What to Feed a Cat With a Sensitive Stomach

By Liz Bales, DVM

 

Does your cat have a sensitive stomach? Do they consistently vomit or cough up hairballs? Believe it or not, hairballs aren’t normal for cats; their bodies are made to pass the hair that they ingest from grooming.

So these could be signs that your cat is sensitive to something in their food.

Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances are commonly caused by poorly digestible foods, food allergies or food additives/flavorings/preservatives.

Many times, a diet that’s formulated to address your cat’s sensitive stomach can ease and even resolve the problem. But it’s important to not immediately jump to changing your cat’s diet without getting your vet’s input.

Here’s what you should do if your cat has a sensitive stomach and how you can help them find the right diet.

Talk With Your Veterinarian to Rule Out Other Medical Issues

Vomiting can be a sign of many different illnesses, not just a sensitivity to food. And coughing up a hairball can look very similar to general coughing and sneezing in a cat—which could actually be signs of feline asthma.

If your cat is vomiting food or hairballs once a month or more, or is also losing weight, a veterinary visit is recommended.

You should also try to get a video of your cat when they are exhibiting these behaviors so that your veterinarian can see what you see at home.

At the vet’s office, your veterinarian will check for clues as to what is causing the stomach upset. They may recommend diagnostic tests like blood work, X-rays or an ultrasound to find the cause of the GI upset.

By ruling out other medical issues, you can make sure they get right medical treatments for any underlying issues.

How to Find the Best Food for Your Cat’s Sensitive Stomach

Once you’ve dealt with any other health issues, you can work with your vet to figure out the best food for your cat’s sensitive stomach.

Your vet will be able to guide you towards foods that fit your cat’s nutritional requirements, while you can narrow it down by your cat’s food preferences to find the perfect match.

Here are some options your vet might suggest for finding a food for your cat’s sensitive stomach.

Start With a Diet Trial

Once your cat gets a clean bill of health from the veterinarian, a diet trial is the logical next step. Diet trials are a way to narrow down your cat’s food options until you find a food that suits their sensitive stomach.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for every cat. Your cat will have an individual response to each diet. So, work with your veterinarian to find the most suitable food for your cat’s needs.

It can take up to three or four months for your cat to clear the old diet from their system so that you can completely evaluate the new diet.

What to Look For in the New Diet

The best foods for a cat with a sensitive stomach will be highly digestible and contain no irritating ingredients. Highly digestible diets have moderate to low fat, moderate protein and moderate carbohydrates.

Many of these diets have additives that improve intestinal health, like soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and increased levels of antioxidant vitamins, and they contain no gluten, lactose, food coloring or preservatives.

Try a Hypoallergenic Diet

Cats can experience food allergies that cause gastrointestinal upset. Of all the components of the diet, the protein source is the most likely to cause food allergies.

Your cat can be allergic to any protein that they have been exposed to. For example, rabbit and chicken may both cause a food allergy. But, if your cat has never eaten rabbit before, their immune system hasn’t been sensitized to it, and they are unlikely to be allergic to it.

Some studies show that beef, chicken and fish are the most likely to cause allergies. The best cat food for helping cats dealing with food sensitivities for certain protein allergies are hypoallergenic diets.

Types of Hypoallergenic Diets for Cats

There are three main types of hypoallergenic diets:

  • Limited ingredient
  • Veterinary prescription food with a novel protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein

Limited ingredient diets typically contain only one protein source and one carbohydrate source, and they can be purchased without a prescription, like Natural Balance L.I.D. Chicken & Green Pea Formula grain-free canned cat food. However, these diets are not regulated to ensure that they don’t have cross-contamination.

For more highly allergic cats, veterinary prescription diets with novel animal proteins contain a single-source protein and are produced in a facility that prevents cross-contamination.

Hydrolyzed protein diets, which also require a veterinary prescription, break down the protein to a size that’s less likely to be recognized by the immune system, like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP dry cat food.

Try Simply Changing the Form of Cat Food

Your cat’s stomach sensitivity may improve by just changing the type of food that you feed.

For example, if your cat is experiencing stomach sensitivity on dry food, it is reasonable to try a low-carb, higher-protein canned food diet, like Royal Canin Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Gastrointestinal Moderate Calorie canned cat food or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EN Gastroenteric Formula canned cat food.

Likewise, if you are feeding wet food, you may do a trial of a dry food diet with a dry food like Royal Canin Sensitive Digestion dry cat food.

Try a Different Feeding Routine

Cats that eat large meals are more likely to vomit very soon after eating—tongue-in-cheek, we call this “scarf and barf.”

With a stomach the size of a ping-pong ball, cats, in particular, are physiologically and anatomically designed to eat small, frequent meals. They are designed to hunt, catch and play with many small meals a day. Eating one large bowl of food a day can lead to frequent regurgitation.

In general, small, frequent meals are best. This results in less gastric retention of food and increases the amount of food that is digested and absorbed.

You can recreate this natural feeding behavior with the award-winning, veterinary recommended Doc & Phoebe’s indoor hunting cat feeder kit.

