The Daily Cat: Cat Food Ingredients for Good Health

The Daily Cat: Nutrition Now

Cat Food Ingredients for Good Health

By Kim Boatman for The Daily Cat

Cat Food Ingredients for Good Health

What’s the easiest way to help your cat get a shiny coat, allergy relief and good overall health? Omega fatty acids, found in commercial cat food.

“Fats are essential to everyone’s health,” says Dr. William M. Fraser, who runs Mentor Veterinary Clinic and Brightwood Animal Hospital in Mentor, Ohio. “The issue is what type of fat and how much. Saturated fats are likely to add weight and can cause coronary artery disease in people, but cats don’t get coronary artery disease. No one knows why.”

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both polyunsaturated fats, may help to lower levels of so-called “bad fats” in people. They also have many benefits for your cat, say veterinarians.

How Fatty Acids Work
Omega fatty acids are bioavailable, notes Fraser. “That means they are capable of being ingested and are not just immediately used for energy or turned into fat.” A high-quality commercial food should provide linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that converts to a number of fatty acids your cat needs. Unlike dogs, your cat also needs a food containing arachidonic acid because your cat doesn’t contain an enzyme to convert linoleic acid to this fatty acid. However, your cat can convert alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, into other omega-3s.

Since omega-6 fatty acids alone can be inflammatory or can cause blood-clot issues, your cat’s food should contain a balance of omega-6s and omega-3s, says Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. Your kitty’s food should contain a ratio of five or 10 omega-6 acids to one omega-3 acid. The ingredient-analysis label should explain if the food contains a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids are quite strong, thus the need for far less, explains Nelson.

Health Benefits of Omega Fatty Acids
“Omega-3s have a very potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They’re good for the skin, good for joints,” says Nelson.

Look for these indications of good health from a diet containing balanced omega fatty acids:

  • Ease of movement. Since omega-3s reduce inflammation, your older cat may enjoy improved joint health and more flexibility and agility.
  • Relief from allergies. Both respiratory and skin conditions may respond to a diet with omega-3s.
  • A healthy, shiny coat. Your cat’s coat should reflect its good health, with softness and a glossy shine. Flaky skin should improve with a diet that includes fatty acids. Arachidonic acid helps maintain skin cell structure, explains Dr. Denise Elliott, a board-certified nutritionist for Banfield, The Pet Hospital. “In addition, it is one of the ingredients that the sebaceous glands use to make sebum,” she says. “Sebum keeps the skin and coat supple.”
  • GI disease relief. Omega-3s offer relief for cats with gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, explains Nelson.
  • Neurological and eye development. Omega acids play a critical role in your kitten’s brain and visual growth. They may also help keep your older kitty mentally sharp.
  • Cell health. “These fatty acids are also believed to be natural antioxidants that promote cell health,” says Fraser. This also means your kitty can heal more quickly.

What to Look For
Make sure your cat food incorporates fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acid, advises Nelson. “Fish oils have the best-quality fatty acids within them,” she says. “If your cat food isn’t using a fish oil, then that’s probably not the diet you want it to be. It’s sort of a shortcut.”

Nelson also cautions against using fatty-acid supplements. It’s difficult to control your cat’s caloric intake, which can lead to weight gain. Supplements aren’t regulated, and some may have side effects. “Fatty acids should be part of a balanced diet in your cat’s food,” she says. “When they’re incorporated into the diet, then the calories are right there in front of you.”

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Kim Boatman is a journalist based in Northern California whose work has appeared in such publications as the Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press and San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifetime lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.