Diet Problems in Cats


Royal Jelly

Question: Dr: I am a subscriber to your newsletter, please tell me if 50 mg of Royal Jelly would be OK to give to my cats? I bought some Bee-Alive from QVC for cats, and wondered if this would be alright to give them? Debbie

Answer: Debbie-

Royal jelly has been used in cats and it appears to be safe. I have not been able to find a dosage for it, though. Since this product is made for cats according to your note, I am assuming it will have a recommended dosage for them.

There is one scientific study that I can find on the use of royal jelly and it reviews the use in mice and rats ( "Royal jelly as a new potential immunomodulator in rats and mice.", Sver et al.) and all I can find is an abstract of the article which was a little confusing.

Mike Richards, DVM 1/13/2001

Controlling cats weight in a multi cat household

Question: Dear Dr. Richards:

Thank you very much for your advice on my hair-chewing kitty. I have more questions regarding her. She is about 3.5 months old and does not eat anything much. She is so thin that I can even see and feel her spine and ribs. My vet told me not to worry since she is part Siamese and thus she is naturally not a big eater. But I still feel bad seeing her that thin. I try with every kind of cat food but she does not eat/like any. She usually eats only adult cat food that I feed to my other 2.5 years old cat with whom I have opposite problems. He is gaining weight dramatically and now is 14.5 lbs. I try to feed him reduced calorie formula from Hill's Science Diet and Purina One, but he eats other cat foods that I feed to other cats while we cannot give full attention. So now I am trying to feed him separately from other cats.

Here are my questions - - Are there any kind of vitamins that I should give the kitten so that she gets adequate nutrients? - What can I do for my other cat who has weight problem to loose some weight? How should the feeding schedule be? What should I feed him and how often?

Thank you very much again.

Answer: Thandar-

If you are feeding a commercial cat food it is unlikely that vitamins are necessary. If you wish to give them, anyway, I like to use Poly-Vi-Sol (tm) or similar human pediatric vitamins and to give about 1cc, or 1/4th of a teaspoonful, per day.

Siamese cats can be very thin and still be within the normal weight ranges for the breed, as your vet has pointed out. It is pretty easy to make a Siamese cat overweight in an effort to get padding over the ribs and a less angular appearance to its head.

It is very hard to get a single cat from a multiple cat household to lose weight. It is almost impossible unless all the cats are fed separately. If this is the case, you can either feed less of the cat's normal diet or you can use one of the higher fiber, low fat diets that are supposed to help with weight loss. You should get your vet's advice on how much to feed your cat because it is trickier to put cats on a diet than it is a dog. Cats can have problems if there is too much calorie restriction in their diets so it is best to calculate the amount of calories to feed for the individual cat, based on its weight, estimated ideal weight, desired rate of weight loss and overall health at the time the diet is started.

If it is not possible to keep this particular cat away from food meant for the other cats, it is going to be really hard to get him to lose weight. There are situations in which we can't figure out a good way to help cats in these circumstances.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 12/28/2000

Cat nutrition and gingivitis - in Bengal cats

Question: Dear Doctor Mike,

The question I'd like to put to you is about my cats diet. They are Bengal cats and both 3 year-old sisters. Their name is Baby Belle and Tallulah. Tallulah had mucus in her stools less than 2.5 years ago. It's cured now with no sign of it. Although, her last blood work (June '00) showed a slightly high level of aminotransferase (70 for AST/ALT -I don't have the test with me- and the normal level is 50). My vet said that she is a bit over-working her kidney and/or liver. For Baby Belle, she has just a bit of gingivitis (slightly red on the gum line) and both have a bit of tartar. My vet suggests a dog toothpaste that I just need to put in their mouth without brushing. I have not tried that yet.

Aside from that, they are doing great, very talkative (too much sometimes for me :-), playful, energetic with shiny coat and bright eyes. They poop every 2 days and pee twice per day. I play with them once per day, before dinner, by making them run after a wand until they are breathless (I'm trying to reproduce a fatigue after hunting :-).They are exclusively indoor cats.

