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Hairless cat breeds, such as a Sphinx or a Peterbald, don't necessarily mean less maintenance. Although these cats are beautiful, unusual and affectionate, their exposed skin often requires more care than that of a typical furry feline.

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Six Health Problems Targeted by Cat Food

By Darcy Lockman

Six Health Problems Targeted by Cat Food

When Cleveland, Ohio cat owner Ingrid Danziger’s mom was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, Danziger became worried not only about her mother, but also about her cat. “Like my mom, Sam was really overweight. I couldn’t go back and rewrite my mother’s history, but I could try to do something about Sam’s size before it was too late,” said 38-year-old Danziger.

Sam’s veterinarian recommended cutting portion size and also feeding a commercial food containing L-carnitine, which is thought to alter metabolism. Studies suggest it reduces body fat while increasing muscle mass. “It’s an uphill battle,” acknowledges Danziger. “But my efforts are starting to make a difference.”

Below, Dr. Sally Perea, veterinary nutritionist and professor at the University of California, Davis, weighs in on other nutritional choices that can help prevent common kitty complaints.

The Issue: Immune System Function
Keeping your furry friend healthy starts by enhancing its ability to fight off illness in the first place. “Proper nutrition is important for proper immune function, so nearly all of the essential nutrients for cats are important for maintaining it,” says Dr. Perea. “That means protein, amino acids, essential fatty acids and essential vitamins and minerals. Copper, zinc and iron are three essential minerals in the diet that are known to be important for proper antibody and enzymatic defense mechanisms.”

To ensure your cat is getting all it needs, Dr. Perea recommends a commercial cat food that has “complete and balanced” somewhere on the packaging. A seal of approval from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the group that regulates the pet food industry, will verify the food’s claim.

The Issue: Skin and Coat Health
Just like you, your cat can have a bad hair and skin day, with flakiness, dryness and more. To combat the underlying problems, make sure your cat’s diet contains essential fatty acids. These are the omega-3 and omega-6 fats found in sources like chicken, fish oil and eggs. They work to maintain the water barrier function of the skin, similar to how moisturizer can create a protective barrier on human skin.

According to Dr. Perea, foods that are good for skin and hair are the ones that contain the mineral zinc, as well as A, E and B vitamins. “Zinc is integral to rapidly dividing cells, like skin cells, while vitamin E takes on an antioxidant role in the body’s cell membranes,” she explains. “Vitamin A and B prevent hair loss and scaling skin.”

The Issue: Joints and Mobility
To maintain its overall health, a cat needs exercise, and to maintain an active lifestyle, it needs to be pain-free. To prevent joint and mobility issues, Dr. Perea recommends a food containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and that seemingly magical elixir: fish oil.

“There hasn’t been a lot of research on any of these in cats, but chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, as well as long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in fish oils, have been shown to help improve signs associated with osteoarthritis in dogs,” says Dr. Perea. “These have become popular and are possibly beneficial for cats as well.”

The Issue: Overall Body Condition
As with immune system maintenance, overall body maintenance relies upon a complete and balanced diet containing all of the animal’s essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals. But make sure not to give your pet too much of a good thing. “Lean body condition is important to overall health, so make sure to feed appropriate portions,” says Dr. Perea. “Obesity is a growing problem in cats, and it can be very difficult to implement weight loss once they become obese. Prevention is very important.”

Measure your cat’s food on a daily basis using the guidelines on the packaging. Consider feeding a diet that contains L-carnitine, the ingredient recommended for Ingrid Danziger’s cat. Be especially careful about weight gain after your pet has been spayed or neutered. Studies have shown that fixed cats are more prone to weight gain due to a decrease in physical activity.

The Issue: Digestive Disorders
If your cat has an upset stomach, a relatively empty litter box may be your first clue. Cats often suffer constipation, which can be relieved by foods containing carbohydrates, like corn, as well as fiber. “Fiber helps with the health of the large intestine,” says Dr. Perea. She emphatically adds, “They also need enough water!” Make sure to fill your feline’s bowl with clean, fresh water. Change it at least twice, or even more often as needed.

The Issue: Oral Health
A dry food diet with a relatively larger kibble size forces your pet to really bite down on each individual piece. “This achieves a mechanical brushing action against the surface of the tooth,” explains Dr. Perea. “Other foods on the market may incorporate a calcium-chelating agent on the surface of the kibble. This binds calcium and helps prevent tartar formation.” In order to provide your cat with such a food, look for a diet that claims to promote oral health. The claims should again be verified by an AAFCO seal.

Protecting your cat’s well-being is as easy as a trip down the pet food aisle. Armed with a little bit of knowledge about your feline’s basic needs, you can stave off the most common cat conditions. Your cat will reward you with the pleasure of its company for years to come.

Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

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Posted on April 29, 2009

How I Lost Thirty Pounds in Thirty Days says: Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!

Posted on March 4, 2009

Tisha says: Here's a suggestion, plant cat nip or regular grass inside so she doesn't have to go outside.

Posted on December 15, 2008

AMMELIA PIERCE says: myyearold declawed cat runs out the door ,she wants to eat grass all the time. What to do?

Posted on March 4, 2009

Tisha says: My 14 yr. old siamese Taz ate grass too. She generally would eat it right before a change in the climate, like a storm. You could always tell bad weather was on it's way by her grass eatting.

Posted on October 24, 2008

Nancy Forland says: I was hoping you would have some suggestions on specific cat food brands to buy. My cat has scaley skin and is scratching and biting and losing hair, due to stress..New baby in the house...,! Any suggestions???

Posted on October 24, 2008

Suzan says: 8 year old male cat for the past 6 months throws up almost daily (at night). Sometimes a hairball but not often. I have changed food and made the food dish higher so he doesn't eat at ground level. Other cats are fine.

Posted on October 24, 2008

Pat C. says: My cat is 11 years old (approx) - marks all over the house even tho she has lived in same place 5 years. Has frequent diahrrea and even tho she has her ownlitter box, poops where ever she pleases. We have vets, changed her meds, changed her litter, etc. HELP! We're gonna have to replace the carpet when we move, it's so bad. Any suggestions?

Posted on October 24, 2008

M.R. says: Interesting article.

Posted on October 24, 2008

Carl Laviolette says: We have 4 cats. We have 6 litter boxes for them which we clean twice per day and chage the litter frequently. We use very good clumpable litter. Despite all this,Max has started urinating outside the litter box, on the face of doors, even on the face of dressers. We have taken him to the vet and changed foods recommended by the vet all to no avail. We do not want to get rid of him but we can't keep buying new furniture. What can you suggest? CL

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