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Seven Signs Your Cat's Eating Right

By Kim Boatman

Seven Signs Your Cat\'s Eating Right

Ever wonder whether you’re feeding your cat the right food? The proof might be purring at your feet right now. Even if you conscientiously scour pet food labels and do your research, your own cat can offer the best evidence of the nutritional value of the food you dish out.

Although diet is among many factors affecting your cat’s health, appearance and behavior, feeding your feline a high-quality meal is an essential and wise move. Here are seven signs your cat is thriving on a well-balanced, nutritious cat food:

  1. A shiny coat Your cat’s coat should be plush and shiny, says Dr. Margie Scherk, DVM, DABVP (feline), a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. “Matting or flaking are suggestive of poor dental health, arthritic pain or poor nutrition,’’ says Dr. Scherk.

    Lack of protein can be the culprit. Dr. Judy Karnia, DVM, who runs a cat clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., sometimes sees cats that aren’t getting enough of this essential nutrient. Your pal’s healthy coat depends on adequate protein levels. “You definitely want to make sure you’re feeding a good brand of cat food with good protein levels,’’ says Dr. Karnia. Look for crude protein levels of at least 30 percent in dry food and 8 percent in wet food. You may find protein levels and other nutritional information listed under words like “Guaranteed Analysis” on the cat food label.

  2. Good teeth and gums “Good dental health includes not just having strong, white teeth but also -- and arguably more important -- healthy, moist, pink gums that cover the roots of those teeth without bleeding or excess gum tissue,’’ Dr. Scherk says. You should lift the lip at the back of your cat’s mouth at least once a month to check its dental health. Dry food may help some cats in keeping the tips of their teeth clean, says Scherk.

  3. Digestion and hairball care There’s no polite way to say this: You can tell a lot about your cat’s diet when you scoop the poop. Look for moist, formed “logs” with a “pungent odor that is neither sour nor excessive,’’ advises Dr. Scherk.

    If your cat produces pellets or small pieces instead of logs, your furry friend might be dehydrated. Your veterinarian can help return your cat to normal hydration, says Dr. Scherk. Switching to canned cat food, adding water to your cat’s food or offering a water fountain are options to help your cat get the water it needs.

    If your cat’s poop is too soft or watery, visit your veterinarian. Loose poop could be a sign of digestion problems, food intolerance, inflammation, infection or even a serious illness, such as cancer.

    If your pal is prone to hairballs, paying attention to diet is particularly important. Special hairball formula cat foods offer fiber that helps move the hair along the digestive tract. A healthy diet also means your cat isn’t as prone to shedding as much fur.

  4. A healthy weight Like many veterinarians, Dr. Karnia sees far too many kitties carrying excess baggage. If your pal’s belly sways with each step, you need to re-evaluate your cat’s diet and caloric intake.

    “You should be able to feel the ribs, but they shouldn’t stick out,” Dr. Karnia says. “There shouldn’t be a big bag hanging down under the belly. Look from the top. Your cat should have an hourglass figure from the top.”

    Your veterinarian can help you learn to count calories so that your cat maintains the proper weight. Your veterinarian might recommend that you feed your cat a food designed for weight management or for older cats, which are often less active and burn fewer calories.

  5. A strong immune system If your cat eats a complete and balanced diet, your pal is more likely to fight off illnesses. Veterinary nutritionists are researching the role antioxidants might play in promoting a healthy immune system in cats, as they do in humans, says Dr. Scherk. You’ll find Vitamin E and antioxidants from sources such as tomatoes and spinach in some commercial cat foods, particularly those that emphasize natural ingredients. “If your cat is healthy, it’s probably because it’s getting good nutrition,” Dr. Karnia says.

  6. Strong bones Just like you, your cat needs calcium to form strong bones and teeth. Sometimes, devoted cat owners who try to feed their cats a homemade diet make the unfortunate mistake of not providing bone meal, says Dr. Scherk. This can lead to bone fractures.

    If a problem is suspected, your veterinarian can use X-rays to evaluate your cat’s bone density. A well-formulated cat food will include calcium, so look for it on the label of your pet’s food.

  7. A healthy heart Diet plays a critical role in your cat’s heart health. For instance, feeding your pal table scraps rather than a well-balanced, nutritious commercial food can lead to a deficiency of taurine, a critical amino acid. Taurine deficiency can lead to heart problems and even heart failure, but a nutritious commercial food will include taurine. A veterinarian can also monitor your cat’s heart health to make sure it’s in ticktock shape.

