Starvation Syndrome in a Kitten?


A small kitten (approximately 6 weeks old) arrived at my house. He had severe bite marks around his neck (which I have since taken care of through treatment at a local vet's office), and he was severely malnourished. You could see his spinal bones - he was that skinny.

Today he is healthy and happy (about 2 1/2 months old now). However, he still gobbles his food, then acts like he's starving and cries for more constantly. His little belly is full.

Will he ever get over thinking that he's starving and able to eat normally again? Is there anything I can do to help him get over this? I feed him dry cat food twice a day about 1/3 cup each time. He has it all gone in just seconds and wants more.


What a sad story. But with such a happy ending, thanks to you! He is a very lucky kitten to have found you. It sounds as though he was very close to not making it.

Before I discuss his behavioral "I'm scared I'm never going to see food again" thinking, I always like to question whether there could be any unresolved medical issues.

Kittens with round bellies and voracious appetites can have intestinal parasites (worms). From your letter, he obviously didn't have the best start in life and he certainly is a kitten you would expect to have worms.

If he wasn't dewormed 2 to 3 times a couple of weeks apart each time, then he should be. Even if he was, you should take a fecal sample to your vet's office to be checked. If that was already done, I would suggest you do it again. Fecals can be negative sometimes even when parasites are present.

Also, there are several different types of intestinal parasites and the general dewormer most commonly given to kittens doesn't eliminate all of the types. That's another reason why a fecal should be examined microscopically even if a dewormer was given.

Have you seen any small dry rice-like particles on his rear end or on any surface where he sits or sleeps? That would indicate tapeworm which is not eliminated by the most common dewormers and which often isn't even seen under the microscope.

Assuming all that has been done or, if not, you pursue it and everything turns out negative, the answer to your original question is that cats who don't have adequate food available the first weeks or months of life often never forget that. Yes, they can carry the concern about food with them the rest of their lives.

Some get over it, however, and there is something you can do to try to help. I would suggest feeding him more often. Small meals multiple times a day. I would also suggest those meals be only canned food, no dry. We now know that dry food as it is presently manufactured is not good for any cat. Cats are not good drinkers and dry food has too little moisture in it. Also, the way that dry food is presently manufactured results in food that is far too high in carbohydrates. This has led to a world full of overweight cats, many of whom develop diabetes.

You can find a million different opinions on what brand of food is the best for cats and get totally confused, but read the labels and look for high quality protein with moderate fat and low carbs.

Also, I'm sure you are, but just to be thorough, make sure you are leaving water down all the time and I highly recommend changing the water twice daily and fill the bowl all the way to the top. Better yet, purchase a kitty fountain. Most cats will drink more from a fountain.

Good luck with your kitty. Again, he is so lucky to have found you.

Thank you for writing. It has been a pleasure to hear your story and address your questions.

Thank you,
Dr. Neely

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