A healthy cat’s coat should be sleek and glossy — unless you own a unique breed like a Sphinx, I suppose. But whatever type of cat a person favors, we all want its skin and coat to be as beautiful and, more importantly, as healthy as possible.
Owners understandably focus on the cat’s outside when it comes to coat care. They often ask questions like, "Do I need to brush more frequently?" or "Is there a shampoo or conditioner I should be using?" While these therapies may be helpful, skin and coat problems often stem from what goes into rather than onto a cat. Cats that eat a poor quality food that does not supply optimally balanced nutrition will not have healthy skin and a luxurious coat.
Fat, in particular, plays a huge role in how a cat’s fur looks and feels. Low fat diets, or those that are made from poor quality ingredients, may not meet a cat’s needs. A specific category of fat called essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital. A proper balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids essentially moisturizes the skin from the inside out and improves its ability to act as a barrier to potential allergic triggers and irritants.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for an owner to determine whether or not a particular brand of food contains adequate EFA levels. Information about the amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in a cat food does not have to be reported on the label, although some manufacturers are starting to include this information voluntarily.
To determine whether or not a food contains the recommended amount of fat, look at its guaranteed analysis. Twenty to twenty-five percent fat on a dry matter basis is ideal. Next, check to see whether the ingredient list contains such items as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybeans, soybean oil, olive oil, or some types of fish and fish oil (e.g., salmon) that contain a lot of EFAs. If you see at least one and preferably two of these ingredients, there is a good chance that EFA levels in that diet are sufficient.
If, for health reasons, your cat is on a particular type of food and switching to a different product would be difficult, ask your veterinarian whether or not you should add a fatty acid supplement (e.g., salmon oil) to your cat’s current diet.
Of course, fat is not the only ingredient that is a factor in coat and skin health; protein is another big player. A cat that eats a food that is protein deficient or made from low-quality proteins cannot possibly grow the finest fur. MyBowl is a great tool to help owners determine whether or not their cat’s diet provides the recommended levels of protein, fat, and other important nutrients that are vital to good health.
After switching to a nutritionally complete and optimally balanced food, you should notice an improvement in the quality of your cat’s fur within a month or so. If this does not occur, or if your cat suffers from patchy hair loss, abnormal itchiness, or skin lesions, talk to your veterinarian.
Dr. Jennifer Coates