What if your cat develops an allergy to a specific food or to something in his environment, such as pollen. Or, may start battling a disease, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Or, he may be stressed and his digestive system is being pummeled.
Unfortunately, your cat isn’t able to notify you about a specific ingredient causing him to have an upset stomach or take away his appetite or cause his skin to itch like crazy. He feels miserable. You feel miserable and a bit baffled and, certainly, frustrated.
How can you help a cat with food issues? One strategy growing in popularity answers to the initials L.I.D. That stands for limited ingredient diet.
By definition, LID usually contains one single protein source that is usually novel, such as duck, rabbit or venison. And, it contains only one or two carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes or peas, as well as limited fats.
That begs the question: When it comes to what you feed your cat, is less more? Or better? And, just how many ingredients and what ingredients does your cat need to receive a nutritious, balanced diet?
The answer: It’s complicated. We recognize that food is fuel and fortifies our cats and ourselves. Picking the right diet for your cat depends on these key factors: your cat’s age, breed, health condition and activity level.
“If a cat has a medical issue, such as diabetes, your veterinarian will recommend tailoring the diet to meet the needs of that cat, but if your cat does not have a medical issue, it can be beneficial to expose him to lots of different ingredients,” says Dr. Lowell Ackerman, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist and author from Westborough, Massachusetts.
Food allergies are tricky
LID often enters the scene when your cat’s eating habits and overall health take a downturn. Your cat shows such symptoms as:
- Chronic vomiting
- Chronic diarrhea
- Itchy, inflamed skin
- Frequent ear infections.
In these situations, your veterinarians may recommend a limited-ingredient diet to possibly identify a food allergy as the culprit as a first line of action. It may or may not solve the issue.
“Allergies can develop over time to things your cat has been introduced to,” Dr. Ackerman says. “That is why a cat may develop an allergy to a cat food you have been feeding him for years. If you only ate cod, would that be a good idea? It is much better to balance a diet with more ingredients for you or for your cat.”
Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, past president of the American Academy of Feline Practitioners, who operates the cat-only Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, California, weighs in.
“Cats are drawn to certain foods by three factors: mouth feel, odor and taste,” she says. “Variety can provide a way to change diets easily when it becomes necessary for health or other reasons. But cats who lose interest in food that they have previously preferred should always be investigated for an underlying medical reason or environmental stress.”
“Cats are drawn to certain foods by three factors: mouth feel, odor and taste,” says Dr. Elizabeth Colleran.
Quality protein is a must
Dr. Colleran adds that adult cats require diets that contain at least 40% protein for overall health, muscle tone and energy. Cats are obligate carnivores, a fancy term for proclaiming that their bodies depend on ample amounts of quality protein to thrive.
“Loss of muscle over the spine of the back, top of the head or rear limbs is the most important sign that the diet is inadequate,” she says. “Inadequate fat or protein will affect a cat’s skin and coat quality, and carbohydrate-heavy diets create a terrible obesity problem.”
For my cats, I pay close attention to their overall eating habits and health. I feed them canned food made by Weruva because of its limited ingredients and because the company has never incurred a food recall. As for treats, I now hand out limited-protein treats, such as those made by Whole Life Pet and Simply Treats for Cats, because I can then accurately inform my veterinarian exactly what ingredients my cats are consuming should a health problem arise.
Some quality LID products are grain-free and contain vital supplements, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 to boost healthy skins and coats.
Parting advice: Always read the label’s lineup of ingredients. Select those that contain real meats and not chicken meal. Be on the lookout for any additives or food colorings, preservatives or artificial flavors, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Food allergy and intolerance are much more complicated than they may seem. Work closely with your veterinarian and, with some patience and determination, the cause of what’s afflicting your cat’s health can be identified and properly treated.
A few limited-ingredient foods & treats for your cat: