Any illness can affect the way cats metabolize their food. In severe illnesses, such as cancer, the body prioritizes nutrients, using them to maintain the immune system and heal damage. Over time, these metabolic changes may become harmful instead of beneficial, causing muscle wasting and weight loss. Cats with cancer require a diet capable of supporting their bodies' increased requirements. A veterinarian can help you choose the best course of action.
Cats with cancer lose weight due to the metabolic effects caused by the disease and decreased food intake. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy may also reduce a cat's appetite. Cancer may also cause nutrient deficiencies, such as a zinc deficiency, which decreases a cat's desire to eat. A quality cancer diet must be nutritionally dense and appealing to encourage the cat to eat as much as possible.
The right cancer diet for a given cat is one tailored to the animal's condition and preferences. Owners may need to offer novel or exciting food to encourage voluntary eating. Provide food when the animal shows no sign of nausea and stick to foods high in protein, fat and moisture. Dry food may become more appealing if moistened.
A home-cooked diet of only palatable foods may work well in the short term but can create nutritional deficiencies in the long term. Vitamin supplements may help reduce the risk of problems. Owners should also choose foods that are low in simple carbohydrates and feature moderate amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. Cats should also receive food containing fats from the omega-3 fatty acid series, which may help reduce metabolic changes caused by cancer. Glutamine, cystine and arginine supplements are also appropriate.
In some cases, a cat has so much trouble eating an effective cancer diet that tube feeding is a better option. It can be hard to tell what is causing a pet's refusal to eat, and short-term artificial nutrition may help the patient retain its strength. Pushing food on cats that don't want to eat may create a learned food aversion and can cause more problems than it solves.
Tumors, especially those in the mouth, throat and digestive system, may interfere with eating and digestion. Some cancer drugs and surgical treatments may also interfere with a cat's ability to eat and process food. Veterinarians should take these obstacles into account when designing a cancer diet, and tailor the diet to each patient. Cat owners who observe their pet having difficulty eating should report the problem to the vet right away, so diet changes can be made.