Most of the nutritional diseases seen in cats result from reliance on a single food or type of diet, which usually occurs for reasons of convenience, economy or because the cat refuses any other food. When cats are restricted to a single diet it magnifies marginal deficiencies and may result in nutritional disease. Cats are fussy eaters and easily become addicted to a particular diet or type of food. They establish their eating patterns at a very early age and if not exposed to a variety of food as kittens they may be very restricted in the food they accept as adults.
The complex nutritional requirements of a cat can be met best and most economically by using a commercially prepared cat food. Home diets can be made up, but when the time and cost of ingredients are taken into account they cannot be compared with commercially prepared rations. These factors are becoming more important for the average pet owner. Recent research has demonstrated that the cat has many unique nutritional requirements which are quite different to other species, such as the dog. It is most important that the very best diet is fed when maximum performance is expected, such as reproductive efficiency or showing.
When a cat is first changed to dry food from either meat or tinned food, it is most important to teach it to drink more water. This can be done by mixing water into the food or by salting the food. Dried food should be introduced gradually so the animal can adjust to the increased drinking requirements.
How Much Food to Feed a Cat?
Recommended amounts and frequency of feeding for kittens and cats
0.8 kg 1/2-2/3 cup 3-4
At 6 Months
2.5 kg 1/2_2/3. 3/4-1 cup 2
3.0 kg 1/2 1 cup 1-2
3.5 kg 3/4-1 1-1 1/2 cups* 2
11/2 1 1/2-2 cups* 2-3
*Dry foods should not form the entire diet of a female cat during pregnancy and lactation.
A Cat’s Diet
Commercial products available for feeding your pet can be classified as moist foods or dry foods.
Moist foods usually contain 75 per cent moisture, 25 per cent solids. They may be complete rations, providing all requirements for the cat, or incomplete rations requiring supplementation with meat. Always read the label to ensure your cat is receiving a properly balanced diet.
Dry foods are 10 per cent moisture and 90 per cent solids. They can be mixed with each other or with other foods to satisfy the owner’s preferences and the cat’s taste.
Supplementary meat, eggs, table scraps, gravy, and so on, may be used, but in small quantities that should not exceed 25 per cent of the total diet; otherwise you run the risk of upsetting the balance of nutrients in the commercial product.
Where a home preparation is preferred, additional calcium, iodine, vitamin A and possibly trace elements are desirable. A five-month-old kitten being fed meat could have calcium carbonate and a daily egg (at least, the yolk) and some milk, if tolerated, to improve its diet. Meat should be cooked or. if the cat prefers it raw, deep frozen for at least fourteen days to prevent parasite transmission. Whole eggs should be cooked also, as uncooked egg white is indigestible and it does contain half the protein content.
Dangers of an All-Meat Diet
Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (N.S.H.) disease is seen most often in healthy looking, well-grown kittens at four to six months of age which are being fed a basically all-meat diet. The protein content, caloric value and palatability of meat initially produces rapid growth, which increases the kitten’s calcium requirements during the peak bone growth period. The problem is that in skeletal meat the calcium content is low and the phosphorus content relatively high (calcium to phosphorus ratio 1 : 10). At this ratio little calcium is absorbed, and body hormones stimulate the kitten’s bones to dissolve to provide sufficient blood calcium.
Early signs of N.S.H. include behavioral changes, irritability and reluctance to run, jump and play. Affected kittens prefer sitting to standing and may show deviation of the paws inwards and lameness or weakness in the hindquarters (sometimes caused by fractures). Secondary complaints are respiratory difficulties, constipation and (at adulthood) difficulty giving birth. Even in severe cases, clinical improvement is obvious within a few weeks, once the diet has been corrected.
The most important step in treating nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism is to provide the cat with a diet containing adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the ratio of 1 : 1. The ideal way is to replace the meat diet with a completely balanced commercial ration. Cats being choosy eaters, however, will often refuse to change. Enforcing the change by starving the cat into submission is usually unsuccessful and does not provide the intake of minerals required for improvement. In this case, the meat diet may be supplemented with calcium to achieve the same purpose. Supplement each 100 grams of meat with 1 gram (1 level teaspoon) of calcium carbonate during the treatment period.
Once symptoms have subsided, administer half a teaspoon of calcium carbonate per 100 grams of meat. Where female cats have been affected by N.S.H., have them desexed to save them from difficulties giving birth, as the pelvis is usually permanently narrowed. The erroneous use of the name `rickets’ for this disease infers that a deficiency of vitamin D plays a role in its cause and suggests the use of the vitamin in its treatment. Although vitamin D enhances intestinal absorption of calcium, large doses actually increase demineralization of skeletal bone. The use of combined injections of vitamin D and calcium is to be discouraged as they usually provide large doses of vitamin D and insignificant amounts of calcium, a dangerous combination in cats.