I have 2 types of diet for them. I give them a premium dry food (Technical, a Canadian brand) twice per day and I cook also a baby food made of 80% turkey breast and 20% carrots. I give 1 table spoon of this baby food per cat twice per day. I supplement them with water soluble mineral ions from Water Oz. This should provide them with all the necessary mineral (the Water of Life contains more than 80 different types of trace minerals). As it is water soluble, their body would absorb all that is necessary by osmosis and leave out the rest and not overwork the kidney and liver. I'm giving them also a product called EPN that is an enzyme supplement and shark oil to help maintain their immune system.

I guess that may be vitamins (A, B, C, D,...) and taurine are missing. I don’t know if they are really missing because they still have the complete premium dry food that has all the supplements. I’m just wondering if with the baby food I need to add supplements because it’s cooked and cooking destroys enzyme, taurine and many other things.

I already asked my vet but she doesn't know about these products and I can't find a holistic vet in Paris, France.

In resume, do you think the supplements I’m giving are a good thing and/or are useful and good quality. Do I need to add other supplements. Do you also know what I can do about the tartar build-up?

Sorry for this long email. I appreciate your help.


Answer: Lan-

Before I answer your question, it is important that you understand that I am not a nutritional specialist, nor do I have any special training in nutrition. I have an interest in nutrition and I have several very good reference books on nutrition. So I will relay the information that I think has been proven to be true and the explanations for digestive processes that are well accepted among nutritionists and physiologists who study these processes.

It is generally accepted that you can replace about 10% of a nutritionally complete diet with food treats of your choice, without causing problems. Since taurine is found in skeletal muscle, it should be present in the turkey baby food, so that should not be a problem induced by the supplemental food you are making.

Taurine is not destroyed by cooking, or at least not to the degree that it is a significant problem. Proteins are composed of mixtures of amino acids and taurine is one of these amino acids. When two amino acids are joined together they are referred to as peptides. If two amino acids are combined, they are a dipeptide and if three amino acids are joined they are tripeptide. One amino acid alone is just referred to as a free amino acid. If there are more than three amino acids in a chain, this is referred to as a polypeptide. The intestines can only readily absorb free amino acids, dipeptides and tripeptides. So almost all protein that is ingested is broken down by the digestive processes into single amino acids, or short chains of two or three amino acids, so that absorption can occur. Due to this, it caught my eye when the EPN site said their product inhibited the splitting of protein. My guess is that claim is not true, since it would seem to interfere with protein absorption, rather than aid it.

Some minerals are easier for the body to absorb if they are in an organic form and for others the form of the mineral doesn't make much difference. There is evidence to suggest that boron and chromium, not usually included in lists of essential minerals, are beneficial. There is a lot of controversy about most of the other ultra-trace minerals. It is very unlikely that the products containing these ultra-trace minerals are harmful so if you lean towards believing in their usefulness I wouldn't argue against trying them.

I do not know whether shark liver oil is helpful, or not. If you want to see both sides of this issue, if you go to the PubMed web site and then type in alkylglycerols there are a number of articles, some supportive and some not.

It is hard to prevent or to treat tartar in cats without brushing their teeth. The treats made to control tartar do not seem to make a huge difference in our patients and they do not usually like the things that have been proven to help dogs, such as rawhides or gnawing on bones. There is some evidence that using clindamycin, an antibiotic, on a periodic basis, such as the first five days of each month, can retard tartar formation, but there isn't much long term information on this approach to tartar, so it is early to recommend this if other approaches work for a patient. Hopefully the product that your vet has will be helpful.

I hope that this information is helpful to you.

Mike Richards, DVM 9/20/2000

Feeding kittens and cats

Question: Dr. Mike,

I have a 13 week old Bengal and feed him 5 different high quality dry kitten foods---all mixed together. Do you see a problem with this. Bengals are used to eating a variety from what I've heard and I just didn't know which food was best. When I run out I'll switch to just 2 of them since I have a better idea of which are best. (Excel and Precise dry food).

Is people food bad for Bengals? Someone told me it can contribute to coronary heart disease.


Answer: m-

I think it is OK to mix foods together, as long as you do it fairly consistently. Changing foods around sometimes leads to diarrhea if it is done too quickly. I don't think you will have a problem dropping down to two components out of the five, though. Your kitties will be used to the ingredients since they were part of the original mix.

