Most Common Signs of 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: 01/20/2021

Do you have a new cat and looking at what to feed them? Do your cats suddenly have hair and skin problems and you wondering if it is due to a nutritional deficiency?  There are many signs that you need to be looking for in your cats with dietary deficiencies. This article will explain all about signs that different nutritional deficiencies can cause and what you can do about getting your cat back to their healthy and happy life.

most common signs of nutrient deficiencies in cats@elnurfreepik / Freepik

How would my Cat become nutrient deficient?

Some cats can be very picky with their cat food. This usually means that owners are cooking food for their cats to get them to eat. Many times, this can be perfectly fine for your cat’s, but if your cat is only eating certain things, their diet may not contain all the necessary nutrients to stay healthy. Cats that eat only meat diet for a long time will eventually have nutrient deficiencies. Some vitamins and minerals are not found in meats that your cat would need to be supplemented in their diet.

Even if your cat is eating commercial cat food, they can have nutritional deficiencies. Some commercial diets are of poor quality or have excessive amounts of nutrients. Sometimes pet owners will incorrectly supplement a commercial diet with their homemade diet resulting in nutrient deficiencies in their cats.

How do I know if my Cat is malnourished?

To know if your cat is malnourished and that their diet is not nutritionally balanced, you need to know the most common symptoms to look for. Commons signs of nutritional deficiency in cats are: 

1.   Your cat’s hair coat is not shiny

Cats should have a nice shiny coat.  There should not be any mats or bald spots in their fur.  Cat’s with a nutritional deficiency will have hair that appears dull and rough. They usually have many broken places of fur or no fur at all in some places. 

Signs that you see with cat’s hair that would indicate a nutritional deficiency are:

  • Dry, sparse hair usually with split ends
  • No hair growth from spots that have been shaved
  • Dry crusty skin  — dandruff
  • Change in hair color

2.   Your cat’s appetite has changed

Cats with nutritional deficiencies will have periods when they are eating anything, and everything follows when they do not want to eat at all. Some cats will even eat things that are not food, such as toilet paper or cat toys.

3.   Your cat has skin problems

Cat’s skin is kept healthy by them eating a proper diet.  If your cat has dandruff or oily skin, this can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency. Improper diets will commonly first show as skin and hair problems. 

4.   There are changes in your cat’s stool:

If your cat has diarrhea or is constipated, this can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies.  Your cat’s diet will affect their stool. If they lack certain nutrients, they will have soft stool where if they are not getting enough water in their diet, they can easily become constipated.

5.   Your cat’s body weight changes suddenly:

If your cat is obese or they have suddenly lost weight, these are signs that your cat has a poor diet.  Other medical conditions can cause sudden weight loss or weight gain. So, if you notice these problems, schedule an appointment with your vet.  

6.   Your cat is showing unusual behaviors:

If your cat has poor nutrition, it can cause behavioral changes.  A cat that used to be very loving and cuddly can quickly turn into an aggressive cat because they are not getting the right nutrients. 

READ MORE: How long can Cats go without Water

Common Nutrients that Your Cat Can be Deficient In

common nutrients that cat can be deficient In@Kartashova / Pixabay

Many common nutrients make up your cat’s diet that you need to make sure are included in your cat diet. These are a few of the most common nutrients that need to be included in your cat’s diets and signs that you will see if your cat is deficient in these nutrients.

Carbohydrate Deficiency in my Cat

Carbohydrates are a nutrient need for the cat’s energy levels. If your cat is not getting enough carbohydrates in their diet, your cat will be lethargic, weak, no energy and may eventually suffer from a ketone disorder. If your cat has a ketone problem, their breath will smell of acetone.

Protein Deficiencies in my Cat

Proteins are needed in your cat’s diet. These proteins are needed to regenerate cells in your cat’s body and protect your cat from any infection. Your cat’s immune system needs protein to fight off any virus or bacteria that they encounter. If your cat has a protein deficiency, you will commonly see a loss of muscle mass, reoccurring illness, skin and coat abnormalities or developmental problems.

