Many people take vitamins and supplements to boost areas of their diet they feel are lacking or just as general tonics to help them feel better. In recent years, the cat supplement market has expanded enormously and is now part of a multi-billion dollar industry. But do cats need supplements?
Companies manufacturing and selling cat supplements say that these products work as an extension of the cat's diet, boosting their general health and even increasing their lifespan. But others, such as Bernadine Cru of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believed that if a cat if healthy and is given a good quality diet then supplements aren't needed. And by giving your cat too many vitamins and minerals, there is the possibility of causing harm.
According to experts from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, supplements can be recommended when a cat has a health problem but otherwise, these extra treatments are largely unproven from a medical viewpoint. They also believe that they may be largely unnecessary as a cat is likely already getting a balanced diet, unlike a human.
However, supplements have been shown to work well in correcting deficiencies. If a cat has a condition that means they cannot absorb a specific nutrient, a supplement can work to correct this. Small intestinal disease, for example, can cause the inability to absorb the B vitamins folate and cobalamine. To correct this, cats would be given an injection of the two supplements as oral supplements wouldn't be absorbed either.
Pregnant cats can also develop nutritional problems that may need a supplement to correct, particularly if the cat is very young when she becomes pregnant, such as under 12 months old. These need to be given by a vet to ensure the correct dosage.
There are a variety of general vitamin and mineral supplements available for cats but in most cases, the required amounts of these substances can be made up through the cat's food.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to help keep a cat's coat shiny and help reduce the amount of hair they shed. They also work on the immune system, the joints, the liver, eyes and brain, can boost the heart and fight off cholesterol. Most cat food has the required amount of omega-6 in them but not as much omega-3, so there is some belief that a supplement for this can be beneficial.
The other main type of supplement for cats are probiotics. These are the healthy 'good' bacteria that helps the digestive system work properly and contains microorganisms such as Lactobacillus casei that is found in some yoghurts.
Nutraceuticals are herbal or natural remedies that fall into the area of supplements only for lack of anywhere else to categorise them. Those who are in favour of them say they supplement the cat's diet in the manner of feed additives rather than pharmaceuticals.
However, the AVMA still classify them as a supplement because they don't treat a disease and therefore cannot be medicine. It defines them as therapeutic agents.
Examples of nutraceuticals include:
- Glucosamine – helps joint mobility and has been advertised as a treatment for arthritis, though there is some debate if it helps with pain
- Chondroitin – healthy joins and bones and is often found in glucosamine
- Milk thistle extract – gets rid of toxins from a cat's liver and can help cats with liver disease
On the turn side, substances such as garlic and onion should not be given to cats as it can destroy the blood cells and lead to anaemia while too much calcium, vitamin D and vitamin C can all be toxic if too much is taken.
As with many things relating to health, it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you are considering giving your cat a supplement, speak to your vet about it and get their expert opinion. Also, don't give all of your cats the same supplements as, just like humans, each cat has different nutritional needs.