Prescription diets for health problems such as obesity, cystitis, pancreatitis are available. Consult your veterinarian.
Cats that are exceptionally active, are kept in a cold environment or are used for breeding have higher energy requirements \than most. (The opposite applies to inactive, confined cats, old animals or those known to gain weight easily.) Growth, pregnancy and lactation are the most frequent indications for increased energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. If a balanced diet containing good-quality protein is offered, the increased quantity of the food consumed will ensure increased quantities of all the nutrients to meet these requirements. In some cases, however, particularly during pregnancy, additional protein supplementation may be necessary. Eggs or small quantities of meat are then suitable. Feeding liver occasionally—that is, once weekly or fortnightly—provides additional vitamin A and is recommended during pregnancy. Illness, fever or loss of appetite increases requirements of B-group vitamins; add brewer’s yeast.
When the animal is ill, some foods may be more attractive than others, especially those with strong odors such as fish (tuna, sardines, pilchards), chicken and baby foods. Most foods should be warmed at least to room temperature. This enhances the odors, although cats with oral ulcers, as in upper respiratory tract infections, gain some relief from eating cold foods. Ice cream can also be attractive to these sick cats.
The cat has a high energy requirement, making a diet with a high calorie density necessary. The cat’s high fat requirement in its food is made necessary by these energy demands.
Dietary fat is a concentrated source of energy; it provides essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins and adds palatability to the diet. However, many owners and breeders reduce the fat in the erroneous belief that cats cannot tolerate dietary fat. Recent research has shown that the cat prefers a high level of dietary fat and should have at least 30 per cent in the diet (dry basis). Cats digest and absorb fat very efficiently even at such high levels. Cats fed diets deficient in essential fatty acids become listless, their coats become dry with severe dandruff, and they show other abnormalities such as infertility.
Caring for the Sick Cat
The first signs of sickness noticed by the owner are usually decreased appetite and listlessness. As long as a cat looks bright and has missed only a couple of meals, there is generally no need for concern, the cat may be eating at a neighbor’s house, or having success hunting. If it appears listless, keep a careful eye on it and try to confine it; sometimes it is best to lock the cat up, as cats will go into old sheds or under houses or into other inaccessible places when they are ill.
Other signs of early illness are prolapse of the third eyelid, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, runny eyes, straining, crouching, ear scratching, head shaking, bad breath, yowling, dribbling from the mouth and spitting. With any of these symptoms, the animal should be taken to a vet for a complete examination.
More than any other animal, a sick cat needs familiar surroundings. Its owner should give it plenty of attention. Often loving care can be more beneficial than medicine. Siamese and Burmese in particular will lose the will to live if they do not get a lot of attention from the owner. Because the owner’s tender loving care is so important, most vets will keep a sick cat in the surgery only until it is over the critical stage, even if this means daily return visits to the surgery for further treatment. The combination of veterinary care and home attention is the best way to speedy recovery in the cat. Cats recuperating and convalescing from an illness will eat better if returned home. Cats can be difficult patients, their nervousness and tendency to bite and scratch in unfamiliar situations often makes treatment hazardous. When the cat returns home, put it in a warm, draught-free semi-dark room, where it can observe the activities of the family.
Your veterinarian will rely heavily on the cat’s history and any observations that you can relay. It is best to record the cat’s temperature, medical history and current symptoms, and any other abnormalities or relevant information the cat may show. This should be written down in a notebook.
A sick cat’s temperature should be taken twice a day, in the morning and again in the evening, when it will be at its highest point.
To take its temperature, use a narrow-bulb human thermometer. Shake it down below 38°C, lubricate the tip with soap, lift the animal’s tail and insert the thermometer into the rectum. The mercury bulb should lie against the rectal wall to get a correct reading. Leave the thermometer in the rectum for about a minute. Normal temperature is about 38.5°C, but kittens might have a slightly higher reading. A slight fever is about 39-39.5°C, and a serious temperature is 40°C and higher. If the fever is due to a bacterial infection, it will be twenty-four hours before antibiotics reduce the temperature even half a degree. As long as the temperature is falling, it is worthwhile persevering with the drug. If the temperature does not drop within hours, contact your vet. Cats that are ill, have a fever or are off -2tir food need increased vitamin B in their diet.
