Nutrition for Cats with Chronic Illnesses

Cat diet for sick cats

When a cat is ill, a specialist diet can be helpful or can even prolong the cat’s life. This type of food is adapted to each specific illness. ‘Diet’ doesn’t mean a reduction in calories here, rather a specific type of nutrition. In any case, you should always consult your vet before you switch your cat to dietetic food. This article offers you some information and tips about feeding a specialist diet to a cat with an illness.

Dietetic food for cats with kidney problems

What is special about dietetic food for kidney problems?

Many cats develop kidney problems as they get older. The symptoms will only become apparent once a significant proportion of the kidneys has already become damaged. For this reason, a regular blood test at the vet’s is sensible. If caught in its early stages, an appropriate diet can give the cat many more symptom-free years. Dietetic food for cats with damaged kidneys contains less phosphorus and protein which helps to decrease the workload on the kidneys. On the other hand, the fat content is high. This means that the food is well-liked by cats and this high fat content is particularly important as patients with kidney problems should not lose weight.

Switch to dietetic food gradually

If a cat is already suffering from nausea when diagnosed, this should be treated first, otherwise there is a risk that the cat will associate this new food with these symptoms. Give your pet three to four weeks to get used to the new food by mixing it into the usual food in increasing quantities. If your cat is diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease (CKD), it needs to eat a specially adapted diet for the rest of its life. Ask your vet about possible vitamin supplements. Cats with renal problems often need more vitamin D and B. The antioxidants vitamin C and E can help to preserve renal tissue. However, you should avoid giving too high a dose.

Are there alternatives to dietetic food for cats with kidney problems?

Cat owners who feed their cat a BARF diet should consult a vet who specialises in nutrition to discuss the best method of feeding. For example, beef is better than poultry because beef contains less phosphorus. A possible alternative to a special renal diet is a phosphate binder for cats. With the help of blood test results, a vet can tell you whether this would be suitable. When a phosphate binder is taken with food, the body absorbs less dietary phosphate. Loss of appetite can be a big problem in advanced cases of kidney disease. An IV drip can help to stabilise the cat if necessary.

Dietetic food for cats with diabetes

Knowing the carbohydrate content is crucial

The earlier a cat is diagnosed with feline diabetes, the higher the chance of remission. When we say remission, we mean that the cat no longer requires insulin because its blood sugar level is regulated by itself. A special dietetic food for diabetes is not necessarily required. Have a look online for an NFE calculator and use it to calculate the nutritional value of a high-quality, grain-free cat food. The calculator should indicate the carbohydrate content and show whether the food is suitable for a cat with diabetes. The lower the given value, the better. Do not opt for any food that has an NFE value of more than 10.

Avoid dry food for diabetic cats

It is not advisable to feed diabetic cats with dry food due to the high carbohydrate content. Dry diabetic food can be used as an alternative to treats, for example, to put inside interactive toys. However, it is not recommended to feed a diabetic cat exclusively with dry food because of the high proportion of carbohydrates in the ingredients.

Even if your cat doesn’t require insulin anymore, you should continue to feed it a suitable food. Encourage your kitty to be active and keep an eye on its weight. Avoid giving treats between mealtimes as this increases blood sugar levels unnecessarily. Many diabetic cats can live a symptom-free life for many years with the help of the right nutrition.

© Aaron Amat /
young cat after eating food from a plate showing tongue

Nutrition for cats with urinary tract problems and bladder stones

When does a cat need a specialist diet adapted to urinary problems?

Small stones that form in a cat’s urinary tract are principally made up of minerals. They can irritate the bladder and cause inflammation. They can often cause a lot of pain and lead to the cat having accidents. With this in mind, you should take your cat to the vet the first time it has a sudden accident. However, not all urinary stones are the same. It is a good idea to test stones removed in an operation, then to try to prevent them from returning with a suitable diet. Experts differentiate between calcium oxalate stones and the more common struvite stones which are made up of magnesium ammonium phosphate crystals.

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The appropriate urinary diet

Cats that suffer from struvite stones should eat a diet low in magnesium and phosphate, and which acidifies the urine. A diet used to combat other types of urinary stones can be low in calcium and oxalate. Some dietetic foods for urinary problems increase the amount of urine produced so that it is more diluted which reduces the risk that stones will build up. Alternatively, your vet can recommend some supplements that also have this effect. Dietetic food can reduce the risk of suffering from urinary stones for cats that have already been affected by this problem. Cats become vulnerable to this illness when they don’t drink enough fluid as this causes their urine to be more concentrated. Wet food is ideal for cats that are at risk of developing urinary tract problems. Being overweight or not being active enough can increase the likelihood of having urinary stones. A helpful tip is to give your cat several small portions throughout the day instead of two larger meals. Smaller meals carry a lower risk of stones building up.

Nutrition for cats with illnesses – further examples of specialist diets

Do overweight cats need diet food?