I tend to feed one food for a while, then switch brands, after mixing the two foods together for a week or so, starting with a small amount of the new food and gradually working to all new food. I think it is a good idea to change brands of food (or to change types within a brand) because it helps to ensure that pets get a bigger variety of nutrients. I'm not actually sure that is important, since we don't see too many nutritional deficiencies anymore, but it makes me feel better.

If you fed the cats just human foods you could run into problems with taurine deficiency and that could cause cardiomyopathy, a heart problem. If you keep the human food treats to less than 10% of the diet, there shouldn't be any problems with this, though.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/22/2000

U/D and other low protein diets

Question: Dr Richards:

Thanks so much for the details info. I am happy I subscribed as my vet would never have the time to explain to me all this valuable info. I feel more comfortable now because ignorance means worry.

Just one question, Dr Richard's, you said you would not recommend U/D for chronic kidney problems, if there any reason? Gwei Gwei has been on K/D for the past 5 years but because of the worsening kidney, my vet suggested switching to U/D (Gwei Gwei has no other major problems). He also suggested U/D for baby (who we just found out he has kidney and liver problems). Can you tell me your reason for not recommending U/D? Lily

Answer: Lily-

Whether or not to use low protein diets has been a controversy in veterinary medicine for some time. The most consistent finding in the newer research is that cats with chronic renal failure fed moderate protein diets do better over the long run than cats fed low protein diets. Since u/d is a very low protein diet, I would avoid it based on this research. I can provide references for this, if you need them.

I am sorry for the delay in replying to your question. I just found several emails that I had set aside to answer and then I forgot to do that. Please feel free to remind me in the future if a question is not answered within 72 hours, especially if there is no notice that I won't be able to answer questions posted in the subscriber area.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/31/2000


Question: Have you heard of Colostrum? It seems they are good for pets too. But I know they are also high protein. Should I give it as a supplement to slow down aging (boost up immune system).

Thanks. Lily

Answer: Colostrum is the first milk that a mother makes, which contains a large amount of antibodies necessary for survival in kittens and puppies (humans and some other species pass antibodies through the placenta and the colostrum isn't as important for them. If there is something else that is being referred to as colostrum at the present time, such as some sort of dietary supplement, I am unware of it. Kittens and puppies can only absorb colostrum in the first day or so of life. After that it has no more benefit than regular milk.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/8/2000

Feeding options for cats and dogs

Question: hi im a student studying animal sciences in australia i was interested in you site and i wanted to know the diffrence between free will feeding, time restricted feeding, and quantitive feeding and there advantages and disadvantages for dogs and cats you help would be appreciated thankyou anne

Answer: Anne-

Free will feeding is leaving food out (available to the dog or cat) at all times.

This type of feeding works pretty well in cats but often leads to obesity in dogs. If there are multiple dogs in your household free feeding can keep the whole group calmer and may allow less aggressive dogs more access to food, though. Some cats will become obese if they are fed free choice, though. Other feeding methods will be necessary for these cats.

Time restricted feeding is feeding all that a dog or cat will eat within a specific time period, like ten minutes to fifteen minutes.

The current thinking (from "Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition" by Hand, Thatcher, Remillard and Roudebush), is that there isn't much advantage to timed feeding in dogs because most of them will eat more than they need to eat within a short time period. I think that this method is helpful in puppies, sometimes, though. Puppies need more energy so if they eat a little extra it usually isn't a disaster and they don't eat quite as much as they do if fed free choice. Cats sometimes do not eat enough if they are fed by a time restricted method, since they tend to eat slower and to eat smaller quantities at one time. If a cat is being fed using this method and it is losing weight, this should be a concern.

I am not sure what quantitative feeding means for sure. I am assuming that it means measuring the amount of food that the dog or cat receives and feeding that specific amount daily. This is the preferred method of feeding for dogs because it keeps them from becoming obese if done correctly yet still provides the necessary amount of calories for their lifestyle. It isn't a bad way to feed cats, either. Many dogs will still want more food and it takes some resolve on the part of their humans to resist feeding a lot of additional calories in the form of treats, though.

