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Doctors and veterinarians alike could soon advise, “Take two bites and call me in the morning.” Recent scientific discoveries concerning the importance of nutrition to health has led manufacturers to develop new lines of foods targeting specific conditions. Your cat could be among the first to benefit, since therapeutic diets prescribed through licensed veterinarians are now available for your pet.
A Four-step Process
Dayton, Ohio-based veterinarian Amy Dicke, DVM, has been a member of such cat food development teams. She indicates the new foods are part of a four-step process:
Commercial cat foods available in pet food stores and other retail outlets already allow you to purchase products meant for cats with certain health considerations, including age or breed. The new foods take this concept to a more focused and concentrated level, with ingredients that home in on the health issues and work to correct the problems. Dr. Dicke explains how the new therapeutic foods can alleviate common cat health concerns.
Allergy, skin and coat conditions The most common clinical sign is intense scratching, especially around the head and neck area. Your veterinarian can determine the type of irritant -- often food allergies -- causing the problem.
Veterinary formula food may contain: hydrolyzed protein, which is protein broken down into small components that are not recognized as allergens in food-sensitive cats. The diet may also contain a balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Essential for normal skin structure and function, these fatty acids reduce the inflammation usually accompanying allergic skin disorders.
Intestinal health Inflammation of your cat’s pancreas, known as pancreatitis, as well as disorders of the large and small bowels fall under this category.
Veterinary formula food may contain: low fat levels to reduce the digestive workload. The diet may also include omega-3 fatty acids to help control inflammation, in addition to highly digestible ingredients for enhanced nutrient absorption. Specialized fiber blends also in the food help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Urinary conditions One of the most common, and potentially serious, conditions is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), with over twenty different causes. These include bacterial and viral infectious agents, tumors, excess mucus and stones or crystals forming in the urinary tract.
Veterinary formula food may contain: controlled magnesium levels and ingredients that help your cat produce more acidic urine. Omega-3 fatty acids can also assist in the reduction of inflammation at the cellular level.
Kidney conditions This is usually a chronic, progressive condition often affecting older cats.
Veterinary formula food may contain: a nitrogen-trapping system, which is a unique fiber system that reduces reliance on the kidneys and allows for feeding of moderate protein levels. High-quality protein is therefore also included in the mix to help your cat maintain lean muscle mass and good immune system function. Once again, added omega-3 fatty acids come to the rescue, as they can also help increase the kidney’s filtration rate.
Weight loss An estimated 25 to 40 percent of cats are overweight, but too often, owners don’t recognize this as a danger to their cat’s health. Weight loss formulas are popular in dry and wet diets, but therapeutic weight loss diets feature greater reduction in kilocalories and fat compared to over-the-counter formulas.
Veterinary formula food may contain: L-carnitine, a vitamin-like compound that helps turn fat into energy. Losing weight can mean losing fat and muscle, but L-carnitine helps overweight cats maintain muscle and lose fat. Weight loss diets may also feature enhanced levels of vitamin A to reduce weight regain.
A Lifestyle Approach to Health
You can’t control some aspects of your cat’s life, such as age and genetics, but why not focus on those you can change? In fact, for conditions like weight gain that lead to other issues, diet alone is the long-term solution.
“Therapeutic formulas are more expensive than nutrition targeting the healthy cat, but their expense is worth it if it keeps the pet ailment-free,” says Dr. Dicke. Plus, it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind, not to mention the overall health of your cat.
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.
Cat researchers, breeders and others have replaced the old term "alley cat" with this phrase: