The Meat of the Matter

Nutrition is one of the most important and most frequently discussed aspects of veterinary medicine. A balanced and nutritious diet is essential to help our feline companions enjoy a long and healthy life. Cats have evolved to become obligate carnivores, which means their nutritional needs are met by eating a diet that consists primarily of animal-based proteins. In the wild, this would include birds, mice and other small rodents. Domesticated cats have developed their own unique physiological and anatomical adaptions to assist with consuming a strictly carnivorous diet. Healthy indoor cats should be fed a diet higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than other animals. Cats depend primarily on protein for energy. During growth, kittens will need more protein
than adults; as adults, cats need more than twice the adult dog or human protein requirements. Nutritional needs will change in relation to certain disease processes in cats. There are a variety of veterinary diets that are developed and formulated to address the highly specific nutritional needs of certain
feline diseases. These are the four most common diseases in cats in which a special diet may be indicated:

DIABETES – Diabetic cats most commonly suffer from non-insulin-dependent diabetes, meaning their pancreas still produces insulin, which helps break down sugars to provide energy for the body. However, the pancreas tends to not produce enough insulin to meet their body’s needs. In cats, if their metabolism is corrected before permanent damage to the pancreas occurs, there is a potential that the diabetes may be reversed. Diet is essential in this
process. Diabetic cats should be fed a lowcarbohydrate, low-fibre diet that is also high in protein. Studies have found that cats fed these diets were more likely to revert to a non-insulin-dependent state compared to cats fed a moderate carbohydrate, high-fibre diet. There is a variety of specific dry and canned veterinary therapeutic diets available on the market for diabetic cats that meet their unique nutritional needs.

OBESITY – Up to 50% of cats in developed countries between five and 10 years of age are either overweight or obese. Obesity can be often attributed to the loss of natural activities, including play, stalking and hunting. In addition, many cats are free fed diets high in carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to overeating and an excess of consumed calories. Current evidence suggests that feeding diets with more than 40% protein (on an energy basis) is important to facilitate weight loss and maintain a lean body mass. Feeding a high-protein, low-fat diet in combination with increased activity and play is essential to achieve weight loss in overweight and obese cats.

CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE – Cats with mid- to end-stage kidney disease should be fed a protein-restrictive diet that is also low in phosphorous. As important as protein is to feline health, it can be very hard on diseased kidney function. Canned diets are preferred for cats suffering from kidney disease, as they are higher in water content in comparison to dry diets. The higher water composition aids in keeping the body hydrated and flushing kidney toxins
out of the body through urine. In addition, supplementing kidney diets with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and aid kidney function. There are numerous veterinary therapeutic diets available in a variety of flavours to help preserve and support kidney function.

FOOD ALLERGIES/SENSITIVITIES – Many cats suffer from food allergies and/or sensitivities. Cats may present with skin disease (skin infections, itching, scabbing) or chronic gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, soft stools, diarrhea). Many cats have allergies and sensitivities to common protein sources, including chicken, fish and beef. Providing a novel protein diet, meaning a diet consisting of a protein source that the cat has never had, can help correct this. The immune system usually does not recognize these protein sources and thus does not cause overreaction, which can result in skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. Common novel protein sources include venison, duck, rabbit and even kangaroo. There are many diets available commercially
for cats of all ages and health states. Consult your veterinarian, who can help you choose the most optimal diet for your feline friend to ensure a healthy and happy life.

Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is an associate veterinarian at the Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto.

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