Hope this helps.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/21/2000

Table scraps and Cats

Q: My roomates and I have a cat with feline leukemia. One of the roomates tells me not to give any type of human food to the cat because she says that it cannot digest it. I have owned several cats in my life ( none with any type of known disease) and have experienced no problem. What scraps I do give, which mainly consists of milk and in a very small in amount, seem to cause no problem for this cat either. Short of calling a vet, I have found no information in the books I have read or any information on the internet that specifically tells me not to give this cat any table scraps at all. I realize that the cat needs its proper cat food diet above all else, but I need to hear from a doctor that what I am doing is wrong and not in the best interest of the cat. I appreciate and will honor any information or recommendations. Thank you.

A: R-

Cats can digest human foods. Cats can not always properly digest lactose, the sugar in milk. Just like people, many cats are lactose intolerant. If your cat gets diarrhea or vomits after ingestion of milk or other dairy products then it would be a good idea not to give them. I personally don't see much harm in giving dogs and cats a small amount of foods other than their normal cat food. It is best to try to keep the quantity to less than 10% of the diet to avoid causing vitamin or mineral imbalances. I am not aware of any changes in the ability to digest foods that relate directly to feline leukemia virus infection.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/16/99

Diet and water intake

Q: Dear Dr. Mike,

I just subscribed today and want you to know how thankful I am for the service you provide. I’m looking forward to receiving my first Vet Info Digest.

I have an indoor 5-year old Siamese cat. She has always been healthy but has the tendency to throw up her food due primarily to hairballs. I give her a maintenance dose of Petromalt twice a week.

My concern now is that the last couple months her urine clumps in the litter box have been about half their normal size. Her appetite is not quite up to par but otherwise she is normal. I’m transitioning her from Purina Cat Chow to Purina Special Diet now. I don’t give her wet food. just a few Tender Vittles per day as a treat. Should I be concerned about these changes? Should I be doing something else?

I have another cat (who’s 1-year old) so it’s difficult to tell exactly how much the Siamese is eating and drinking. Your advice is much appreciated.

Thanks again, Diane

A: Diane

The best way to monitor the effects of eating is to weigh your cat on a regular basis and compare the weights. If there is a gradual weight loss without an effort to restrict her total food intake, there would be reason to be concerned about her appetite and health. If she is maintaining her weight but eating less she is smarter about weight control than most middle-aged humans, including me. Keeping track of her weight could also be useful in evaluating the importance of a decrease in urine production. If your older cat continues to lose weight and your younger cat gains weight at the same time it might be a good idea to consider the possibility that the younger cat is keeping her from the food bowl. Sometimes one cat keeps another from the water bowl or preferred water source, as well.

There really aren't too many disorders that cause a noticeable decrease in urine production. Urinary tract infections often cause cats to urinate smaller amounts at one time but the frequency of urination usually increases so that the total urine production is the same. This might cause you to see smaller urine clumps in the litter but there should be more of them. It is probably better for animals to drink a lot of water and urinate larger amounts but it is hard to convince them to do this. Some cats like cold water better than warm water, or running (dripping) water better than water from a bowl and if your cat has a preference like this you can try to accommodate it. If the younger cat is making it difficult for her to get to her preferred water source, make some arrangement to make it possible for her to have access to water all the time.

I know that hairballs are a problem in some cats but I tend to think that a cat that is vomiting frequently, even if hair is coming up each time, tends to have an underlying cause for the vomiting. In some cats skin disease leads to excessive grooming and excessive intake of hair. In other cats inflammatory bowel disorders lead to vomiting that would occur whether hair was being ingested or not. If the underlying cause can be treated the vomiting may stop. So I do think it is worth checking into this. While your vet is doing a physical exam to look for a cause for the vomiting, he or she can also obtain a urine sample to check for urinary tract infection or inflammation and to check the specific gravity of the urine to make sure it is within normal ranges. This would indicate that your cat's kidneys are likely to be working properly.

If your older cat has not been examined by your vet in a while it might be a good idea to schedule a visit. Your vet can do an exam to rule out things like skin disease as a cause for the vomiting and then start to collect the information necessary to decide if there is a problem. It might take several visits to track weight changes and lab values to determine what might be wrong, if anything. It is frustrating, but sometimes the hardest thing to determine is that a pet is normal!

Hope this helps.

Mike Richards, DVM

P.S. Two things I just have to add, even though you didn't ask.

