Why Is My Senior Cat Skin and Bones? | 5 Possible Reasons Explained

As cats age, they experience changes in their physiology and metabolism that can affect their overall health and wellbeing. One common issue that senior cats may face is the loss of muscle mass, leading to a visible, worrisome condition commonly referred to as being "skin and bones." This condition occurs when the nutrition intake of the cat fails to meet their requirements, causing the body to break down muscle tissue for energy. As a result, when you pet your senior cat, you may notice that their spine and hips feel more prominent, indicating a depletion of muscle mass. This visible change can be concerning for pet owners, as it may be a sign of underlying health issues or an inadequate diet. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the reasons behind this condition and take necessary steps to ensure the wellbeing of your senior feline companion.

Why Is My Older Cat Losing Muscle Mass in Hind Legs?

Cats, like humans, undergo various physiological changes as they age. One common issue that older cats may face is the loss of muscle mass in their hind legs. This can be a cause of concern for pet owners, as it affects their furry friends overall mobility and quality of life.

This is because the muscle acts as a cushion and support system for these areas, and it’s loss exposes the underlying bony structure. This can be observed when petting the cat, as their hind legs may feel thinner and weaker than before.

Moreover, regular exercise and physical activity can help stimulate muscle growth and prevent further muscle loss. Encouraging gentle playtime or providing safe climbing structures can help in keeping their leg muscles active and strong. If the loss of muscle mass persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as weight loss or difficulty with bodily functions, it’s advisable to consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate treatment.

Common Causes of Muscle Loss in Older Cats

  • Degenerative muscle diseases
  • Inactivity or limited exercise
  • Poor diet or inadequate nutrition
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Chronic pain or discomfort
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Reduced muscle mass due to aging
  • Loss of appetite or decreased food intake
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Dehydration or fluid imbalances
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Tumors or cancer
  • Infections or chronic inflammation
  • Neurological disorders affecting muscle function

However, it’s important to note that each cat’s spine may feel slightly different depending on their overall body condition, breed, and age. Regularly feeling and assessing your cat’s spine can help you gauge their health and any potential issues that may need attention.

What Should a Cats Spine Feel Like?

A cats spine should feel smooth and slightly rounded when gently touched. It shouldn’t feel jutting out or overly prominent. When you run your hand along the back of a healthy cat, you should be able to feel a continuous line from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. There should be no irregularities or significant gaps between the vertebrae.

A normal cats spine is well protected by layers of muscle and fat, which help to cushion the vertebrae and provide support. These tissues serve as a natural barrier between the skin and the bone, preventing the individual vertebrae from being easily felt. Instead, what you should feel is a smooth, well-padded surface beneath your fingers.

If you can see your cats backbone visibly protruding or if the spine feels knobby or bony, it might be a cause for concern. Such symptoms could indicate a variety of underlying issues, such as weight loss, muscle wastage, or poor nutrition. It’s important to have your feline companion evaluated by a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Remember, every cat is unique, and there can be slight variations in the feel of their spines. However, if you’ve any doubts or if your cats spine appears or feels noticeably different from what you’d consider normal, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and seek professional guidance.

Source: My Cat’s Backbone Is Sticking Out – Is Something Wrong?

In addition to the aforementioned signs, changes in litter box habits, increased thirst, and lethargy are also notable indicators of potential health issues in senior cats. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring your cat’s behavior closely can help detect any underlying illnesses at an earlier stage, ensuring that they receive the necessary care and support to maintain their well-being.

How Do I Know if My Elderly Cat Is Suffering?

As a cat owner, it’s important to pay close attention to your elderly feline companions well-being and health. One of the key indicators that your elderly cat may be suffering is a noticeable loss of appetite. Cats are typically quite food-driven, so a sudden lack of interest in eating may be cause for concern. Keep an eye out for any changes in their eating habits, such as eating smaller portions or refusing food altogether.

In addition to changes in appetite and weight, a poor coat condition can also indicate that your elderly cat is suffering. Their fur may appear dull, matted, or even more prone to shedding than usual. A healthy coat is often a reflection of good internal health. Therefore, a decline in coat condition shouldn’t be ignored and should prompt a visit to the vet.

If your elderly cat is experiencing difficulty breathing or exhibiting labored breathing, it could be an indication of a serious underlying condition. Respiratory issues can range from respiratory infections to heart problems, both of which require prompt medical attention. Changes in breathing patterns, such as wheezing or raspy sounds, should never be taken lightly and should be thoroughly assessed by a veterinarian.

If you observe any of the aforementioned symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary guidance. Your veterinarian can perform a comprehensive assessment to determine the cause of your cats discomfort and recommend appropriate treatment options. Remember, early detection and intervention are key to ensuring your cats health and comfort throughout their golden years.

Behavioral Changes: Look for Signs of Increased Aggression, Restlessness, or Anxiety in Your Elderly Cat. These Changes in Behavior Could Indicate Pain or Discomfort.

As our beloved cats age, it’s important to pay attention to potential changes in their behavior. Look out for signs like heightened aggression, restlessness, or increased anxiety. These behavioral changes might be an indication that they’re experiencing pain or discomfort.


This weight loss is often attributed to the aging process, as their bodies become less efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients from food. Consequently, their spine and hips may become more prominent and easily felt when petting them. It’s crucial for cat owners to be mindful of these changes and ensure that their senior feline companions are receiving a proper and balanced diet that meets their specific nutritional needs. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can also help identify any underlying health issues that may be contributing to their weight loss, as early detection and intervention are crucial for maintaining the well-being of senior cats.

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