Foods with strong odors, such as fish (tuna, sardines, pilchards) chicken baby food, are more attractive to the sick cat. Odors can be enhanced by warming the food—although cats with mouth ulcers, as in respiratory tract viruses, gain some relief from discomfort by eating cold foods.
Cats suffering from cat flu (feline respiratory disease) will sometimes get from inhaling human decongestants. Hold the cat’s head over a bowl steaming water and decongestant, with a towel over cat and bowl, and hold it there firmly for a few minutes to inhale the vapor. Hold the cat in a way that it cannot struggle and hurt itself with the hot water. Sick cats, particularly those suffering from upper respiratory tract infections. respond to the ‘purring therapy’. This involves handling the cat and cuddling it to induce it to purr. The increased heart rate and respiratory involvement tends to clear out the sinuses, allowing the cat to smell its food and thus eat better.
Cats living indoors shed hair all year round because of the artificial light and various other factors, including dryness of the skin, humidity and cold. A cat normally sheds hair according to the seasonal light pattern; as the day gets longer, the hair stops growing and begins to fall out, and new hair replaces the old. When the days get shorter, the new coat grows faster and less hair is shed. All cats with artificial light shed some hair all the year round, but usually it is more predominant during spring. Regular combing will help prevent hair from accumulating on furniture and clothes.
Unless you have your female cat desexed or your male cat neutered, you will always have to contend with the animal’s vigorous sex life. Females possess `neat sexual energy and will copulate with more than one torn during the :at period, which is usually short but very noisy, with both male and female howling till the mating is over. Three or four heat periods a year are not uncommon.
Methods of contraception, apart from keeping the cat confined, are: Contraceptive tablet or injection This method is not commonly used because of inconvenience. Lengthy use of these drugs may cause side effects and the cat may put on weight.
Desexing (spaying) is the usual choice. A surgical procedure to remove the ovaries, spaying is best done at six months of age. It prevents the cat from having heat cycles and prevents the birth of unwanted kittens. It also stops the female becoming involved in fights and eliminates visits by tom cats. The cat’s tubes can be tied instead of removing the ovaries, but as this does not eliminate the nuisance problem of the cat on heat it is not recommended.
Cat Nail Care
Each of the cat’s nails has a hard outer covering, with blood vessels and nerves inside. Close observation will ‘reveal a pink area (the blood vessel) running down to within 3 millimeters of the tip of the nail. When clipping your cat’s nails, always ensure that you do not encroach on those blood vessels. Although ordinary scissors can be used, they are not as gentle as nail clippers with the guillotine-type action.
Hold the cat in your lap to cut its nails. If it is nervous or if it struggles. put it into a bag or wrap it in a towel leaving the feet exposed. Grasp the toe firmly with your finger under the pad on the bottom of the toe and your thumb on the fur at the top. Exert gentle pressure until the claw is exposed. Clip the nail and file or sandpaper the rough edges. If_ the blood vessel is cut, pressure and the use of a styptic pencil will soon stop the bleeding. (A styptic pencil contains a substance such as alum or tannic acid which causes contraction of blood vessels).
A cloth dipped in turpentine will remove oil-based paint before it has dried. Never let turpentine come into contact with the cat’s skin. If the paint is already dry, it will have to be clipped off. It is important to remove paint or any other chemical from your cat’s coat, as cats are very sensitive to insecticides and other chemicals, not only from absorption through the skin but particularly from the constant licking at the area when attempting to clean itself. Water-based paints can be rinsed off while wet; once dried, clip the cat’s hair.
Removing Tar and Grease
Tar can be removed with paraffin which, however, is a skin irritant and must be washed off with a shampoo as quickly as possible. Lard or any other animal fat rubbed into the region will also loosen the tar which can then be rubbed off with a rough towel and shampoo.
Fresh chewing gum can be removed with paraffin or acetone (nail polish remover), but be sure to wash these dissolving agents off quickly.
Cats by their nature require very little exercise to keep lithe and fit.
Cats in the wild drink only small quantities of water, usually once a day. The water content of their natural food is about 70 per cent. Cats, in addition, have the ability to utilize water from their dietary fat and can also concentrate their urine (that is, they can excrete large quantities of waste products in a very small quantity of fluid—this is what makes their urine so strong smelling). A cat fed on commercial tinned food (approximately 75 per cent water) will consume about 30 milliliters (3 dessertspoons) of water daily. If the cat is fed dry foods (approximately 10 per cent water), its water requirements increase tenfold. The small quantity of water consumed by cats on a moist diet leads many owners to believe that water does not have to be provided. Even when water is available, cats will often prefer to drink from sinks, basins, bathtubs, showers, toilet bowls and plant containers. Beware, as cats are liable to ingest toxic substances from these sources (for example, disinfectants, plant sprays, fertilizers, and insecticides).