I don't think it is a good idea to feed Purina Special Care diet or any of the diets meant to help cats with urinary tract disorders unless they really have a urinary tract disorder. These diets are made to acidify the urine, which can encourage the production of calcium oxalate bladder stones. If a cat doesn't have urinary tract disease it doesn't seem like a good idea to increase the risk of bladder stones. About 1% of cats have chronic urinary tract disease so the odds are good your Siamese cats won't ever have this problem, assuming she hasn't had problems yet.

I really think that adding fiber to the diet works better than using flavored or medicated petroleum jelly preparations for hair balls. Adding 1/4th teaspoonful of Metamucil (TM) to her food each day will add fiber. Another alternative is to add canned pumpkin to her diet (a couple of tablespoonfuls per day). Surprisingly, a lot of cats seem to like pumpkin.

Thin Maine Coon Cat

Q: have a 3 year old silver and white Maine Coon cat. He does not seem to exhibit many of the traits of his breed. First, and foremost of my concerns, is the fact that although has has a very large frame, he always seems thin. He has a good appetite, but he is not a competitive eater (he shares his world with 3 other cats, all indoor) He ways about 9 or 10 pounds which I know is not what he should be weighing. He has been tested for everything including FIP and FIV. He had a lot of nervous problems when he was younger that included incessant scratching that literally took the fur and skin off of his head. He out grew that and seems more relaxed all around. Is there something that I can supplement his diet with, or perhaps some high-calorie food that I should try him on? Also, he has incredibly long fur that mats like nothing that I have ever dealt with. Even when I have him groomed, he looks like you-know-what within minutes. I have a groomer's comb that does seem to work on the mats but the poor kiity sees me coming and beats a hasty retreat...any suggestions? Thanks! Carole

A: Carole-It is usually pretty easy to add calories to any diet and it doesn't affect the rest of the diet much (doesn't usually alter the vitamin/mineral balance, etc.). Just add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the food you normally use to add calories to the diet. Before you do this it would be a good idea to ask your vet if he or she agrees that your cat is underweight. It sounds like he may be but many people want their pets to weigh more than they should. Also, it may be a good idea to make sure that your vet checked for cardiomyopathy. It sounds like it from your description of many tests being run but it is a difficult to diagnose disorder than can lead to thinness and a "laid back" attitude.

Mike Richards, DVM

Ways to stimulate appetite in cats

Q: Cat was vomiting routinely and not interested in food. Vet workup indicates low protein and low white cell count. Weight went from 10.5 lbs to 9.4. X-rays show nothing. Changed food to Limited Diets both dry and canned. Cats appetite returned and started eating normally. Vet perscribed metronidazole250 in pill form and Hi-Vite Drops. No problems for 2 days then cat got very upset at pill time and started fighting pill. After pill she had siliva dripping from her mouth for 5 minutes. She would hide. Stopped eating entirely for a day. Next day she wouldn't eat the Limited Diets but got her to eat Tender Vittles and canned Friskies with no vomiting. Quantity consumed was 3 tablespoons per day. Hand fed the Tender Vittles. She is still drinking water normally. Vet said to stop all medication and get her to eat. What can be done at home to stimulate appetite.

A: It is very important that cats continue to eat when weight loss is occurring for some reason. If they stop, sometimes even for short periods of time, they can develop a liver disorder (hepatic lipidosis) which is a serious problem. The following things help to stimulate appetite without the use of medications:

Encourage your cat to eat. Pet it and talk reassuringly. Cats will sometimes respond to encouragement.

Warm the food. Many cats prefer food that is warm.

Feed your cat something it really likes. There is a time for giving in to cat's finicky desires and this would be it.

If upper respiratory disease is present, a nasal decongestant can increase appetite -- ask your vet about this suggestion for medication advice.

If your cat has kidney disease or is geriatric, potassium supplementation can help increase appetite.

Diazepam (Valium Rx) is a pretty consistent appetite stimulant for us. Periactin (I can't remember the generic name) may also work. These would have to be used by prescription from your vet, though.

Don't ignore the lack of appetite. Let your vet know this is going on if your cat doesn't respond very well to the things you can do at home to stimulate appetite. Even a few days of not eating can cause problems.

