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Can We Make Our Cats Smarter by What We Feed Them?

Bolstering brain power depends on nutritional values in foods as well as how we feed our cats.

Arden Moore  |  Nov 22nd 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our September/October 2016 issue. Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

I have a smart cat. Casey quickly masters tricks such as paw hellos and figure-eight weaves between my legs, and he always trots my way when I call his name.
In the pet first-aid classes I teach, Casey serves as my feline assistant and displays his feline smarts by always finding where I hide his treat bag and leaping on the table when it’s time to demonstrate the safe way to wrap an injured cat in a bath towel.

But could he be smarter? Like many well-intentioned pet parents, I didn’t recognize that bolstering brain power in our cats relies on:

1. Providing mentally and physically stimulating indoor enrichment items such as food puzzles, cat furniture trees, and feather wands that tap their innate hunting talents.

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Photo by Shutterstock

2. Making wise choices at chow time. The types of foods, treats, and supplements we give our cats greatly influence their intelligence and give their overall health a boost.
In my quest to create a nation of smarter, healthier cats, I turned to one of the country’s renowned experts on holistic health and nutrition — Dr. Jean Hofve. This retired holistic veterinarian operates little bigcat.com and just unleashed her
latest scientific-backed e-book called What Cats Should Eat: How To Keep Your Cat Healthy With Good Food.

“Good nutrition and indoor enrichment are important for brain and body health,” Hofve said. “The optimal nutrition for a cat is a mouse, but that’s not practical. So, what we try to do is build a better mouse.”

Dish up “brainy” omega-3s

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaneoic acid) are two vital omega-3 essential fatty acids that ease inflammation and encourage cognitive development (aiding in memory and learning). DHA is the primary fat that comprises the structure of the brain, and EPA is found in cell membranes and keeps cell membranes flexible and ensures that neuron messages are transmitted. Good sources of omega-3s include krill oil, sardine oil, and anchovy oils.

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Melissa Kauffman / Lumina Media

Power up your Ps: prebiotics and probiotics

It’s easy to confuse the two. Prebiotics are fibrous additives that feed good intestinal microorganisms and are found in some pet foods. Probiotics are live intestinal microorganisms more sensitive to heat and moisture and are more commonly packaged as capsules. Probiotics are nutritional supplements used to treat diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive issues. The quality and efficacy varies, so consult your vet for recommendations to meet your cat’s health needs.

Up the antioxidants

Think of antioxidants as your cat’s bodyguard, disarming toxic free radicals before they can damage healthy cells and inflame tissues. “Free radicals cause inflammation, and inflammation causes the diseases of aging and heart disease,” Hofve said. Vitamins A, C, and E are good choices to protect and repair brain cells.

Seek out dietary supplements for senior cats

Dr. Cynthia Rigoni, a veterinarian who operates the All Cats Veterinary Clinic in Houston, has seen success in improving the brain function of senior cats battling dementia when given a product called Senilife manufactured by Ceva. This dietary supplement contains ginkgo biloba, vitamin B6, vitamin E, grape extract, and phosphatidylserine.

Research fish

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Photo by Shutterstock

It’s a misconception that fish represents a natural feline food. Some types (like farm-raised salmon) are unsafe to feed cats, Hofve said. She said that some fish used in some canned pet foods come from the decaying leftovers of the seafood industry around the world. “It’s a mishmash that’s high in phosphorus and magnesium, which can be a serious problem in cats with a history of urinary tract disorders or kidney disease.” Some fish also contains chemicals like harmful histamines and toxic pollutants, such as mercury, PCBs, and BPA.

Scrutinize fish meal and fish oil sources

“In general, small amounts of fish meal included as a flavoring and/or source of omega-3 fatty acids in cat foods are not a problem,” Hofve said. “Bonito flakes, a popular cat treat, are fast-growing and they bio-accumulate fewer toxins and therefore are acceptable in moderation.” Fish oils vary in quality, but look for products containing wild-caught fish like herring, anchovies, sardines, or even mussel oil.

Selecting brain food and supplements may turn your feline friend into a genuine smarty cat, but don’t expect him to be smart enough to solve Sunday’s crossword puzzle.

Bonus brain tip

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Photo by Shutterstock

Read out loud to your cat. The act of building brainpower is called neurobics. One easy way is to read out loud in the presence of your cat.

“The sound of your words activates and expands neuron pathways in your brain — and in your cat’s brain,” said Dr. Dale Anderson., a retired surgeon, author, and founder of acthappy.com. “While these activities may seem simple, they actually help your brain make new pathways by exposing you and your cat to new sensations. Keeping the brain alive is all about making new connections and branching out.”

About the author: Arden Moore is a pet-behavior consultant, author, and master pet first-aid instructor who often teaches hands-on classes with her cool cat, Casey, and very tolerant dog, Chipper. Each week, she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Follow Arden on Facebook and on Twitter. For Catster print magazine, she promises to give advice about healthy eating habits for your feline. Email your questions to arden@fourleggedlife.com