Cat Nutrition - The Role of Nutrition in Cat Health

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

Nutrition is important for good hair coat, claw development, and heart health. Cardiovascular health is vital in cats in particular, and it's often linked to the diet.

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are the nutritional requirements for cats in general?

Water, vitamins, minerals, protein, and fats. Cats live a high-protein, low-carbohydrate mantra in life, so the protein and fat contents are most important in cat food. These contents are higher in cat food than in dog food, so your dog won't be harmed when they eat cat food, but it won't be good for them. Cat foods are formulated specifically for cats, so it's important that they get cat food and not be fed dog food as that alone can be potentially harmful to cats over time.

Will my cat's nutritional requirements change over their lifetime?

Yes. Just like with dogs, you have kitten chows, senior cat chows, and maintenance chows as well. They don't really make sporting mix cat foods.

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

Usually, you'll see a dull hair coat. They'll be thin, you may have some vomiting and diarrhea, and sometimes they'll hide. Behavioral changes like recruiting themselves from us may occur.

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

Food allergies in cats, as well as dogs, occur because of the protein source. Usually, they're going to have skin issues, so they'll be itchy in the head, and you'll see scabs and things like that. Sometimes we'll treat them for seasonal allergies. If they don't respond very well, we'll be worried about food. You can have concurrent and more than usual off and on again vomiting, hairballs, and diarrhea that may be like food allergic disease.

What kind of food should I feed my cat and how much?

Feeding for life stage with good quality, main brand type foods is good. For instance, the I Am Science and Royal Canaan diets are reasonable. You need a leaner cat. Unfortunately, obesity is prevalent in cats, so you need to measure-feed them right from the get-go, keep track of what they're eating and watch their body weight. It gets challenging because people have multiple cats and feeding them separately can be difficult. One cat may eat more than the other cat, but try to feed them separately and measure what they're eating. A cat should have a nice waist without what I call waddles, which is a lot of sagging skin and fat under the belly. They should be able to jump up on things. If they're not able to do that, it's a sign that they weigh too much. If they're not grooming very well because they can't get around to groom themselves, they'll have a greasy, dull, and sometimes matted hair coat. I definitely recommend measuring cat food and starting it early because we see so much obesity that leads to many problems with health later in life.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Nutrition - FAQs

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Can my cat eat a vegetarian diet?

Nope. Cats can not eat vegetarian diets. Some scavengers would, but cats have to have meat because they are obligate carnivores. They cannot produce essential amino acids that are important for their heart and other health. They have to get it from meat. It's unfortunate for some people, but that is a reality.

Is wet food more nutritious than dry cat food?

Wet food isn't necessarily more nutritious. It contains 75% water, and cats are notoriously not big drinkers. They tend to drink less water than dogs. Consequently, they sometimes walk around a little bit dehydrated. So the wet food gives them extra water that they could use. It also gives them more enrichment as it resembles their natural diet because of the little chunks. Sometimes your cat will growl while eating the canned food, so I do think it's more enriching. It adds to their fluid balance, which helps them with other diseases later on.

Are prescription diets good for my cat?

It depends on if your cat has a specific condition or disease that requires a prescription diet. Renal or kidney disease is very common in aging cats, so we put them on prescription diets for that. Those diets have, for instance, good quality and a bit less protein. It's not necessarily better but it is essential for cats with certain diseases.

My outdoor cat likes to hunt. Does that mean he's not getting the proper nutrition?

No, that's just natural cat behavior. They are hunters and tend not to have the scavenging ways as much as dogs do. It is a natural behavior for cats. They'll hunt bugs in your house, but that's just what cats do.

Will human food make my cat overweight?

Human food can make your cat overweight. Once again, it's all about calories. Also, cats are made for a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, so carbohydrates can add to obesity.

Will free choice feeding make my cat overweight?

It's highly possible. You can free-choice feed, I don't have a problem with that, you just need to measure feed for each specific cat. It's hard to leave one bowl out for four cats because some will be thin and some won't.

What are some myths about cat nutrition that you as a veterinarian hear?

That canned food is not good for a cat. Canned food is good for enrichment and studies are showing cats do better with canned food added to their ration. At James, they used to say that dry food is better for their teeth, but most of the commercial pet foods disintegrate when any pressure is put on them. So there's doubt on whether they're benefiting the teeth unless they're prescription or certified food made for dental care. With dogs, we don't push canned food a lot, but with cats, we encourage it.

What supplements should I give my cat?

I don't recommend supplements. The reason being that pet foods are balanced, and if we give supplements, we can cause an imbalance as far as nutritional supplements and vitamins go. If you're going to give a supplement to your cat, try some canned food, if you're not doing that already. It's like giving them water. A water fountain also encourages more water intake for cats. Then your Pounds treats are okay for good behavior and kitty cat enrichment. But, unless we've prescribed something, supplements aren't necessary if you have good quality cat food.

What do you feel about overweight cats being fed via a cat puzzle?

I think that's great for cats. It expends energy, helps them problem solve a bit, and slows them down with eating. I think cats sometimes go too fast and then you get more vomiting episodes. So I think that's great. You can hide the food around the house if you wanted to, and they can go search and find it. It also gives you some interaction with your kitty cat. Some cats are not very social compared to dogs, but they do like that type of social interaction with people.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.