Mike Richards, DVM

Feeding Cats

The bottom line on pet foods is simple. We have a rough idea of the essential nutrients necessary for pets. We know some of the toxic levels for nutrients. Other than that, it is hard to be sure about any nutritional claims.

Studying nutrient needs is extremely complex. There are a great number of theories about what constitutes "proper" nutrition. For every good thing you hear about a food, there are likely to be as many bad things. Making sense of this is very difficult. There is no single food that is "best" for all makes and models of dogs.

Some things seem to be clear, though. Pets do require certain nutrients. A good way to ensure that the pet foods you feed your pets contain adequate nutrients is to look for a statement that the food meets AAFCO Food Trial testing standards. This is an organization which sets standards for pet foods. Most good quality foods will have this statement on their label. It is at least a good start in ensuring that your pet's diet is adequate.

Some people are currently advocating diets containing raw meat for pets. Before feeding raw meat, please stop to consider the health warnings for humans concerning raw meat. Dogs get the same illnesses from E. coli, Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis and other health hazards associated with raw or undercooked meat. Is the perceived benefit worth the risk of one of these diseases?

Don't let your pet teach you to feed it a poor diet. It is very easy, especially with small dogs and cats, to fall into the trap of feeding your pet what he or she wants instead of what he or she needs. Dogs are very patient trainers of human beings. If you're not paying attention, you could find that Spot is on an all meat diet in no time. It can be hard to ignore those pleading eyes, but your pet IS better off if you feed a balanced diet!

Mike Richards, DVM

Help for fat cat

Q: Hello, my 1 year old neutered is really fat. Now I am feeding him just as much as it is recommended on a bag of Iams Dry Food but he still has trouble grooming himself. Unfortunately I work all day and when I am gone he sleeps. Is there anything I can do to help him to get fit? Thank you for your help.

A: One of the first things a practicing veterinarian learns is the amount of food recommended on the food bags is often too much for some pets. I am sure that there are lots of pets the recommendations work just fine for but those owners don't come in wondering about obesity in their pets. The first thing to consider is cutting down on the amount of food you feed your cat. You may be able to do this without too much protest if you feed him several small meals a day (but less total food). The only other thing you can do is increase his exercise. Many cats will walk well on a leash and walking him might help. Teaching him to play games like retrieving objects can be helpful. Buying or making a lure type toy (a fluffy appealing toy on the end of a string works). Throw it to make him chase it and then reel it back in to keep the game going. Some cats won't participate much in exercises of any kind but most will if the right game is introduced. I have seen pet spas on TV where the cats and dogs of the rich and famous are able to work out. If you are rich or famous this might be an option! Good luck with this. .

Mike Richards, DVM

Food allergy in a cat

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a cat who is allergic to all foods, including mice. My current vet has him on prednisone, but we wonder if there is sth milder we could put him on since he will be on this medication for the rest of his life. My vet's inquiries have drawn a blank. Do you know of any substitutes for pred which more specifically counter allergic skin, mucus membrane & GI irritation, or do you know who would know? I wonder if cats might have been used in testing medications for similar human allergies. Do you know how I could find out?

A: It is unusual for food allergies to become so broad. It might help if you would tell me what symptoms you are seeing, when they started, what type of dosage it is necessary to use of the prednisone in order to control the symptoms, whether feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus testing has been done. Were the food allergies diagnosed by elimination diets? That seems likely based on your letter, but it is helpful to be sure.

In general, if the problem is inflammatory bowel disease from food allergy, prednisone is the medication least likely to cause side effects. A few cats with this problem will respond to being fed soft-moist foods like Purina EN diet or other commercially available formulations. Of course, if a diet can be formulated from foods your cat is not allergic to, that is best. When medications are necessary and if prednisone won't work alone, the rest of the medications used are more likely to cause side effects. The next most commonly used medication is azathioprine (Immuran Rx).

If you are seeing skin disease associated with the allergy and not digestive signs, it may be possible to relieve the symptoms using a combination of anti-histamine and essential fatty acid administration. We use a combination of chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton Rx) and DermCaps (Rx), but there are other antihistamines and other fatty acid supplements. These medications have significantly less potential for adverse side effects.

