You are what you eat, the old adage goes, and it’s true for cats, too. Good nutrition — plenty of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals — is not only essential to good health but keeps a cat looking healthy, too.
Of course, a cat’s appearance varies with breed, grooming and age, but healthy feline skin is always supple and a healthy coat is shiny. When a cat isn’t getting the right nutrients — or even the proper ratio of some nutrients — the coat turns dull and dry, and the skin can become flaky, itchy and susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.
“Cats are unique because they have a different metabolism from humans or dogs,” says Joseph Wakshlag DVM, PhD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The feline metabolism requires higher levels of both proteins and essential fatty acids, and each are basic components of a cat’s coat and skin. “The fat in their diet is what gives them a glossy coat and that nice, waxy surface of the skin,” says Wakshlag, immediate past president of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. “Cats on a lower-fat diet are more prone to dry, flaky skin.”
Dottie Laflamme, DVM, PhD, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist in Floyd, Va., says that hair is nearly 100 percent protein. “Changes in hair color or texture can occur if certain amino acids [which comprise proteins] are lacking in the diet,” she says. For example, phenylalanine and tyrosine are important in a black coat. If a diet is deficient in those amino acids, the black in a cat’s hair turns red.
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