Q: I have an adorable cat named Jacqui who is my best friend. I am retired and live in an assisted living community that thankfully allows pets. Everyone here adores her and they save tidbits from their dinner to treat her. She loves the treats and attention but I am worried she will get overweight.
They really like giving her tuna and I am very concerned as I heard that is not good for her. They give her lots of unusual things and she has even eaten cantaloupe and green beans! I feed her Science Diet Maintenance Light. Is there anything dangerous for her that I should not let her eat? How much people food can she eat each day?
A: I am so happy that more assisted living communities are accepting pets! It is so nice to have a furry companion in your life. Your friends want to bring her treats to make friends and share in the great cat bond that you have with Jacqui.
Humans are omnivores. Omnivores eat many types of foods like meat, vegetables and grains. Cats are true carnivores. This means that they eat meat. Cats would catch and eat rodents and other small animals in the wild.
Many cats love tuna and some well-meaning owners have fed their cats only tuna and it has caused severe problems. Fish can have thiaminase that can destroy B vitamins if eaten frequently in large amounts. Some fish can have too much fat that can also cause problems.
A very small amount can be a treat but all treat food should be less than 10 percent of her diet. I would recommend that her treat food be only 1 or 2 percent of the diet. You are feeding a complete and balanced diet but adding too many treats can unbalance the diet. You don’t want her to get overweight. An overweight cat is prone to problems like diabetes, liver disease, joint problems, cancer, and many other life-shortening issues.
Human foods that are bad for her and should never be fed include onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, chocolate, sugary foods or foods containing xylitol.
It may be hard to control what people feed to Jacqui, so possibly the best alternative is to have a small jar or candy dish labeled with her name. Place five of the Science Diet one-calorie treats in the jar each morning and tell visitors that she is on a diet and they may give her only one of her own treats. When the jar is empty she cannot have any more treats.
You can have a second jar that contains her food for the day. Carefully measure out the amount of dry food that she gets each day and this could also be used for treats. Feed her allotted can food twice a day. The jar of dry food can serve as treat food if given one kibble at a time. Don’t exceed her daily total.
If someone comes to visit with food from their plate, thank them and tell them she is on a strict diet and they can feed a treat from her jar. If no treats are left, hand them a toy or a feather wand and encourage them to play with her to help her with her weight and fitness goals.
Be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice on what the proper weight and calorie count is for Jacqui. Cats need to lose weight slowly in order to be safe.
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.