Fat Deficiencies in my Cat

Fats are needed to create cells that will help protect your cat’s organs.  Fats are also needed to transport vitamins that are fat-soluble to different organs in the body.  If your cat is deficient in fats in their diet, you will see weight loss, dry coat, oily and flaky skin, and infections that keep occurring.

Vitamin Deficiencies in Cats

Vitamins are nutrients that are needed for proper body function.  If your cat does not have the proper vitamins, they can have these symptoms:

  • Skin infection
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems with blood clotting
  • Decrease body temperature
  • Neurologic problems
  • Poor hair coat

Trace Element Deficiencies in Cats

Trace elements are essential minerals needed by the body to function properly. If your cat is deficient in trace element, you will see the following signs:

  • Low blood count
  • Weakness
  • Stunted growth
  • Dry skin and hair loss
  • Changes in bones and muscles
  • Continuous infectious
  • Restlessness

Can I Fix this on My Own, or Do I Need to See a Vet?

You can often fix nutritional deficiencies by just making sure that you are feeding a high-quality, balanced diet. Most high-grade commercial cat foods are best to feed your cat. If your cat has severe signs or is very sick from not having proper nutrition, you will need to see your veterinarian. They will want to run bloodwork and other tests to see what your cat is deficient in to adequately treat their deficiency.

What are the Nutritional Needs of My cat?

Your cat will require a higher level of nutrients while growing than when they are adults. So, age must be considered when looking at nutritional needs for cats and kittens.

what are the nutritional needs of my cat@user12169301 / Freepik

Fats and Proteins

Your cat will need protein for healthy skin and haircoat.  If your cat’s diet does not contain the correct amount of protein or fat, then they can have hair loss.  Their coats will become dry and brittle. Adult cats need cat food that contains 30 to 45 % protein and 10 to 15% fat.  Kittens need a little higher percentage; protein should be 35 to 50% and fats 20 to 35%. 

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are needed for your cat’s skin and coat to be nice and shiny.  These must be included in your cat’s diet as their body cannot produce them. If your cat is deficient in EFAs, you will notice their skin to be dry and flaky.  Their hair will also get matted very easily, the skin will not be as elastic, and they will commonly develop skin and ear infections. These problems can easily be correct by making sure that EFAs are in your cat’s diet.  Your cat does not need a lot of EFAs in their diet. They only need about 0.5%.


Certain minerals must be in your cat’s diet for them to have good skin and haircoat quality. If your cat does not get enough copper in their diet, you will see dull, dry hair with patchy hair loss and loss of normal hair color. The haircoat will have a washed-out appearance. Zinc deficiency can cause hair loss, ulcers on the skin, and areas where the skin becomes thick and cracks.  This is usually seen over joints and on footpads. These skin signs of mineral deficiency will quickly resolve with changing the diet to appropriate levels.

Omega 3’s

If your cat has dry or itchy skin, it can benefit from omega-3 fatty acids.  These are found in fish oils. Omega-3s decrease the production of a chemical in the body that causes your cat’s skin to become inflamed and itch.  Cats with allergies can also benefit from extra omega 3’s in their diet as they help decrease the itchy skin. When choosing an Omega 3, make sure to pick on from a cold-water fish as these are the most bioavailable forms.

READ MORE: Best Weight loss Cat food

Final Thoughts

Cat nutrition is a very vital part of the health and wellbeing of your cat.  By providing them proper nutrition, your cat, and live a long and happy life.  Most signs of nutritional deficiency are skin problems. If your cat has suddenly started having skin problems, make sure that you are feeding them a high-quality, well-balanced diet.  If your cat is eating a good diet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian, as some other problems can cause skin disorders. Your veterinarian can look at your cat’s diet and make sure that it does not cause the signs that you are seeing and get your cat back to their normal 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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