Educating Your Clients on Feline Nutrition
By Kim Raisanen
“I’m not feeding them much and they’re still fat.”
Unfortunately, this is the vision some cat owners have when they think about proper nutrition.
What they may not understand is the quality of the food and the proper portion size also play a role. Yes, there are some cats that chow down like puppies, eating until the food is gone and then look for more. But in many cases, the cat is simply overfed, under–exercised and left to his own devices during the day (free–feeding). Proper nutrition is the benchmark to good health and we need to help our customers understand that.
It’s not our place to diagnosis obesity, even when it’s blatantly obvious. But we can talk about general nutrition from a concerned professional’s point of view. Be careful not to be judgmental or accusatory, and try to speak to the cat owner on their level of understanding. For example: “Snowball seems to me a bit overweight. I know there are so many different foods available that it can be confusing to know which ones are more nutritious than others”. In the simplest terms, I say something like: “Look for cans of food that have the first ingredient as chicken, beef or other meat proteins”. I also explain that the first ingredients listed are the primary protein sources in the food. In cheaper cat foods, there are more “fillers” that have no nutritional value and are simply used in place of a higher nutritional option.
When asked what canned foods to use, I recommend the higher-end options. I explain to them that, initially, the cans will be more costly, but in the long-run it will level out to about the same cost. How? Well, once a cat’s appetite is satisfied with a heartier food, they won’t be constantly hungry. The cat will be absorbing the nutrients rather than trying to process fillers through its system. Once the cat adjusts to the new food, he will be eating less, having fewer bowel movements and their urine will have less odor. The cat’s skin and coat will become noticeably more supple and they’re likely to have a pep in their step again.
There is an old saying: “The cheapest wet food is better than the most expensive dry”. Which, in some cases, is true. Think about what feral cats survive on. Let’s assume they eat a healthy mouse or chipmunk. The body consists of bone, meat, blood, organs (liver, brain, spleen, etc.) which are proteins. The mouse or chipmunk also provide stomach contents of seeds, berries and other vegetation. Basically, a balanced meat and salad dinner for a cat.
However, indoor cats have to rely on their owners for food, because the likelihood of eating a mouse is limited to the occasional unwelcomed visitor in the basement. Thankfully, nowadays, more and more pet food manufacturers are listening to the meows for a better mix of ingredients in the foods they offer in their line of products.
There are numerous reasons for weight gain in cats, and overfeeding inadequate food and lack of exercise may be part of the problem, but we must rule out any medical issues before we jump to conclusions. I always recommend and highly suggest that the owner take their cat to their veterinarian when sudden weight loss or weight gain is an issue.
Below is a partial list of medical issues that may have adverse effects on a cat’s metabolism and appetite. This list is not inclusive and you should seek veterinary assistance for further information.
1. Hypothyroidism: This endocrine disease develops when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce adequate amounts of the thyroid hormone. When these hormones are lacking, clinical signs can be weight gain, excessive shedding, general malaise (lethargy), intolerance of cold weather and hair loss. Hypothyroidism is mostly seen in 10+ year-old cats, but can affect any age, breed or sex.
2. Cushing’s disease: This disease develops when the adrenal glands produce too high a level of glucocorticoids. The cat’s metabolism is affected by these glucocorticoids by causing an increase of appetite.
3. Medications: Prednisone and Dexamethasone are glucocorticoids. These medications can influence appetite and metabolism. Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines and Valium also affect appetite and metabolism. These medications are frequently used to control Epilepsy.
4. Brain diseases and the Pituitary gland: The pituitary gland regulates the production of hormones from most of the other glands, keeping the amounts at the proper level. However, when the pituitary gland isn’t working properly, hormone levels change which can lead to a change in appetite and metabolism.
5. Tumors: The pancreas can be affected by an insulinoma tumor. This type of tumor consists of the cells necessary to produce insulin. When a cat has an insulinoma that produces too much insulin, the cat’s appetite increases.
6. Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus in the brain regulates appetite. When it is not working properly, it can increase the cat’s appetite.
It should also be noted that a cat’s age, and physical and social environments can also play a role in its overall health and nutrition.
There are numerous reasons for weight gain or loss in cats, from improper feeding to disease. Each individual case will be different, but once a clinical review has ruled out serious issues, assisting your clients in feline nutrition, exercise and proper feeding will go a long way ensuring a healthy cat.
Your genuine compassion and understanding towards your clients and their pets will further their commitment to you as loyal customers for years to come. And your relationship with the cat is just as important as the relationship with its owner.