There are other possible problems than food allergy for both inflammatory bowel disease and the skin diseases. It can be a long and difficult process to sort through the possible problems. It would be very unusual for there to be a food allergy of the magnitude you are describing, so it may be worthwhile to review the other possibilities -- especially for conditions that may require lifelong treatment. Your vet sounds concerned about this and you obviously are, too. That will help.

Mike Richards, DVM

Appetite stimulation

Sick cats often need to be stimulated to eat. It is very important that they maintain some caloric intake due to the nature of food metabolism in cats. There are a number of things that seem to help stimulate the appetite. For many cats, simply hand feeding an attractive food is adequate to stimulate appetite. Other cats respond to the owner petting them, sitting with them or talking to them by eating a little. Using canned foods instead of dry foods can be helpful. Warming food a little can make it more attractive to a cat.

Any medical conditions, such as dehydration or potassium deficits that exist should be corrected if possible. Pain relief medications may be helpful if there is any suspicion that a condition might be painful.

When these things fail, appetite stimulation may be necessary. There are a number of medications that have been shown to stimulate the appetite of cats. Diazepam (Valium), oxazepam (Serax), flurazepam (Dalmane) are three related compounds that are normally used as anti-anxiety medications. For some reason, used in smaller quantities these medications stimulate appetite. Oral pill forms will often work but if not, injectable diazepam can be more successful. The induction of appetite is very rapid, so the proper food must be on hand when the injection is given. If liver disease is suspected it may not be a good idea to use these medications. Periactin, an antihistamine, works to stimulate appetite in some cats, as well. If these medications do not work, it may be necessary to use corticosteroids or anabolic steroids. Due to the increase in side effects associated with steroids these should be the last resort in most cases.

If appetite stimulation fails, it is possible to force feed cats. The best way to accomplish this is usually a surgically implanted tube into the stomach. Most cats tolerate this much better than being syringe fed or tube fed orally in the quantities necessary to reverse some of the problems associated with inappetance, such as fatty infiltration of the liver (hepatic lipidosis).

Mike Richards, DVM

Normal food and water consumption of cats:

Q: Hi Doc:

I am mainly interested in knowing how much water and how much food a cat may be expected to consume per unit body weight per day, and how much urine and how much feces a cat may be expected to excrete per unit body weight, assuming moderate conditions of temperature and humidity, moderate activity levels, and good health.

I would also like to get an idea of whether the effect of body weight on consumption is linear, what effect ambient humidity and temperature have, and what effect the proportion of body fat, the activity level, the wake/sleep ratio, etc. have on consumption and excretion rates.

Thanks very much for any information you could supply or any citation you could reference.

A: Nutrition in pets has been studied, extensively in some aspects, but there is a lot yet to learn. This leaves most nutritionists using terms like "generally accepted recommendation" and "most commonly assumed", etc.What this means for the rest of the answer to your question is that some of the information presented is a best guess based on reading several texts, most notably Small Animal Clinical Nutrition III by Lewis, Morris and Hand and Clinical Nutrition in the May 1989 small animal edition of The Clinics of North America.

Cats require approximately 45kcal/lb/day of metabolizable energy (ME). The type of food they eat and the cat's activity level will determine the amount of food necessary to meet this requirement. For a normally active 10 lbs. cat, hunting mice on its own, this is about 10 mice a day. For a 10lb. cat eating cat food, this is about 1 cup of dry food or 10oz of canned food a day. Cats vary widely in their food requirements, though. The best guideline is to judge each cat's needs individually. Feed them enough to maintain their ideal body weight but not more than that. The relationship between size of the cat and dietary needs is not exactly linear. A small cat (6 lbs.) would require about 3/4th of a cup of food, while a big cat (12 lbs.) only requires slightly more than one cup -- about a tablespoon more, again assuming "normal" activity and health. I was not able to find any references to stool volume excreted. This would vary according to the digestibility of the food. One of the selling points of premium diets has always been lower stool production.

Cats are thought to consume between 20 and 30ml/lb/day of water. Using this formula, a 10 lbs. cat will drink 200 to 300cc of water or about one cup of water a day. This too can vary widely. Urine output closely matcheswater intake, usually running between 22 and 30ml/kg/day.

Activity levels have a great effect on dietary needs. I am pretty sure that this is probably also true of ambient temperature and other factors.

Hope this helps.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 11/20/04


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...