Pet health: Chronic problems due to cat food?
By: Dr. Jane Matheys
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
Vomiting an occasional hairball can be a normal occurrence in cats, but more frequent vomiting than that should always be brought to your veterinarian’s attention as it may be a sign of a serious underlying pet health problem. Let’s look at how food problems can cause vomiting in cats.
If a cat is bright, alert, and active with no weight loss despite a history of chronic vomiting, I will often spend some time trying to determine if an underlying food sensitivity is involved. Sometimes the cat may be reacting to chemicals in the diet such as artificial flavorings or colorings. Switching to a “natural“ food that avoids any such ingredients may be beneficial. Chemical preservatives in dry foods are typically not a problem, as all brands of dry food that I’ve checked out use natural vitamin E as a preservative.
Each pet food company has it’s own proprietary formulas for its diets, and in some cases there may be some unknown factor that makes your cat able to digest some brands better than others. It’s good to try a few different brands, but it’s best to blend in the new diet over a few days for better acceptance by your cat.
I like there to be some canned food in all cats’ diets. I believe that it’s more like what the cats would be eating out in the wild. In other words, it’s more like canned mouse-high protein, low carbohydrate, and a good source of water for them. Some cats vomit less on canned food and that can give some clues as to what may be causing the vomiting.
Cats are obligate carnivores, so I especially like grain free diets for them. Most cats have adapted to digesting grains like corn, and it can be a good, inexpensive source of energy. But some cats have trouble digesting the grains, and vomiting may stop after switching to grain free food. My preference is grain free canned food. Be aware that grain free dry food is very high in calories, and you have to feed controlled amounts only or weight gain could easily occur. To be sure that your cat can receive the best healthcare possible, in the event of an unexpected accident or illness, it’s a good idea to have a cat insurance policy.
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Cats can develop food allergies too. Because these kinds of a diagnosis can be spendy for cat owners, I recommend cat insurance to my clients. A cat with classic food allergies has itchy skin problems, especially around the head and neck, but some cats will present with gastrointestinal problems instead.
Many clients think that food allergies are related to recent food changes, but in reality it takes a long time to develop a food allergy, so it’s more likely to be seen with something the cat has been eating for a long time. Most often the offending allergen is a protein in the food. I use prescription medical hypoallergenic diets to help diagnose this condition. The food should have a single protein source and a single carbohydrate source that the cat’s body has never seen before. Most food companies use green peas as the carbohydrates and the proteins are meats such as venison, duck or rabbit. Cats stay on these diets for 6-8 weeks and then are challenged with the old diet to see if symptoms return.
Hydrolyzed protein diets are also available to help diagnose food allergies. These are still poultry based, but the proteins have been broken down so small that they should not be able to cause an allergic reaction. While this sounds good in theory, I’m not totally convinced these work well in the real world. I prefer to try the true hypoallergenic diets first.
Prescription gastrointestinal diets are also available. These have highly digestible proteins and seem to be a little more bland and easier on the stomach though still very palatable. Fiber diets can also be helpful in some cases. There are different types of fiber and cats can respond differently to each, so your veterinarian can determine which would be best for your cat.
If diet changes do not improve or resolve your cat’s vomiting, then it is time to get a little more aggressive in looking for answers. I will usually recommend baseline bloodwork and a urinalysis followed by further diagnostics as indicated. Hopefully, you will have checked into pet health insurance for your cat to help cover these expenses. I’ll talk about inflammatory bowel disease, one of the most common causes of chronic vomiting in cats, in future blogs.
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