If your cat is too tubby, your vet can prescribe a specialist diet. If your cat doesn’t have any further health problems, it won’t need a ‘light’ option at this point. Try to ask yourself exactly where all of the extra pounds are coming from. If you leave dry food out all day long, start putting it away in a cupboard. Only feed your cat at set times and monitor the portion size. If you have several cats, you may have to feed them separately. Opt for an easily digestible food with a high meat content that is also low in fat. It is also a good idea to keep an eye on treats. If you are too generous with these, you shouldn’t be surprised when your cat piles on the pounds. Freeze-dried snacks are particularly light and taste great to most cats.

Restorative food for cats recovering from illness

A restorative food can help if your cat is weak from illness. This type of food contains more energy and fats than regular cat food. Restorative food is ideal for cats that are recovering after a long-term illness. Older cats that eat less can also benefit from this high-calorie food. Alternatives to restorative food are beef fat powder or lightly warmed goose fat. Additionally, there are pastes and liquid supplements that encourage your cat’s appetite. These restorative foods provide your kitty with lots of vitamins and minerals, as well as energy, so that it can regain its strength quickly.

Dietetic food for cats with joint complaints

If your cat is suffering from a joint problem, such as osteoarthritis, certain foods can support its joint function. They contain glucosamine and chondroitin. Supplements containing green lipped mussel powder for cats are an alternative to dietetic food. Rosehip powder can also be helpful for joint problems. You can discuss which supplements are right for your cat with your vet.

Dietetic food for cats with liver disease or copper storage disease

If your cat has liver disease, you should feed it a dietetic food that is high in energy, after having discussed the situation with your vet. Small portions are easier on the liver. What’s more, the amount of vitamins and minerals is tailored to the needs of a cat with liver disease. There are additional products that are low in copper which are ideal for cats with copper storage disease.

Dietetic food for cats with thyroid disorders

Cats with hyperthyroidism benefit from a dietetic food high in energy with a limited amount of iodine, but lots of antioxidants.

cat food for sick cats © Aaron Amat /

Dietetic food for cats with sensitive stomachs

If your cat often suffers from diarrhoea or vomiting but is otherwise healthy, eliminating certain elements from its diet can help you to find out if it has any food intolerances. A suitable food contains only one source of protein which the cat ideally isn’t familiar with. Furthermore, there are various other specialist diets for cats with sensitive stomachs or certain allergies. In many cases, slowly changing your cat’s diet to a high-quality, grain-free, complete food without any additives and with a high proportion of meat will give good results.

A high-quality cat food:

  • contains lots of meat and animal protein
  • doesn’t contain grains, sugar or flavour-enhancers
  • breaks down the ‘animal by-products’ on the label
  • tastes good to your cat

Dietetic food for cats with skin and coat problems

Skin and coat problems can also be alleviated by changing to a high-quality food. Sometimes it might be necessary to switch to a dietetic food designed for skin and coat complaints. One particular feature of this food is that it is high in fatty acids. Diets for cats with sensitive stomachs that eliminate certain elements can also help to improve problems such as hair loss or itchy skin.

Dietetic food for cats with dental problems

Any tartar on your cat’s teeth must be removed by a vet. Specialist diets for dental problems prevent new tartar. They contain a calcium binder that stops the plaque from forming. The special shape of the kibble also helps to clean the teeth. Alternatively, you can regularly give your cat a piece of raw beef to chew on as this will clean its teeth. It is also possible to clean your cat’s teeth with a special toothpaste for cats. In any case, you should allow your cat to get used to this when young.

Dietetic food for stressed cats

A specialist diet can help a cat that is suffering from stress, for example, after moving into a new home or experiencing a drastic change. This food mostly contains hydrolysed milk protein in combination with L-tryptophan which has a calming effect. Antioxidants increase resilience. This food is ideal around New Year’s Eve when there are fireworks and loud bangs. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be used as a long-term solution, for example, for a cat that is picked on by others in a group of cats. In long-term cases, it is preferable to find out what the cause of the stress is and to improve the stressed cat’s living conditions.

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What should you do when your sick cat doesn’t want to eat?

Cats often have little or no appetite when ill. If you plan to change your cat’s diet completely right after a diagnosis, remember that you can’t count on your cat to cooperate. You can discuss the possible solutions with your vet. In most cases, in particular when it comes to weak or old animals, it is essential that the cat eats something. If the cat has diabetes, it is important that it has something to eat before having an insulin injection. If your cat refuses the dietetic food, you can mix some of it in with raw meat or with a food that your cat likes. Tuna brine or homemade, low-salt chicken broth can also help to stimulate your cat’s appetite. Weak cats that don’t consume any food can quickly go into ketosis which is life-threatening.

How long should your cat eat the special diet for?

Don’t start your cat on a specialist prescribed diet without consulting your vet first. Many specialist diets must be continued for the cat’s entire life. Make sure that you only give your cat suitable treats, if any at all. If your cat is allowed to roam freely outside, you should make sure that it doesn’t get any standard food from your neighbours. Dietetic food that is nutritionally tailored to each respective illness can help your cat’s body to find a balance, which in turn prevents or alleviates existing symptoms.

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