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How Pet Food Can Make Your Cat Sick

As a pet owner, you try to do your best for the animal you love. Part of that is giving them a healthy diet. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful you could be feeding what you believe is a good quality food only to find out it is making your cat sick.

Excessive feeding, food with insufficient nutrients, and contaminated foods make up the most common causes of food-related illnesses in cats. Here is some more information on these and other culprits:

  1. Sudden Food Changes. Switching your cat’s diet quickly can cause changes to the gastrointestinal flora (bacteria and other microorganisms) which commonly cause diarrhea and occasionally also vomiting in cats. In this case it isn’t the food itself that causes the problem but the sudden change and the cat’s body’s lack of acclimation to the new food.
    There is a best way to change a pet’s food, and the key is slowly.Start by mixing a small amount of the new food in with the original food. Over several days, gradually increase the percentages until you are feeding almost all new food then make the final switch. For example, on day one you might feed 90% original food and 10% new food. The second day’s food might be 80% original and 20% new food. It is ideal to continue this over 3 to 4 days and perhaps even longer if necessary. If your cat begins to show signs of stomach upset or food aversion during this period, reduce the percentage of new food and monitor their health.
  2. Salmonella. “Bad” bacteria is frequently found in food, and its symptoms are most often associated with pets who are fed raw meat diets, undercooked meats, or eggs. Some cat foods can be contaminated with the microorganism Salmonella that is the most common cause of cat food recalls. The problem often lies with food companies; the FDA has shown contamination in dry pet foods at a rate of 1/5 of 1% (0.21%) as opposed to raw food diets, which may be contaminated at a rate of over 15.5%.
    Salmonellosis can cause vomiting, diarrhea and fever with symptoms ranging from mild to severe and life threatening. For more information, go to Salmonellosis in Cats.
  3. Aflatoxicosis. This condition is caused by a mycotoxin produced by strains of Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. These toxins contaminate corn, peanuts, soybeans, and other cereal grains. Aflatoxicosis can affect a variety of farm animals as well as dogs and cats who have been exposed to infected foods. Signs may include vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, and bleeding through the gastrointestinal tract. Sadly, some pets die from liver failure as a result.
  4. Melamine Poisoning. This is a common substance used as a fertilizer and in the production of plastics such as kitchenware and whiteboard surfaces. From 2006 through 2007, melamine was found in recalled pet foods from Menu Foods as well as in chocolate and infant formula. Melamine contaminated pet food through wheat flour and resulted in kidney failure which affected hundreds of pets.
  5. Vitamin Deficiencies and Excesses. Most pet foods use recipes that include specific amounts of supplemental nutrients to ensure a balanced diet in which vitamin deficiencies or excesses do not occur.
    However, homemade foods and canned food which are designed as supplements but are fed as primary diets can lead to deficiencies in some cats. Thiamine is the most common deficiency because it is degraded during the cooking process, used by some companies to render otherwise unpalatable foods sufficient for use in food. As many as 16.7% of cat foods may be deficient. Signs of thiamine deficiency include weakness, bending the neck in a downward position, wobbly walking, and seizures. Learn more about thiamine deficiency here.Hypervitaminosis D is another concern. Some foods contain excessive vitamin D which causes changes in how calcium is absorbed in the body. This in turn can cause high blood calcium and results in bladder stones and kidney disease.
  6. Amino Acid Deficiency. Cats require the amino acid taurine in their diet. Unlike dogs, cats cannot substitute glycine for taurine when taurine is deficient. Some commercial pet foods may lack taurine as well as a diet of only tuna and liver lacks sufficient taurine. Taurine deficiency in cats can cause blindness with the disease feline central retinal degeneration and a severe heart disease called cardiomyopathy. Taurine deficiency may also lead to abortion, low birth weights of kittens, and various problems related to retarded growth and development of kittens. Premium cat foods are supplemented with taurine.

Don’t let something as simple as a food choice put your cat in harm’s way. Check to make sure that your cat is not being exposed to any dangerous foods. For a full list of food and treat recalls, go to HEALTH ALERT: Pet Product Recalls by FDA.