Diets for older cats with hair loss issues should focus on quality, digestible proteins, moderate fat intake, adequate water intake and possibly supplements to support the body and minimize deficiencies, which can lead to hair loss. Making gradual improvements can benefit a cat while minimizing the stress on his body.
Start With Protein and Fat
Cats do best on high-moisture diets of quality meats and fats. They don't require, nor do they thrive on, high-carbohydrate or plant-based diets. Therefore, the first step in designing a good diet for an older cat experiencing hair loss is to feed high-quality meats and other animal proteins. These proteins also will contain some fats. Adequate levels of protein are essential for the body to function properly, including maintaining skin and coat health.
Focus on Digestible, Whole Foods
As cats age, their ability to digest foods declines, as their bodies become less efficient at metabolizing nutrients. Feed complete proteins with all essential amino acids; these include eggs, muscle meats, fish and poultry. Fat intake should be reduced, but not eliminated, for older cats. Avoid by-products and foods from unknown sources, as they may contain fillers or other difficult to digest ingredients. These steps will maximize absorption and minimize the risk of nutrient deficiency, which can cause hair loss.
Raw vs. Cooked
In 1932, Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger Jr. conducted a study of 900 cats more than 10 years old. The cats were fed either raw or cooked food, or a combination. He found the cats consuming raw food were the healthiest and had few of the behavioral issues found in the cats consuming cooked food. However, meats have changed over the years, and Ron Hines, DVM PhD, notes cooking a cat's food can protect his older, more vulnerable body from food-borne illness.
Cats on dry food diets can become chronically dehydrated, and elderly cats are even more prone to dehydration. Cats naturally eat high-moisture foods -- think freshly killed prey -- but unfortunately they don't drink more when on dry foods. This stresses the importance of feeding high-moisture diets, and keeping water available at all times.. Dehydration can lead to a myriad of health problems, ranging from hair loss to kidney failure and other issues.
Supplements, Plus Making Gradual Changes
Elderly cats on an ideal diet of whole, fresh foods may not need a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Otherwise, adding one may help support his aging body and minimize hair loss associated with deficiency. Other nutrients that support skin and coat health include vitamins A, E and the B vitamins. Talk with your vet first, though, as excess levels of vitamins and minerals can be toxic. Also, make all dietary changes slowly, especially with an older, more sensitive cat.
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.