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While animal experts puzzle over exactly what goes on in the mind of a kitten or a cat, one thing that’s understood is that DHA plays an important role in a kitten’s brain development.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is essential to your young cat’s neural growth. Kittens naturally produce DHA, but their bodies don’t easily put it to use. The key to raising a smart adult cat is feeding your kitten a high-quality commercial food that contains DHA. “A diet rich in omega-3s for kittens is of extraordinary importance,” explains Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian.
Why DHA Matters
To see why DHA is so important, it helps to know about the brains of all mammals. Fat has plenty of negative connotations in today’s media, but we mammals can’t function without it. A healthy brain contains about 60 percent structural fat, and nearly one-third of that fat consists of DHA. This omega-3 fatty acid is not only abundant in the brain, but it’s also a major structural component of the retina, explains Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical service veterinarian with Iams.
Research conducted on puppies has demonstrated a marked difference in puppies that are fed a diet high in DHA as compared with those that are fed a low-DHA diet. Using the same training methods and the same types of dogs, researchers found that puppies that received plenty of DHA were far easier to train.
Notes Nelson: “Kittens are far too fussy to ever put up with an experiment to test their trainability.” However, experts say you can expect similar benefits from feeding your kitten a DHA-rich commercial food. “It is logical to believe DHA would provide similar trainability benefits to your kitten,” explains Dicke. In fact, says Nelson, human research is starting to examine the role DHA levels might play in ADD, ADHD and depression in children and teens.
DHA is particularly critical when your cat is young because its brain is still developing and growing. In fact, veterinarians consider the fatty acid so important they recommend that pregnant and nursing cats be fed DHA-rich kitten food to pass the benefits on to their kittens. “The benefits of a diet rich in DHA starts in the womb, much like pregnant women taking prenatal vitamins,” says Dicke.
Make sure your kitten receives a premium kitten food containing DHA, and your kitten is likely to see social benefits and learn more easily. Your kitten also will be less likely to engage in negative behavior.
Other Benefits of DHA
DHA plays other essential roles as well, explains Nelson. Possible benefits include better vision, less inflammation, healthier gums, a glossy coat and better digestion. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, DHA also plays a role in avoiding skin allergies. In turn, a healthy skin and coat means your kitten is less likely to groom excessively and to suffer from hairballs.
The Source of DHA
It is best for your kitten to obtain DHA through the fish, fish meal and fish oils in a commercial kitten food, since it’s difficult to ensure the proper balance of fatty acids and the proper nutrition through the use of supplements.
Feeding your kitten the right food is an easy step toward helping it to become a healthy, intelligent adult cat. Says Nelson: “They have to eat anyway, so feeding them a diet that is full of the best stuff is a way of giving them the biggest advantage as they start off in life.”
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Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat, based 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.