Instead of filling the bowl twice a day, use the portion filler to put the food into each of the three mice and hide them around the house. This natural feeding style provides portion control, activity and stress reduction that has shown to decrease or eliminate vomiting.

By: Dr. Elizabeth Bales, DVM

 

Cat Periodontal Disease

As seen in Petrax

Cat periodontal disease, or gum disease in cats, is an inflammation of some or all of a tooth’s deep supporting structures. It is one of the most common diseases in cats today.

 

If food particles and bacteria are allowed to accumulate along a cat’s gumline, it can form plaque, which, when combined with saliva and minerals, will transform into calculus (tartar). This causes gum irritation and leads to an inflammatory condition called gingivitis.

 

Gingivitis, which is evidenced by a reddening of the gums directly bordering the teeth, is considered to be an early stage of periodontal disease in cats.

 

After an extended period, the calculus eventually builds up under the gum and separates it from the teeth. Spaces will form under the teeth, fostering bacterial growth.

 

Once this happens, the cat has irreversible periodontal disease. This usually leads to bone loss, tissue destruction and infection in the cavities between the gum and teeth.

 

Symptoms and Types of Gum Disease in Cats

 

Periodontal disease in cats generally begins with the inflammation of one tooth, which may progress if not treated during different stages of the condition.

 

A cat with stage 1 periodontal disease in one or more of its teeth, for example, will exhibit gingivitis without any separation of the gum and tooth.

 

Stage 2 is characterized by a 25 percent attachment loss, while stage 3 involves a 25 to 30 percent attachment loss.

 

In stage 4 of cat periodontal disease, which is also called advanced periodontitis, there is more than a 50 percent attachment loss. In the most advanced stage of the disease, the gum tissue will usually recede and the roots of the teeth will be exposed.

 

Cats may also develop a cat gum disease called stomatitis (gingivostomatitis). Stomatitis is the severe inflammation of all of the gum tissue, which may affect the other tissues in the mouth.

 

Stomatitis occurs due to an overactive immune response to even small amounts of plaque and calculus.

 

Causes of Gum Disease in Cats

 

Cat periodontal disease can be caused by a variety of factors,  but is most commonly associated with bacterial infection. Bacteria under the gumline leads to pain and inflammation of the tissue.

 

There may also be a relationship between having a history of calicivirus infection and severe gingivitis.

 

Diagnosis of Periodontal Disease in Cats

 

In the exam room, your veterinarian will look inside your cat’s mouth for red, inflamed gums. That is the first indication of a problem. Your veterinarian may press gently on the gums to see if they bleed easily, which is a sign that a deep dental cleaning, or more, is needed.

 

Once under anesthesia, the diagnosis of cat periodontal disease involves a number of procedures. If periodontal probing reveals more than one millimeter of distance between the gingivitis-affected gum and tooth, a cat is considered to have some form of periodontal abnormality.

 

X-rays are extremely important in diagnosing periodontal disease in cats because up to 60 percent of the symptoms are hidden beneath the gumline.

 

In the disease’s early stages, X-rays will reveal loss of density and sharpness of the root socket (alveolar) margin. In more advanced stages, it will reveal loss of bone support around the root of the affected tooth.

 

Treatment

 

The specific treatment for cat periodontal disease depends on how advanced the disease is. In the early stages, treatment is focused on controlling plaque and preventing attachment loss.

 

This is achieved through daily brushing with pet-safe toothpaste, professional cleaning and polishing, and the prescribed application of fluoride or other pet prescription products to minimize the development of plaque.

 

Sometimes it is necessary to remove the teeth associated with severe stomatitis.

 

In the more advanced stages, bone-replacement procedures, periodontal splinting and guided tissue regeneration may become necessary.

 

Living and Management

 

Follow-up treatment for periodontal disease in cats consists mostly of maintaining good cat dental care and taking your cat for weekly, quarterly or biannual checks.

 

The prognosis will depend on how advanced the cat gum disease is, but the best way to minimize the adverse effects caused by the disease is to get an early diagnosis, adequate treatment and proper therapy.

 

Prevention

 

The best prevention for cat gum disease is to maintain your pet’s good oral hygiene and to regularly brush and clean her mouth and gums.

 

Cats can be trained to accept brushing when trained slowly over time and rewarded for their cooperation.

 

Prescription cat food dental diets are available for those cats who are unwilling to have their teeth brushed.

 

Cat dental treats, water additives and other products certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) are also shown to help reduce plaque and calculus.

 

When to Worry if Your Pet Refuses to Eat

By Dr. Karen Becker

 

Generally speaking, healthy dogs and cats love mealtime. That’s why a change in appetite — especially a decreased interest in eating — is something pet parents and veterinarians must closely monitor. Cats, in particular, can’t go long without eating due to the risk of feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. There are actually three different forms your pet’s lack of appetite can take:1

  • Anorexia is a complete lack of food intake. There is no such thing as partial anorexia.
  • Hyporexia is a reduction in food intake, regardless of the reason or cause.
  • Dysrexia is distortion of normal appetite or eating patterns, for example, a dog who refuses to eat his regular diet but will eat cooked chicken and rice.

While it’s beneficial to keep these terms in mind, what’s most important when a pet’s appetite suddenly decreases or disappears is finding the root cause.

