Besides adorable meows and purrs, cats have numerous non-vocal ways of communicating with us. Unfortunately, owners often miss signs that their cats are calling for help. Insufficient or inappropriate diets can cause numerous health issues. Owners who are adept at recognizing when a cat needs help will be able to intervene with proper diet changes, thus improving cats’ health and lifespans and our precious time together.
Like humans, cats go through various stages during their lives. One diet will not provide optimal nutrition for a cat in all its life stages. Watch for signs that a cat is entering a new stage of life.
Kittens are a joy because of their playful, energetic nature. To sustain this activity level as well as fuel growth and development, kittens require diets that are high in protein and calories. Pay attention to your cat’s growth and activity levels. If the last few visits at the vet show a plateau in growth and if the spunkiness of the kitten days has quieted to a calmer demeanor, your cat is telling you it has grown out of its kitten formula. Too many calories can lead to obesity even in the feline world. As humans, this is an unsuitable condition for optimal health and performance. Conversely, if you are positive that your pet is still very much a kitten but is acting sluggishly or not growing appropriately, it may mean that its diet is not formulated for kittens and lacks those excess nutrients.
While cats have a long lifespan compared to other animals similar in size, the kitten stage is relatively quick. You should transition to adult formulas between 6 and 8 months. Vets also recommend taking the time to reexamine your cat’s food type and amounts every three months.
Do you have an adult female cat who is suddenly growing? Make sure you determine whether she is expecting. Pregnant and lactating cats also require additional calories. It is wise to transition back to kitten food before a cat becomes pregnant so that there are few issues to resolve once she is expecting. If it is an unplanned pregnancy, transition as soon as possible and continues feeding kitten food through lactation. Not only will this support the mother’s nutritional needs for the energy that pregnancy, birth, delivery, and nursing all require, but it will also help the kittens be as healthy and likely to survive as possible. They mimic their mother. Feeding mom and babies the same food makes it easiest to start the kittens on the proper diet.
Many believe that it is necessary to switch cats over the age of 12 to a lower-protein diet. Surprisingly, there is little research to support this idea Monitor your cat’s weight and adjust portion-size and calorie count if necessary, but, more importantly, watch for new ailments.
A 12-year-old cat is equivalent to a 64-year-old person, so typical ailments that accompany aging may be present in your cat. Does your cat move around less? Arthritis can bother a cat just like humans. You may notice that he or she hesitates to get up on its favorite perch. You may even find some accidents outside the box. While this can signal numerous different health concerns, it may be due to pain when getting in or out of the box. Diets for hip and joint health are available that include glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega 3 to ease the pain.
Diabetes is common in older cats. Pay attention to increases in food and drink consumption, unexplained weight loss, and increased urination. Like humans, a low-carb diet would be necessary. Yes, there are carbs in cat food, too. Although cats are carnivores, most pet foods contain grains.
Another common senior issue is kidney disease. You may notice increased drinking, but less eating. Your cat may lose weight. Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms and may contain blood. Depression, weakness, bad breath, and seizures are also signs. Unlike diabetes, a cat with kidney disease would need less protein, as well as lower phosphorous and salt levels.
These are just a few of the most common conditions that come with age, but the takeaway is to monitor more than just weight. Your senior cat may or may not need a decrease in calories or protein, but more than likely it will require some sort of dietary change to alleviate symptoms related to aging.
A cat that seems to be scratching itself more often is likely communicating something is wrong. He or she will alleviate the itch by scratching, licking, or biting itself. A vet can help determine if there is a bacterial infection or parasites. If treatment for either of those do not help, the itching is likely due to an allergy.
Skin irritation is one of the most common signs of an allergy. Allergies can be seasonal, but you can use observations to see if it is a food allergy instead. The itching would be long-term and not subside with the change in seasons. Besides the itchiness, a cat may also vomit within 1 to 2 hours of ingesting its food. There may be diarrhea and weight loss, too.
Pay attention to the irritated areas. Food allergies typically bother cats around their ears, belly, face, groin, armpits, legs, and paws. Grooming temporarily alleviates the itching, so you may notice hair loss in those areas from excessive grooming. Infections from overgrooming are also common. Scooting (a sign of itching in the rectum), frequent or unusually foul-smelling bowel movements, and straining to defecate are all signs that the cat may have a food allergy.
The most common food allergies are fish, milk, chicken, and beef. A vet can help you perform a food trial in which common allergens are not present. An owner must be vigilant during this time. Besides its primary food, cats can also have exposure to allergens through treats and even licking dirty plates left on kitchen counters after human dinners. If a cat shows improvement after removing the common culprits of food allergies, then you will slowly reintroduce them one at a time until signs return. Once you learn the food source that causes symptoms, you can work to find a suitable diet that does not include that ingredient. Sometimes, cats have allergies to multiple ingredients. There are low-ingredient diets available for cats with such sensitivities.
Examine your cat’s coat. Dull fur or flaky skin can point to a food allergy, but it can also mean much more. Typically, it is a result of good intentions gone wrong. In an attempt to fix obesity, owners will often switch to a low-fat diet. Fat, though, is necessary to lubricate skin and hair follicles. Without enough fat, a coat will appear dull and possibly even change colors. You may also notice more fur and dandruff than usual when vacuuming or cleaning. Rather than feed a low-fat diet, simply feed smaller portions of high-quality cat food.
Commercial pet foods must meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. Cat foods must contain sufficient amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B, and zinc. These are some of the ingredients that are essential to healthy skin and coats. It is difficult to ensure that all the necessary vitamins and minerals are present and in proper amounts when making homemade cat food. Although owners often cook their own food to provide the healthiest ingredients, this can often lead to more harm than good if not done with a strong educational background in cat nutrition. It may be a safer choice to research healthy, organic diets commercially available for purchase. When you buy from the shelf, you can be confident that the required amounts of vitamins and minerals are present.
Signs of changes in life stages, itching, and lackluster coats are three of the most common ways in which cats signal that they need help. Owners should monitor for any of the symptoms described above in order to evaluate cat diets. One diet does not fit all, and one diet will not nourish your cat properly throughout its entire life. Changes are often necessary. By being on the lookout for these signs of communication, you can ensure that your cat is as healthy as possible and primed to live a long, happy life with you.