Vitamins are a big part of most of our diets and it is widely recommended that all humans take a daily multi-vitamin to supplement any deficiencies from the food we eat. It makes sense to most pet owners that their cats should also be given a supplement to their daily ration of food to keep them healthy and happy. However, this is not necessarily true for most cats and in some instances can be harmful.
Commercial pet foods are formulated to theoretically meet all the nutrient requirements a cat needs to survive. Unlike human whose diets vary day-to-day, most cats eat the same food day in and day out. Pet food manufacturers create cat diets with this assumption making any sort of daily multi-vitamin unnecessary. That is not to say that all pet foods are created equal because there is great variety among each brand of food, which is extremely important to know when choosing a cat diet for you loved furry friend.
The best pet food companies will formulate their cat diets using feeding trials. This means that they create a food based on a formulation, then actually feed it to cats and monitor their response to the diet via a variety of diagnostic testing. This gives a complete picture as to how each ingredient in the diet comes together in the final product. There are very few companies that actually do this and it is a critical process in developing a complete and balanced diet. The pet food companies that do not perform feeding trials simply develop their cat diet based on a formula, package it and sell it without ever feeding it to an actual cat.
Additionally, the better pet food manufactures will create a cat diet based on the life stage and lifestyle of the cats they are marketing to. One can imagine that an active growing kitten has very different nutritional needs than a senior cat who spends twenty hours a day sleeping. Many pet food companies only produce foods designed to meet the nutritional requirements for “all life stages” which means that food is formulated to meet the dietary needs of a kitten and therefore inappropriate for adult and senior cats.
Once you have chosen the ideal diet for your kitty’s life stage and life style that was developed using feeding trials, there are some supplements that you can consider adding based on the particular health needs of your cat. You should always discuss any supplements that you are giving to your cat with your veterinarian. This will ensure there are no complications or health concerns with other medications you are giving or medical conditions your cat has. If you choose a multi-vitamin or specific single nutrient please be aware that adding these to a complete and balanced cat food could combine with the nutrients already in the food and create toxicity.
Many cats have arthritis and there are few medications we can give for pain that are safe for cats. Glucosamine and chondroitin are supplements commonly given together to help protect the joints to prevent or slow progression of arthritis. These work to increase lubrication within the joint as well as repair cartilage. They will not eliminate arthritis or correct any structural abnormalities but they can help support the joint function. There are countless joint supplements out there to choose from so be sure to discuss with your veterinarian the one best suited for your cat.
Another widely used dietary supplement that has many functions and is a great additive to many foods is omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are a powerful anti-inflammatory for the skin and joints and can help support the function of multiple organs. Again you need to be careful when selecting a product as fatty acids degrade quickly when exposed to air so they must be packaged and stored correctly to be of benefit to your kitty. Unless the particular food is specially packaged the omega-3 fatty acids found in many cat foods have most likely already degraded by the time you bring the bag of food home and are useless. This is why a separate supplement may be beneficial. You should speak to your veterinarian about what product to choose and how much to give.
A high quality, complete and balanced food formulated for your cat’s specific life stage and life style will meet all the essential nutrients to maintain optimal health. There are some additional supplements that address certain medical issues and could improve the health of your cat. It is always best to discuss any medical concerns you have with your veterinarian and get his or her recommendation for supplements your kitty may benefit from.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM