Feline Nutrition And How It Affects You As A Groomer

Focusing On Felines

By Kim Raisanen

Let’s be honest. When we see an owner lugging an ultra–heavy carrier into our salons, we know the odds are good that the cat inside is smushed in there like a jelly filled donut. When I think of the voluptuous pampered cat, I’m reminded of the feline in the movie of Cinderella. Do you remember Lucifer lying flat out on his belly as he dips his front paw into his bowl of milk and waits for it to drip into his open mouth? I know the meaning of the movie was symbolic of patience and optimism, along with a great looking slipper, but to me, the cat was hysterical.

Working with cats is enjoyable and downright fun and I envision different scenarios with each cat I groom. Maybe I am a bit crazy or I could just have a wicked sense of humor, who knows? But if you need to add a smile and a giggle to your day, I say groom a cat.

Think of it this way, when you’re giving an obese cat a lion cut, it’s like shaving a watermelon. What do I mean by that? Well, because the cat is so plump there are few, if any, skin folds and the cat will roll from one side to the other when we need to reach into the armpits and sanitary area. These chunky kitties are also less likely to jump down from our tables and are more willing to accept a bath in our tubs. Easy–peasy.

In many cases, these cats will sit in the bath without the attempt of escape which gives us another advantage. It’s quite common for obese cats to have feces stuck on their rumps and tails. There may also be impacted kitty litter in their pads. If that’s the case, I will make a mini bubble bath by filling up my tub with 4” of warm water and swish it around with cat–safe shampoo. I refer to it as a pre–wash or soak cycle. Let’s face it, fat cats are just easier to groom than the older skeletal cats that lack adequate body mass and elasticity in their skin. In my opinion, overweight cats are a piece of cake (pardon the pun) to groom.

Healthy, non–arthritic cats should be able to reach all parts of their bodies while self–grooming. If the cat is physically unable to reach these areas because they’re a bit rotund, a change in their diet may be worth looking into.

I listen to stories from “I feed my cat ½ cup of dry food a day and that’s it” to “I feed him ½ a can of wet food in the morning and leave dry food out for him while I’m at work.” Unfortunately this is the vision some owners have when they think about proper nutrition; “I’m not feeding them much and they’re still fat.” What they may not understand is the quality of the food and the proper portion size. Yes, there are some cats that chow down like puppies, eating until the food is gone and then look for more. But in many cases, the cat is simply overfed, under exercised and left to his own devices during the day (free feeding). Proper nutrition is the benchmark to good health and we need to help our customers understand that.

As professional cat groomers we are on the front line of defense when it comes to being the cat’s voice. It’s not our place to diagnosis obesity, even when it’s blatantly obvious. But we can talk about general nutrition from a concerned professional’s point of view. When I have a client come to me seeking help with the “problem areas” on their overweight cat, I explain that the coat’s condition (mats, stuck on feces, etc.) may be caused by the fact their cat is simply unable to reach that area because of their weight.

Besides visiting the vet maybe once a year (if that), many of my clients come to me for grooming and advice on all things cat. I’m careful not to be judgmental or accusatory. I try to speak to them on their level of understanding. For example: “Snowball seems to me a bit overweight. I know there are so many different foods available that it can be confusing to know which ones are more nutritious than others”.

In the simplest terms I say something like “Look for cans of food that have the first ingredient as chicken, beef, or other meat proteins”. I also explain that the first ingredients listed are the primary protein sources in the food. In cheaper cat foods, there are more “fillers” that have no nutritional value and are simply used in place of a higher nutritional option.

When asked what canned foods to use I recommend the higher end options. I explain to them that, initially the cans will be more costly, but in the long run it will level out to about the same cost. How? Well, once a cat’s appetite is satisfied with a heartier food they won’t be constantly hungry. The cat will be absorbing the nutrients rather than trying to process fillers through its system. Once the cat adjusts to the new food, he will be eating less, having fewer bowel movements and their urine will have less odor. The cat’s skin and coat will become noticeably more supple and they’re likely to have a pep in their step again.

There is an old saying: “The cheapest wet food is better than the most expensive dry”. Which in some cases is true. Think about what feral cats survive on. For this example, let’s assume they eat a healthy mouse or chipmunk. The body consists of bone, meat, blood, organs (liver, brain, spleen, etc.) which are proteins. The mouse or chipmunk also provide stomach contents of seeds, berries and other vegetation. Basically, a balanced meat and salad dinner for a cat.

However, indoor cats have to rely on their owners for food because the likelihood of eating a mouse is limited to the occasional unwelcome visitor in the basement. Thankfully nowadays, more and more pet food manufacturers are listening to the meows for a better mix of ingredients in the foods they offer in their line of products.

There are numerous reasons for weight gain in cats and overfeeding inadequate food and lack of exercise may be part of the problem, but we must rule out any medical issues before we jump to conclusions.

I always recommend and highly suggest that the owner take their cat to their veterinarian when sudden weight loss or weight gain is an issue. Due to the fact that I see most of my clients on a regular schedule, I notice lumps, bumps, scabs, and weight gain during my assessment of the skin and coat.

Below is a partial list of medical issues that may have adverse effects on a cat’s metabolism and appetite. This list is not inclusive. Seek veterinary assistance for further information.

Hypothyroidism: This endocrine disease develops when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce adequate amounts of the thyroid hormone. When these hormones are lacking, clinical signs can be weight gain, excessive shedding, general malaise (lethargy), intolerance of cold weather and hair loss. Hypothyroidism is mostly seen in 10+ year old cats, but can affect any age, breed or sex.

• Cushing’s Disease: This disease develops when the adrenal glands produce too high a level of glucocorticoids. The cat’s metabolism is affected by these glucocorticoids by causing an increase of appetite.

• Medications: Prednisone and Dexamethasone are glucocorticoids. These medications can influence appetite and metabolism. Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines and Valium also affect appetite and metabolism. These medications are frequently used to control Epilepsy.

Brain Diseases & the Pituitary Gland: The pituitary gland regulates the production of hormones from most of the other glands, keeping the amounts at the proper level. However, when the pituitary gland isn’t working properly, hormone levels change which can lead to a change in appetite and metabolism.

• Tumors: The pancreas can be affected by an insulinoma tumor. This type of tumor consists of the cells necessary to produce insulin. When a cat has an insulinoma that produces too much insulin, the cat’s appetite increases.

• Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus in the brain regulates appetite. When it is not working properly, it can increase the cat’s appetite.

It should also be noted that a cat’s age, physical and social environments can also play a role in its overall health and nutrition.

There are numerous reasons for weight gain or loss in cats from improper feeding to disease. Each individual case will be different, but once a clinical review has ruled out serious issues, assisting your clients in feline nutrition, exercise and proper feeding will go a long way ensuring a healthy cat. Your genuine compassion and understanding towards your clients and their pets will further their commitment to you as loyal customers for years to come. Your relationship with the cat is just as important as the relationship with its owner.

It is my sincere desire that the moments and experiences I share through my articles in this new column will be entertaining as well as educational. If you need humor in your life, cat grooming can add daily doses of it. Do I believe in nasty, mean old cats? Nah, I believe the “spit and vinegar” kitties are just goofballs of fur and I’m going to have fun with each and every one of them (on their terms, of course)! As my friend Daryl has said, “My glass? Yeah it’s half full”… Well, so is mine, but with a cat hair floating in my coffee mug. ✂

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