Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Cats

  • By:

    Dr. Sara Ochoa
    Dr. Sara Ochoa

    Author: Dr. Sara Ochoa

    Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa is a veterinarian with many years of experience and higher education. During her time in veterinary school she was able to learn form some of the most well-known veterinarians from all over the world. Sara lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the schnoodle, and Bam-Bam her bunny. Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa has a passion and love for animals that makes her a wonderful asset to our team.

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  • Updated on: 10/21/2020

When feeding your cat, you need to make sure that they are getting all the required vitamins and minerals to keep them happy and healthy.  Cats have a different nutritional need than dogs and people. Make sure that you are feeding your cat a well-balanced diet that will meet their dietary needs.  This article will explain the common nutritional deficiencies that you can see in your cat if they are not eating a proper diet. This article will also explain what you need to do if you suspect a nutritional problem in your cat.  

nutrient deficiencies in cats@vershinin89 / Freepik

How to Make Sure My Cat Does Not Have a Nutritional Deficiency

If you are feeding a high-grade commercial cat food, your cat will most likely not have any problems.  Some cats do still have nutritional problems and are eating excellent cat food. These cats usually have a gastrointestinal problem where they can not properly absorb the nutrient from their diet.  When looking for cat food, look at the bag and look for an AFCO statement. This will let you know if the proper nutrients are included in that brand of cat food.  

Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Cats

There are many problems seen in cats that can be caused by your cat not getting enough vitamins and minerals.  These are some of the most common nutritional.

Taurine Deficiency in Cats

Taurine Deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies seen in cats.  

What is taurine?

Taurine is an essential amino acid that all mammals need to survive.  This amino acid is needed for heart and muscle function as well as helps with vision.   Most other animals can make this amino acid from other amino acids. Cats, however, cannot make enough of this amino acid to meet their needs. Thus this amino acid needs to be supplemented in their diets.  

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taurine deficiency in cats@Kartashove / Pixabay

Causes of Taurine Deficiency

If your cat does not have enough taurine in their diet, they can have the following problems:

  • Blindness:  Taurine is needed for the proper development of the cells of the retina in the eye.  If your cat does not eat the proper amount of taurine, these cells in the eye can die, leading to poor vision and even blindness.  This condition is known as progressive retinal degeneration. This condition may go unnoticed until the damage cannot be reversed. Once the cells in the eye die, there is no way for your cat to get more. Nutritional Problems in Cats: Taurine Deficiency, and Vitamin A Excess by

If any of these problems are noticed in your cat, it is best to supplement their diet with taurine.  Your veterinarian can help you figure out if the signs that you are seeing are due to low taurine in your cat’s diet and help you find a much better diet for your cat.

Thiamine Deficiency in Cats

What causes thiamine deficiency in cats?

Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential vitamin need for metabolizing carbohydrates in the nerves.  Certain raw fish contains an enzyme thiaminase the destroy thiamine. If your cat is eating raw fish, signs of thiamine deficiency can occur in just a few weeks.  Thiaminase is deactivated by heat. By cooking the fish, this will help prevent thiamine deficiency, as long as an adequate amount of thiamine is in your cat’s diet.

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thiamine deficiency in cats@mariiaboiko / Freepik

Signs of Thiamine Deficiency in Cats

The symptoms of thiamine deficiency are not very specific and can include anorexia, weight loss, and decreased activity. Most of the signs seen with thiamine deficiency are neurological problems such as enlarged pupils, uncoordinated gait, weakness, falling, or circling. As your cat’s signs progress, you may notice seizures or total collapse.

Diagnosis Thiamine Deficiency in Cats

Your veterinarian will usually diagnose thiamin deficiency based on your cat’s feeding history.  They can confirm their diagnosis by taking blood samples. These will show an increased blood level of pyruvate and lactate.  

How do you treat thiamine deficiency in cats?

If your cat has been diagnosed with thiamine deficiency, your veterinarian will prescribe a thiamine supplement. This will usually reverse the symptoms you see in just a few days.  Usually, they are put on an oral supplement for several months to make sure that all the signs are resolved. If your cat does not have severe neurological signs that are expected to make a full recovery, however, those who do have neurological signs may always have these problems that would prevent normal activity.