Several features of the cat’s vitamin A requirements and metabolism are unusual among the animal species:
The cat stores large quantities of vitamin A in the kidney as well as in the liver.
Cats have a relatively high requirement of vitamin A for their size. Because they cannot make vitamin A, they must be provided with vitamin A in the diet.
Adequate amounts of dietary fat are necessary for normal intestinal absorption of vitamin A.
The usual sources of dietary vitamin A are liver, eggs and milk. Acute and chronic vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness, sterility, reduced litter size, weak or dead kittens, skeletal deformities, neurological defects, cleft palate, hare-lip, emaciation, weakness of the hind legs and respiratory problems. Major losses of vitamin A occur during pregnancy and lactation, reducing the queen’s stores by up to 75 per cent. If her stores are already low, the kittens will have low vitamin A stores at birth and through the suckling period. It is recommended that liver be fed occasionally, feeding particularly during pregnancy to replenish stores of vitamin A. Hyperkeratosis is a skin disorder of vitamin A deficiency.
Excessive vitamin A is also dangerous. Diets consisting mainly of liver have been responsible for bone abnormalities attributable to excess vitamin A. Too much cod-liver oil and multi-vitamin preparations may also be sources of excessive vitamin A. Affected cats show stiffness of the neck, foreleg lameness and paralysis, sensitivity to touch and abnormalities of gait and posture.
Other signs include depression, irritability, reversible testicular degeneration in tom cats, premature loss of incisor teeth, and excessive gum tissue production. The length of time an excess intake of vitamin A will take to produce clinical signs depends on the level of intake and the age of the cat. Younger cats show signs sooner than older ones.
In most clinical cases, affected cats are at least two years old and have been on a high vitamin A intake, usually in the form of a predominantly liver diet, for at least a year. Removal of the source of the excess results in marked clinical improvement within a few weeks. But while skeletal lesions are halted and undergo remodeling over the following year, they do not resolve completely and the cat may remain lame.
Most balanced diets contain adequate quantities of B-group vitamins, but under certain circumstances (such as pregnancy and lactation) B-group requirements may increase. If the cat has a fever or is off its food for more than a few days, supplementary vitamin B-group therapy is advised because body stores are not substantial. Since failure to eat may be the effect of an acute deficiency of several of the B-group vitamins, the signs may be masked and aggravate the primary complaint. A convenient source of oral supplementary B-group vitamins is provided by brewer’s yeast. Many cats will voluntarily eat the tablets. The recommended dose is 0.5 to 1.0 gram per kilogram body-weight.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) Thiamine is destroyed by heat, usually from cooking or processing. In commercial foods, extra thiamine is added before cooking to compensate for the predictable losses. Clinical signs of thiamine deficiency are usually the result of long-term dependence on a deficient or marginal commercial product, unless raw fish has been fed to the cat. Signs of thiamine deficiency can appear within six to eight weeks. Pregnancy, illness, loss of appetite or fever may cause the onset of signs more quickly.
The clinical signs include: convulsions precipitated by handling; marked dilation of the eyes; characteristic flexion of the head and neck downwards; irritability; wobbliness of the back legs; walking with paws extended. A cat suffering from thiamine deficiency may previously have been off its food, lost weight, vomited, become weak in the hindquarters. The oral administration of thiamine in the form of brewer’s yeast tablets at a dose rate of 1 gram per kilogram body-weight per day produces noticeable improvement within twelve to twenty-four hours. However, in severe cases where there have been convulsions for several days, brain lesions may be irreversible.
After clinical improvement the offending diet should be changed and oral thiamine supplemented in the form of brewer’s yeast tablets.
The cat’s requirements for vitamin D are low, and its own production is probably adequate for its needs. Signs of deficiency are rare.
Steatitis (yellow fat disease) has been reported in cats as a result of diets high in unsaturated fatty acids, usually from fish or fish oils. The most common offending diet is canned red tuna, but other fish, cod-liver oil, liver and horsemeat have also produced the disease.
When high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids are present in the diet, adequate amounts of vitamin E are required to prevent the development of steatitic. When the oils are combined with adequate vitamin E supplies, they are not harmful even in large amounts. Affected cats are irritable, reluctant to move and fevered, and being touched causes them pain. Veterinary treatment consists of specific vitamin therapy, with oral administration of alpha-tocopheral at the rate of 50 milligrams per day.