    If you can check off a “yes” for these seven vital signs, your cat is probably enjoying the food you provide and is likely energetic, playful and moving well. Your wise choices about cat food mean your feline is probably also in good condition, says Scherk. Veterinarians routinely evaluate kitties to check for ample muscle tone, lean body mass and a healthy fat level, says Scherk. A healthy diet can contribute to these desirable attributes.

    Karnia concludes, “If cats are healthy, it’s probably because they’re getting good nutrition.”

Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Catbased in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.

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Posted on March 29, 2009

TheDailyCat says: Milk is not good for cats, as they tend to be lactose intolerant. A little bit of cream on the other hand, is better (the more fat, the less lactose). You can find more information on this subject here: http://www.thedailycat.com/Health/health_myths_debunked/index.html?target=milk

Posted on March 26, 2009

Nancy says: Need to know about feeding a little milk 2-3 tbs/2-3 times a day. My husband says that is not a problem. I had heard in the past that it can cause worms. What is the answer!!!!

Posted on January 16, 2009

Kittie Yates says: I've heard that milk is not good for cats. Please advise me on this. She gets the IAMS indoor for cats. I don't waht to give treats as I gave her some canned food and it took a couple of feedings to get her back to the dry food.

Posted on August 31, 2008

Laurie says: Some vets make housecalls. It was our only hope with Tasha who lived to be 20. Call around; it's worth it.

Posted on November 12, 2008

Ed says: Is an occasional 2% milk serving bad for my 14 Yr. old cat?

Posted on August 20, 2008

krystal lopez says: i have a beautiful cat named marriann and she lives with my grandma now.but know my grandma feeds her olny dry food.and when she lived with me it was allways dry and wet food every day but know marriann look like shes boney and dosent really wanna eat dry food. olny wet food. i just wanna know is it normel?

Posted on August 10, 2008

chris says: June, if you want your kitty to be happy and healthy, you MUST get your kitty to a vet. You must realize that diabetes is a serious condition and it must be checked regularly, the blood glucose must be checked regularly and if there are any problems with food, insulin, the vet needs to address it immediately. There is no excuse for not getting kitty in a carrier and getting proper vet care and regular followups, diabetes MUST be treated and monitored properly!

Posted on August 5, 2008

Stephanie says: Maybe you could call your vet instead of taking your cat in. If they need you to bring him in - maybe try a larger carrier? or a harness and leash? I bring my carriers out a day or so ahead of time so that my cats can explore them. That usually helps.

Posted on August 9, 2008

Katie Hopkins says: Tails only likes kitten chow. Every other dry she vomits up, even the senistive stomach type. She will throw up some canned foods to but not all. Her coat is healthy and she looks healthy. All seems good in the litter box. She's just over 1 yr. Any ideas?

Posted on August 5, 2008

Stephanie says: I would measure out your elderly cats food and check at the end of the day how much she has eaten. Also I would check her litter box to make sure she is making potty. Observation is the best tool - you know your kitty better than anyone. If you find something out of the ordinary then I would suggest the vet.

Posted on August 5, 2008

Stephanie says: I had the same problem with my cats. The male would finish his bowl and then push his sister out of the way and finish her bowl. I now have scheduled feeding times each day and they are fed in separate rooms. This keeps your cat from over eating and makes sure they both get an equal share. Yes, they will complain for a while, but once they are on a schedule the cats will stop complaining. My cats only complain when I am late getting home from work. They now wait for their food in the designated areas. Hope that helps you!

Posted on July 29, 2008

Tracy says: I have 2 approx 3 yo male cats. The what I suspect is the older of the 2 brothers loves to eat! I dont leave food out for him, they do both get the reccomended amount discussed with the vet every day. He eats faster than his brother too, finishes his food and then starts eating his brothers food. His brother walks away from the dish to finish it later and Mr Kami who loves to eat, goes and eats it for him. I already feed him 2x a day. Now he has gotten into the habit of crying at my feet or following me and trying to get me to go to where they get fed to feed them because he is hungry!! What do I do?

Posted on July 29, 2008

V Kirsch says: The article doesn't discuss a response to my question - how can I know if my elderly cat is too thin? Her coat is shiny but she is quite a bit slimmer than she was in her youth.

Posted on July 27, 2008

June says: My approximately 10 y/o tom has diabetis, he gets Insulin twice per day.he is very particular about the type food he gets, will only eat "chunk" type canned...I am not able to get him to the vet...who by the way does not think that a problem as long as he does not act sick...the problem is knowing how to gage how much Insulin to give, I know if he is not eating well a smaller dose is indicated...lately he seems to have a voratious appitite and I know he does not need to gain any more weight..please do not tell me he needs to see the vet...I am unable to get him into the carrier any more, have scars to prove the point! I just want him to be comfortable and happy!

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