8 Potential Causes of Lack of Appetite in Dogs and Cats

In the vast majority of cases, when a pet loses interest in eating, it’s a symptom of an underlying medical problem. Some potential triggers include:

  1. Pain — A painful condition anywhere in the body, and especially in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, can cause your dog or cat to eat less or refuse to eat.
  2. Nausea — While relatively uncommon in dogs and cats, nausea can certainly put your pet off her food. Unless there’s an underlying illness, nausea most often accompanies car travel.
  3. Illness — A pet who feels sick will often show little or no interest in eating. Sometimes it’s just a passing GI disturbance; other times it’s much more serious, such as liver or kidney disease, or cancer.
  4. Obtundation — This describes a lack of alertness more pronounced than lethargy, and is usually the result of an underlying medical condition such as hypercalcemia, or trauma.
  5. Dental or gum disease — Sometimes a problem in your pet’s mouth can make eating unbearably uncomfortable. This can be a broken or loose tooth, severe gum disease, an oral tumor or a condition such as feline stomatitis.
  6. Recent vaccination — Loss of appetite can be an immediate adverse effect of vaccination.
  7. Stress — If your pet is feeling stressed for some reason, he may turn away from his food bowl. For example, some dogs don’t have much appetite when they’re in an unfamiliar place, or when their favorite human is away from home. Your cat may refuse to eat if her food bowl is in a high traffic area or there are other pets around at mealtime.
  8. Food aversion or “pickiness” — Food aversion can occur if you make a sudden change to your pet’s diet. It’s almost never a good idea to do this quickly because it often causes diarrhea. If you want or need to change the diet you’re feeding your pet, do it gradually by mixing the new food in with the old food in a slow transition.

Some pets, especially kitties, refuse to eat certain foods for reasons that may or may not make sense. And some animals are simply notoriously picky eaters who often require special menus or lots of coaxing.

Loss of Appetite Always Requires a Veterinary Visit

If your dog or cat refuses to eat for longer than a day, especially if there are other symptoms, or if there’s a sudden noticeable reduction in her food intake, it’s important to see your veterinarian right away. If the decrease is gradual, it’s just as important to get her checked out, but it’s not as urgent a situation as a sudden, dramatic change.

It’s crucially important that your veterinarian searches thoroughly for the underlying cause of your pet’s loss of interest in eating, because there almost always is one, and her appetite isn’t likely to improve if the problem isn’t identified and addressed.

It’s also important to know that appetite stimulants (which were originally designed as antidepressants) prescribed by your veterinarian can be useful in the short-term, but they don’t address the underlying problem of inappetence. In other words, they may for a time successfully treat the symptom (refusal to eat), but not the cause.

When it comes to treating a pet who won’t eat, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Your veterinarian must do a thorough physical exam and diagnostic workup, and investigate metabolic changes such as hypertension, blood potassium levels, anemia or vomiting. He or she should also consider any medications or supplements your pet is taking to rule those out as a cause.

You’ll also want to fill your vet in on any changes that have occurred in your household or daily routine that might be causing stress for your pet. The cause of your dog’s or cat’s disinterest in eating will determine an appropriate treatment approach. If there’s an underlying disorder that can be successfully treated or managed, your pet’s appetite should pick up as the condition resolves.

Sometimes, In appetence Disappears With a Change to a Better Diet

Needless to say, the diet you feed your pet can play a big role in both maintaining his interest in food and for his health and overall vitality. As always, I recommend a nutritionally balanced, diverse, species-appropriate fresh food diet.

Over the years, I’ve known many dogs and cats on processed diets who were considered fussy eaters, or who spent as much time playing with their food as eating it. When their owners gradually transitioned them from a kibble or feed-grade canned diet to raw or gently cooked fresh food, the weird eating habits disappeared.

One client of mine adopted a tiny dog who came home with a bag of the same dry food he’d been eating at the shelter. She knew to continue the diet until he was settled in to avoid tummy troubles, but she wasn’t prepared for his odd eating behavior.

At mealtime, the little guy approached the bowl of kibble slowly and pushed it around on the floor with his nose. Eventually he’d pick a piece of food out of the bowl and drop it on the floor. Sometimes he ate it, sometimes he didn’t before pushing the bowl around some more. He seemed anxious about the whole experience.

Since he was tiny to begin with and slightly underweight, she was concerned he wasn’t getting enough calories. She noticed he seemed quite interested in her cat’s canned food, so she went out and bought a couple cans of high-quality dog food and mixed it with the kibble.

He immediately gobbled up the moist food and left the kibble in the bowl. He did have loose stools for a few days from the sudden change in diet, but since he was eating like a champ, she just kept a careful eye on him until his poop was firm again. From there, she did a gradual transition to a nutritionally balanced, commercial raw diet. He’s been a chowhound ever since, with no sign of his initial odd eating behaviors.

If your cat or dog gets a clean bill of health from your veterinarian but still isn’t eating well, review the diet you’re offering and see where it falls on my latest ranking of best-to-worst pet foods. Make upgrades as you’re able to, and see if your pet’s appetite improves.