If your older cat eats less food than she used to, that might be okay. Metabolism and activity slow down with age, so fewer calories are needed. But if she’s eating less food and losing weight, her appetite may have dipped a little too much. Presumably, cats, like people, experience a gradual decline in their ability to taste and smell as they grow older, and it could make them vulnerable to what scientists call inappetence.
What can you do to entice your aging feline family member to eat a little more? If she eats wet food, try warming it. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that when they warmed food for 32 cats ages 8 to 14, the felines ate about an ounce and a half more of their meals, on average, than when the food was served straight from the refrigerator. Some cats ate as much as two ounces more. The cats even ate an average of an ounce more of their warmed food than when the same food was served at room temperature.
It should be noted that the researchers didn’t make the food piping hot but just warmed it to body temperature — 98.6 degrees. The thinking was that presenting the food at that temperature would correlate with the temperature of fresh prey caught and consumed by a cat in the wild.
They found some potential scientific backup for that approach. When the food was warmed to 98.6 degrees, there was an increase in certain volatile compounds that could have made the meal taste better to the feline palate. For instance, there was a significant increase in the proportion of compounds that contain sulfur, which are extremely important when it comes to meat flavor. Sulfur-containing compounds carry savory, meaty, roasted, and boiled flavors.
At the same time, warmed food showed a decrease in volatile compounds called terpenes, which are responsible for the characteristic scent of many plants. Less of a plant-based flavor and a more meaty one — what more could a cat desire in a meal?
The results are preliminary, and the study was short-term in nature, so we don’t know if the cats would tire of warmed food pretty quickly. But if your older cat’s appetite has diminished to the point that she is losing weight and the vet has ruled out any disease that would cause an appetite drop, warming the food is certainly a can’t-hurt, might-help option.