging process.
This cat food from Instinct is a very high protein and nutrient-dense food. That being said, it can pack a more pungent odor than what you and your cat are used to. This goes for the litter box odor as well. It may also lead to some vomiting or diarrhea during the first few days as your cat’s body adjusts to it. This makes it especially important to very gradually transition your kitty to this food from their old food, possibly taking a couple of weeks to do so.
- High protein, moderate fat
- Raw, freeze-dried coating on the kibble to increase taste
- High-quality protein from real meat
- May have strong odor
- More expensive
- May cause some vomiting/diarrhea during transition
4. Best Canned Option: Wellness CORE Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
Recipe is an easy way to increase your cat's moisture intake for urinary tract health.
Created by nutritionists, veterinarians and animal lovers, to provide an ideal balance of nature's finest ingredients.
If your kitty prefers a softer texture or you’re looking for a mix-in for that dry kibble, Wellness CORE Grain-Free Canned cat food may be just what you need. This product is made with whole chicken, turkey, and liver for a high protein product. It is also high in fat to help add a little padding to your skinny kitty. These protein sources are rounded out with kelp, cranberries, and flaxseed to provide fiber, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids for overall health and wellness.
The texture of Wellness CORE is a pate, meaning it is uniform in texture with no lumps or chunks to upset picky eaters. It also makes it soft for cats with dental or mouth issues and a great texture for mixing with kibble.
The big disadvantage of canned food over dry kibble is the spoilage factor. Canned food doesn’t keep as long. This means that if you have a picky eater, you may throw away more food than they’re eating. Also, quality control due to shipping can vary greatly. Be sure that any canned food smells and looks okay before feeding it to your cat.
- High protein and high fat
- Soft, consistent texture
- Smells and tastes enticing
- May end up wasting some
- Quality control issues due to shipping
5. Best Budget Option: Iams Proactive Health High Protein
No artificial preservatives, no synthetic dyes, and no wheat.
Nourished with the optimal Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid ratio for a soft, and shiny coat.
For a high-protein food without a hefty price tag, check out Iams Proactive Health High Protein cat food. With whole chicken as the main ingredient, this food brings in about 38% protein and 18% fat. Chicken and salmon make up 84% of the total protein sources, creating a more easily digestible diet.
This food is from Iams is rounded out with prebiotic fiber for optimal gut health, omega fatty acids for your cat’s skin and haircoat, and all other essential nutrients for overall health and weight gain.
Again, high protein foods can take a bit for your kitty to settle into. This means gradual transitions to help avoid diarrhea or vomiting. Higher protein foods also have a stronger smell which can be off-putting for you and your cats. Since this cat food is lower in fat than others, it may take a little longer to see any changes in weight.
- High protein and moderate fat
- Uses whole chicken as the first ingredient
- Less expensive
- May have a strong smell
- May cause vomiting/diarrhea during the transition
Best Cat Food for Weight Gain Buying Guide
First thing’s first, if you have a skinny cat, you need to figure out why. Schedule a visit to your veterinarian to have your cat checked out for some of the medical conditions that can cause weight loss in cats. Some of those include:
- Parasites: Both internal and external parasites can lead to long-term weight loss or failure to gain weight
- Kidney Disease: Cats with all stages of kidney failure may have a reduced appetite and increased water consumption and urination.
- Hyperthyroidism: Even with a voracious appetite, cats with hyperthyroidism often continue to lose weight.
- Bad Teeth: When it hurts to chew, most cats start to forego mealtime.
- Age: As cats get older, their digestive efficiency decreases, possibly causing weight loss.
- Other Chronic Conditions: Digestive issues, diabetes, pain, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few, can lead to weight loss in cats.
If your kitty gets a clean bill of health from your vet, their skinny figure may simply be due to not eating enough calories. This may be because they don’t like the taste or texture of their food, it’s not calorically dense enough, or they’re just not getting the proper amounts because another furry friend (or even child!) is stealing it.
What to Look for in a Cat Food for Weight Gain
Now it’s time to start looking for the right food to help them put some weight back on. For some cats, you may be able to use their current diet; just increase the amounts that they get. You may need to switch to a higher-powered version for other cats to get them the required calories. When choosing a cat food for weight gain, make sure it meets the following standards:
- High-Protein: Cats like their meat; in fact, their bodies require it as their main energy source. Look for cat food that contains at least 30% protein from good quality meat sources rather than plant-based. This number can be higher if recommended by your veterinarian.
- Moderate Fat: While protein may be a cat’s go-to energy source, fat provides a very condensed form. You’ll want food around 20% fat to best provide for some weight gain.
- Quality Ingredients: Anytime you’re looking at a diet for your cat, your first step should be to find one with whole meats as the first ingredient listed—bonuses for finding one that also includes it as the second or third ingredients. Whole meats provide an easily digestible and complete source of protein. Chicken, turkey, fish, or beef are top choices if your cat isn’t allergic.
- Your Cat Likes It: Obviously, cats aren’t going to eat food they don’t like. Choose something that your kitty will readily eat and won’t get bored of. This may take some trial and error to find the right flavor and texture. You may also want to go with a line that offers different flavors so that you can change their food to fit their tastes without changing brands.
Other Tips for Helping a Cat Gain Weight
Along with changing to one of these cat foods meant for weight gain, here are some tips you can try to help your feline friend plump up a bit.
- Feed Smaller Meals: Give your cat the option of free choice feeding, if that’s possible, otherwise offer smaller, more frequent meals. This may help kitties with digestive sensitivities to better regulate and increase the number of calories consumed.
- Feed Them Separately: If your house is graced with more than one cat, feeding them separately can help ensure that they get all of the food they require.
- Change Flavors and Textures: Offer your picky eater different flavors of the same brand. You may also mix in some canned food on occasion to tantalize their taste buds.
- Keep it Fresh: Cats don’t like yesterday’s leftovers, especially canned food. Make sure their meals are always fresh from the container. You may want to buy smaller bags of dry kibble to ensure freshness.
- Try Kitten Food: Kitten food is packed with protein and higher in fat to fuel those growing, active bodies. Feeding an underweight adult cat kitten food is a way of increasing calories without decreasing quality.
- Soup Up the Supplements: If all else fails, speak to your veterinarian about weight gain supplements and appetite stimulants.
When starting your kitty on a weight gain regime, it’s essential that you choose something that can be decreased over time in case it goes too far in the other direction. If you start free-choice feeding, for example, be sure that you can easily go back to timed meals should your kitty start to get on the thick side.
With all the attention that obesity and weight gain gets in our feline friends, it’s important to remember that there are some kitties in need of a little nutritional boost. Choosing one of these best cat foods for weight gain is a big step in your cat’s weight gain journey. Along with a diet change, a trip to your veterinarian and some of these other helpful weight gain tips may be in order.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been practicing veterinary medicine since 2010. She lives in Idaho with her husband and two sons, where they spend their free time exploring the great outdoors that is right in their backyard.