Vitamin D Deficiency in Cats

Many people and some other animals can absorb vitamin D from the sun. Cats are not able to absorb vitamin D from the sun, thus need it supplied in their diets. Vitamin D is needed to help regulate calcium and phosphorous in your cat’s body.  Cats, especially young cats, can become deficient in Vitamin D if they are not eating a proper diet.  

Can cats get vitamin D deficiency?

Cats can become deficient in vitamin D if they are not fed a proper diet.  There are two different types of vitamin D deficiencies seen in cats.

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vitamin d deficiency in cats@Yerlin Matu

Rickets – vitamin D deficiency seen in kittens

Rickets is seen in young, growing kittens causing soft and deformed bones. It is caused by not enough phosphorus, calcium, or vitamin D in your cat’s diet. This is most commonly seen in cats fed an all-meat diet.

Common signs seen in kittens with rickets are:

  • Not wanting to move
  • Lameness in the back legs,
  • Bowing of legs
  • Not able to control muscle movements.

Bone problems become more severe after your cat is 5 to 14 weeks old. Most kittens will be quiet and not play.  These kittens will be in the sitting position or lay down with their back legs stretched out away from their body.

Rickets is easily diagnosed based on your cat’s history, presenting signs, exam, blood work, and x-rays. By correcting your cat’s diet, rickets can be successfully treated if there are no broken bones or irreversible damage.

Many studies show that homemade diets for cats do not contain adequate minerals and do not have the proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. High-quality commercial food is recommended for you to feed your kitten to keep them healthy.

Osteomalacia Vitamin D deficiency in Adult cats

Osteomalacia is very similar to rickets but seen in mature adult bones. The signs seen are like those in kittens but usually less severe. These cats fail to thrive, have poor hair coats, and usually eat non-food objects. Deformities are commonly seen in the spine, where the spin is curving. Eventually, the bones become so brittle they fracture.

To diagnosis osteomalacia, your veterinarians will evaluate your cat’s diet to make sure it contains enough calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for healthy bones. X-rays can see the effects osteomalacia has on the skeleton.

Cats with osteomalacia will be confined for the first week while their diet is changed. The response to the correct diet is very quick and results seen within 1 week. Your cat will need to be prevented from jumping or climbing because their bones can still break. After 3 weeks, your cat will be allowed to be a little more active but will not be completely free of restriction until their bones return to normal.  Your vet will take x-rays to monitor your cat’s progress. Complete recovery can usually be expected in a few months.  

Calcium Deficiency in Cats

A calcium deficiency in cats can lead to a disease known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. This can cause what is referred to as rubber jaw syndrome or fibrous osteodystrophy.  This is a condition where the calcium in the bone is replaced with softer connective tissues like the cartilage the makes up your ear.  Most cats seen with nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism are eating a meat-only diet. Read more about Secondary Hyperparathyroidism.

calcium deficiency in cats@Lodewijk Hertog

The parathyroid gland produces a hormone that controls the metabolisms of calcium and phosphorus in your cat’s body.  Too much of this hormone is called hyperparathyroidism. The parathyroid gland releases more hormone when there is an abnormally low level of calcium circulating in the blood causing calcium to be moved from storages such as your cat’s bones to the bloodstream.  If too much parathyroid hormone is released for a long period of time, the calcium that is removed from the bone is replaced by immature fibrous connective tissue. This causes the fibrous osteodystrophy that causes the bones, especially the jawbone, to seem rubbery.

Your veterinarian will diagnose this with a simple blood test testing the calcium levels in your cat’s body.  If your cat does have low calcium, your veterinarian will recommend switching to a diet with a higher calcium content and possibly calcium supplements.  

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Final Thoughts

When looking for a diet for your cat, make sure that all your cat nutrient needs are being met.  There are side effects of not supply your cat with the needed vitamins and minerals. Many of these can be easily reversed with just a change in diet, but some leave lifelong problems.  There are many great cat foods to choose from, pick out the best cat food that has the minerals and vitamins that your cat needs to live a long and healthy life.   

ThePets is an informational website that features articles written by qualified veterinarians and professional writers. You can learn more about our editorial process. When selecting food for your pet, use Pet Food Finder, and search for the clinic to treat your pet using Vet Clinics Locator.

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