Calcium and phosphorus
A newborn kitten has a very small amount of skeletal calcium, which may be related to the low levels at calcium in its mother’s milk. When the queen receives inadequate dietary calcium, her kittens show less skeletal mineralization at weaning time than would occur with normal diets. Calcium deposition in the bones is not greatly increased even when supplementary calcium is given to kittens during the suckling period and only increases significantly when the kitten is fed a complete diet after weaning, The calcium required for bone growth and accumulation of skeletal stores must be derived from dietary sources. While growing, kittens require 200 to 400 milligrams of calcium per day.
The best utilization of dietary calcium takes place when the calcium : phosphorus ratio is 0 9 : 1.1. Very large quantities can be safely given if this ratio is constant. For the pet owner, there is great difficulty in trying to estimate this ratio in home diets. It is therefore easier to select for the cat a complete commercial ration, which will have been balanced for calcium and phosphorus.
The problem occurs because in the wild the eat catches and eats the whole prey—a balanced diet. The home diet may consist of minced meat—one section of the prey. When growth is completed, intestinal absorption of calcium decreases to about 30 per cent of intake if the diet has previously been adequate and skeletal stores are normal.
In pregnancy and lactation, calcium loss increases to the point where a queen may lose one-third of her calcium reserves when raising five to six kittens. A daily intake of at least 600 milligrams of calcium is recommended to meet these requirements. With a continuing intake of a calcium-deficient diet, severe depletion of skeletal stores occurs, resulting in a generalized porous condition of the bones of both queen and kittens and consequent reduced bone growth and mineralization
Experimental feedings and analyses indicate that cats are able to efficiently digest most types of carbohydrates. Diarrhea sometimes occurs in kittens that are unable to digest the lactose component of cow’s milk.
Cats have an unusually high requirement for dietary protein—nearly double that of dogs and several times that of humans on a body-weight basis; cats will refuse food with less than 19 per cent protein. The protein offered must be of a high biological value and easily digestible. Blindness can be induced if a cat is fed a protein-deficient diet. The recommended dietary protein levels for cats are a minimum of 21 per cent (dry basis) for adults, and 33 per cent (dry basis) for kittens. Dry basis means that the calculation is made after all water is extracted and only dry food is left.
Iron and copper deficiencies are uncommon, as cats are able to obtain the required amounts from a meat-based diet. The normal diet of the cat is rich in magnesium, so cats suffering from feline urological syndrome (a urine disorder) usually need a special low-magnesium diet.
Protecting Household Furniture
Protecting household furniture is a natural instinct for a cat to seek high places to perch. Particular firmness may be required of you to stop your cat jumping on the table at meal-times. Pushing the cat down each time it jumps up will not, in most cases, break the habit. A firmer approach is necessary. Put the cat in another or outdoors at meal-times or when food is being prepared, or discourage jumping by making a loud noise on the table when it looks like making in attempt.
While clawing at curtains, rugs and furniture is an enjoyable activity for a kitten, it is an expensive pastime for an owner. Most cats can be discouraged by substitutes, a wooden log with the bark left on it is ideal. Simply fasten a rough-barked post on to a wide heavy base. Fasten a small toy or piece of wool to a string embedded in the top of the post—this will also amuse the cat.
Some cats constantly claw the furniture despite being provided with a scratching post. Persistent offenders can have their front claws removed by surgery. This is neither disfiguring nor disabling, but it should be done only as a last resort. The animal can still defend itself, but not as well as before. The main argument for declawing is that it allows many people to keep their cats instead of having them put down.
Never attempt to transport a cat in an insecure container, this includes wicker baskets and cardboard carrying boxes which can rapidly develop holes if soaked by urine. Instead, use a firmly fastened basket, a carrying case, zip bag or pillow slip.
Moving house The cat’s natural instincts are acute, especially the homing instinct. It is often reported that a cat has travelled 50 kilometers or more from its new home back to the old one. It has been recorded, incredible though it may seem, special event, be sure to go to your vet early enough to allow at least three weeks for the full course. After that a single injection annually will keep up a high level of protection. Your vet will advise you of the best program for your cat.
There are some circumstances under which kittens cannot be isolated until they are old enough to be properly vaccinated against panleukopenia and cat flu. In these cases, some degree of protection can be given to the kitten by administering a vaccine at about six weeks of age. This should be considered as only a temporary vaccination. It is essential that kittens are vaccinated again at twelve weeks.