Your Cat’s Unique Nutritional Needs

"The number of foods that are available now is astronomical," says Lori Jacobs, a Los Angeles-area mother whose family has five cats. Customized cat foods help Jacobs control one of her cats’ digestive problems – and may benefit your cats too.

A Checklist for Nutritional Needs

To determine which cat food to feed your pet, experts say you should talk to your cat’s veterinarian and consider the following:

Older cats tend to burn fewer calories than kittens and normal adult cats. Therefore, nutritional needs differ based on age, says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., who has worked on pet nutrition issues. In general, cats can be divided into the following age groups: kittens (0 to 12 months old), adult cats (1 to 6 years old) and senior cats (7 years and older).

Obesity in cats can become a systemic inflammatory disease and contribute to other problems like joint disease, a higher risk of cancer, and gastrointestinal problems, says Nelson. To determine whether your cat is overweight, try to feel its ribs, says Bonnie Beaver, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University. If you have to push through too much fat and cannot feel the ribs easily, your cat is likely overweight. Foods for overweight cats often contain L-carnitine, a nutrient that helps the body turn fat into energy.

Activity Level and Size
"There is a huge difference between a 15-pound tomcat and a dainty indoor cat or a strictly couch potato kitty in terms of energy output," says Nelson. You want a food that promotes good digestion and properly energizes your pet.

Multi-Cat Households
Having several cats under one roof can be a challenge in terms of meeting individual pet needs. For multi-cat owners, there are specialized foods that can meet the needs of cats of various ages and activity levels that are fed at one time.

Pregnant, Nursing & Neutered Cats
Cats that are pregnant or nursing may need a higher caloric intake than normal adult cats. Cats that have been spayed or neutered have lower energy requirements and metabolic needs. "Maintaining those sex organs takes a lot of the body’s energy and slows down a whole lot of processes," Nelson explains.

Unique Issues
A healthy digestive system may be better maintained by feeding your cat food containing prebiotics, specialized fibers that stimulate the growth of "good" bacteria in your cat’s gut. Some foods contain ingredients that reduce tartar buildup and help your kitty maintain healthier teeth. Others help alleviate dry, flaky skin through essential fatty acids, such as the omega-3 and omega-6 fats found in sources like chicken, fish oil and eggs. For preventing joint and mobility issues, there are foods containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and fish oil.