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Does your elderly cat need a special diet?

Special diets now available for elderly cats or for cats with health problems or digestive troubles. Some of these are prescription diets, available only from vets, designed for cats with a continuing problem such as kidney disease, or cystitis, allergy or food intolerance, bowel or digestive difficulties. These are all valuable contributions towards feline health. Alas, pet insurance will rarely cover the cost of a continuing special diet, but nonetheless the correct diet will help your cat stay healthier and live longer.

There are also prescription slimming diets for cats that need to lose weight. In general most cats seem able to balance their diet so that they eat what they need without getting fat. Yet there are a small proportion of cats that are fatties. Most veterinary clinics have weighing machines. Weigh your cat in its carrier on the scales, and then come back on a different occasion and weigh your cat carrier, subtracting this figure from the earlier one.

Fat cats are more likely to suffer from diabetes, and too much weight will worsen diseases like arthritis and breathing difficulties. Just like fat humans, fat cats become less energetic. So they do less, and put on even more weight. Food may become of central importance in their lives and they start living to eat. Doting owners contribute to their obesity by sharing their human meals (even curry!) with their furry fat friend. For us eating is a social activity and we may therefore offer food as a proof of love – so the cat learns that food is a substitute for human attention.

This is called enabling. We owners with fat cats enable them to stay that way by letting, even encouraging them, to eat too much. The only kind action is to put the cat on a diet, always under veterinary supervision, and limit its food intake according to the vet’s instructions. Never starve a fat cat.

If a fat cat suddenly stops eating, its liver function may fail altogether. Weight should be lost gradually. Prescription diet foods, usually formulated with extra fibre, weighed out in a daily portion, are the best way of slimming down a fatty. The new slimming diet may need to be introduced gradually and mixed with the previous food to ensure its being eaten. If your cat regularly supplements its diet by entering other houses and raiding other cat’s food, or turning over the local dustbins, it may need to be an indoor cat while it diets.

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