What You Need to Know About Supplements for Your Cat

What You Need to Know About Supplements for Your Cat

Many people take supplements to maintain their health and possibly even lengthen their lifespan. So, when we think about wellness and longevity for our cats, it's only natural to ask, "Does my cat need to take any supplements?" Well, before answering this question yourself, there is someone else you should ask - your cat's vet! (Always consult your kitty's healthcare provider before administering any new supplements or medications.)

Do Most Cats Need Supplements?

The average kitty does not need to take supplements so long as they consume a good diet. Cats need a minimum level of vitamins and nutrients as well as nutrients such as protein, amino acids, and minerals. If cats consume a commercial food labeled "complete and balanced," you can be confident that they are meeting their basic nutritional needs. According to the FDA, this phrase appearing on the label means the product is sufficient to be fed as a pet's sole diet and should be nutritionally balanced.

So, considering this, unless there's some underlying condition with a cat, it's unnecessary to supplement their diet. That being said, although most cats don't need additional nutritional supplements, some might benefit from them depending on their diet, age, and medical history.

From Kittenhood to Golden Years

A cat's age affects their nutritional needs and should always be considered when choosing a food formula. That is why modern cat food is formulated for cats' various life stages and provides them with the particular nutrients they need at that given time.

For instance, kittens have higher protein and fat needs than adult cats, which is why store-bought cat foods specially formulated for kittens include increased levels of both. At the other end of the spectrum, a senior-cat formula will typically contain antioxidants to help counteract the effects of aging. So, these diets provide what the cats require without the need for additional sources. And, an average adult cat between these two life stages gets appropriate nutrients from "complete and balanced" regular food formulas.

However, not every cat is "average," and some cats might need extra help. A cat may be genetically predisposed to certain conditions where nutrition supplements can benefit them, or their diet may not have enough of a particular mineral or vitamin to support their specific health issue. In these cases, adding vitamins or nutrients might be appropriate. For instance, special nutrient needs can occur in pregnant cats (in some cases, calcium supplementation is needed) or cats experiencing the onset of renal failure (research showed vitamins E and C and beta-carotene can help these kitties).

The Nuts and Bolts of Nutritional Supplementation

Nutritional therapy can come in the form of both supplements and veterinary therapeutic diets (i.e., prescription diets). A supplement is taken separately from a cat's food or can be added to a cat's food. In a prescription diet, the food itself contains the therapeutic nutrient (and may exclude any ingredient found in regular foods that would be harmful given the condition).

Prescription diets are created with functional ingredients that help treat various conditions and meet specific nutrition goals. These foods have to be prescribed versus being bought off the shelf because they aren't necessarily appropriate for cats that don't have the relevant condition. One of the most common uses of prescription diets in cats is treating kidney disease.

Supplements may come in the form of a powder, a liquid, or a pill. They may include herbs such as echinacea, nutraceuticals such as glucosamine, fatty acids such as omega-3, "super greens" such as chlorophyll, or digestive support such as acidophilus. Supplements may be obtained directly from a veterinary clinic or purchased at many retailers, such as a pet store or a big-box store.

An Ounce of Prevention...

Preventive nutrition is the practice of adding nutrients via food or supplements to eliminate possible deficiencies in the cat's diet while delaying or reducing the impacts of disease and disease-related complications. Think of it this way - you may not be unwell when you take extra vitamin C tablets, but you take them in the hope that they will help decrease your chances of becoming ill during cold and flu season. They give you an extra boost because you know your diet cannot provide everything you need.

The same principles work for providing preventive nutrition for animals. There's nothing wrong yet, and the supplements can help keep it that way. So, for instance, if your vet sees signs of impending kidney failure in an older cat, they may prescribe supplements that help support their kidneys.

Nutrition as Therapy

Therapeutic nutrition, on the other hand, uses supplements in animals beginning to display health problems or chronic issues related to aging. So, in this case, your cat may not have symptoms yet that require medication or treatment, but the condition is present. The "therapy" is a way to keep the problems from progressing as they otherwise might.

The main goal of therapeutic nutrition is to prevent disease onset as the cat ages. Eventually, prescription medication or other treatment may be required in addition to or instead of the supplement if the supplementation does not keep symptoms at bay or the condition progresses to the point that it impacts your cat's life or longevity.

What Conditions Can Supplements Help?

Some common conditions typically improve as a result of adding supplements to cats' diets, such as:

GI Issues

Digestive enzymes or probiotics may be in order if a cat has diarrhea or constipation. Digestive enzymes break down food in the digestive system; their nourishment will suffer if your cat doesn't have enough of them. Probiotic supplementation is a growing area in veterinary medicine, and research shows the benefits in animals are similar to those seen in people who take probiotics.


Cats suffering from pain due to arthritis often benefit from glucosamine. Glucosamine is a mild anti-inflammatory, which means it can not only help with the pain of the condition but also help your cat maintain mobility. Glucosamine and chondroitin together can help build the cartilage - the connective tissues directly impacting flexibility - in arthritis-affected joints. Glucosamine has also been shown to help prevent urinary tract issues in cats.

Chronic Inflammation

Supplementing with antioxidants can help alleviate the symptoms of certain conditions, such as liver problems. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, "antioxidants neutralize the effects of chronic inflammation, which is a feature of a wide variety of stubborn health problems in animals." Impressively, the author goes on to say that antioxidant supplements may improve any chronic inflammatory condition.

A Word of Caution

Regardless of why your cat needs supplements, you must be careful about which ones you give them. Some supplements that are entirely acceptable for people could potentially cause problems if given to cats. For instance, you would never give cat glucosamine that is formulated for humans.

Further, when it comes to supplements, more is not necessarily better. Getting too much of some nutrients - or too much of any one nutrient for that matter - can be harmful or even toxic for your cat, resulting in problems like diarrhea or even worse. So, you certainly would not want to overdo any of them. For this reason and others, it's important to discuss your interest in supplementation with your cat's vet before you give any supplements to them.

Having this conversation with a veterinary professional will take the guesswork out of deciding what is truly needed. Your cat's healthcare provider may even run a blood test to determine what nutrients your cat is lacking and then prescribe specific doses of needed vitamins and minerals or other supplements based on the results. Once you start supplementation, consult your vet before adding any additional supplements to your cat's regimen.

Before making any supplement purchase, look for a stamp of approval from the National Animal Supplement Council. Companies that belong to the NASC are vetted for producing products based on earmarks like quality, identification, purity, and safety. You can find a member list of companies that meet requirements and a list of preferred suppliers here.

The Takeaway

Some cats can benefit from taking supplements, as they may be beneficial toward preventing or alleviating common ailments. However, choosing the correct supplements in the appropriate dosage is essential. Cat parents need to not only educate themselves but also involve a vet. So, if you decide to try supplements for your kitty, talk to your vet about them first.

Help is at Hand

Does your kitty already take supplements or need another type of medication to be administered? Quite a few Meowtel sitters have experience pilling cats and even administering insulin. When you search for your purr-fect sitter, just click on "More search options" to find sitters with these skills, and feel free to chat with your sitter about their experience.

Photo by Anonymous

Categories: Cat Nutrition