How does nutrition impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

Nutrition's a hugely important factor in cats because a lot of the disease processes that we see in cats can be controlled with special diets.

Dr. Gretchen Wright
Highland Park Animal Hospital

What are the nutritional requirements for a cat?

Cats, by nature, are carnivores, so they require higher protein. They do need some moderate fats but very low carbohydrates.

Are there any types of special vitamins or minerals that they need?

Just the usual minerals. Cats need taurine in their diet, so feeding specific foods formulated for cats is important. Cats cannot just eat dog food. They need specific cat food with those special amino acids.

Will my cat's nutritional requirements change throughout their life as a kitten, adult, and senior cat?

They sure do. Kittens need a lot of protein and many calories as they grow. Once cats are spayed or neutered, their metabolism decreases but their appetite increases. So we need to cut back on some of their calories. When it comes to senior cats, because they often get kidney disease, we usually cut back a little bit on their protein.

What are some signs and symptoms of poor cat nutrition in your pet?

We most commonly notice weight loss. Often, these older cats will start to have this unkempt hair coat that just looks scruffy because they're not grooming. Any GI signs like vomiting or diarrhea are significant signs of nutritional deficiencies.

Do you ever notice any skin disorders with that?

Sometimes cats will get allergies. They can be allergic to food that makes them itchy. So often, they'll overgroom or pull their hair out and get scabs, which is a sign of a food allergy.

What about behavioral changes?

As cats get older, hyperthyroidism can make them more vocal. They seek out food and will ask you for food more often. Despite eating enough, they start to lose weight, and they look skinny. Those can be behavioral changes that we see with poor nutrition.

What are some common food allergies in cats, and how can I tell if my cat is suffering from them?

The most common allergy symptoms you're going to see with a cat will be GI symptoms, like vomiting or diarrhea. Most of the time that can be solved with just a diet change. Cats are typically very protein sensitive, so if they are allergic to a specific protein, they cannot tolerate it. They will vomit pretty often. Many people like to think that it's normal for cats to vomit because they vomit hairballs, but really, that should be a pretty rare thing. If your cat is vomiting more than once a week, it may be a sign of food intolerance.

When it comes to cat food, what and how much should I be feeding them?

A general 10-pound cat usually needs about a quarter cup of dry food in the morning and a quarter cup of dry food at night. If you feed them canned food, I usually recommend a quarter cup of dry food at one meal and then a can at another. As we've domesticated cats, we've made them fat by adding a lot of carbohydrates to their food. An automated feeder can be your best friend because it will give your cat the right amount at the right time, and they don't bug you for food. They go bug the feeder.

What about fresh food?

I usually don't recommend that. Some people like to give their cat treats here and there, but you should stick with one of the brands we recommend, including Purina, Royal Canin, or Hill's Science diet, which veterinary nutritionists formulate. They are completely balanced, so you shouldn't have to add anything to your cat's diet.

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