The One Feline Feeding Mistake That Can Lead to TWO Top Medical Conditions

Cat Health Check-up

Story at-a-glance -

  • In 2012, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) policyholders spent over $58 million treating the 10 most common health conditions in pets. The number one reason cats visited the vet was for cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) or feline lower urinary tract disease. The average cost of a vet visit for a kitty with the condition was $251.
  • The #2 reason for feline vet visits in 2012 was gum or dental disease, and hyperthyroidism was the third most common complaint.
  • Cats with cystitis or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) should be switched to a moisture-rich diet of either raw or canned food. Dry pet food diets often contribute to chronically dehydrated kitties, and this state of constant mild dehydration sets the stage for kidney and urinary tract problems.
  • To preserve your cat’s oral health and prevent painful, expensive dental problems, it’s important to feed proper nutrition, schedule annual veterinary oral exams, and perform routine at-home dental care and mouth inspections.
  • Traditional treatments for feline hyperthyroidism include medical management (medication), surgery, and radioactive iodine therapy. Of the three, surgery performed by a soft tissue surgeon to remove a benign growth on the thyroid gland is optimal, because it cures the disease. If caught early enough, some cases of hyperthyroidism respond well to alternative therapies including a low iodine diet, homeopathic and herbal remedies, nutraceuticals, and acupuncture.

By Dr. Becker

In 2012, the health issue that brought the greatest number of cat owners to the vet's office was cystitis or FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disorder). According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), they received over 4,000 medical claims for this disorder with an average claim of $251 per office visit.

The most expensive kitty condition treated -- lymphosarcoma or lymphoma -- cost an average of $415 per visit.

Top 10 Feline Medical Conditions in 2012

1. Feline cystitis or FLUTD 6. Diabetes mellitus
2. Periodontitis/dental disease 7. Enteropathy (intestinal disease)
3. Hyperthyroidism 8. Cystitis or urinary tract infection
4. Chronic renal disease 9. Lymphosarcoma or lymphoma
5. Gastropathy (stomach disease) 10. Feline upper respiratory infection

Tips for Treating the Top 3 Feline Health Conditions

Feline Cystitis or FLUTD

The first thing I recommend for kitties with any sort of bladder or lower urinary tract disease is to avoid feeding dry food. Kibble often comes up short in terms of high-quality protein, and it ALWAYS comes up short in moisture content. If your cat lived in the wild, her natural diet (prey) would be around 70 percent water. Dry food is from 5 to 10 percent water, so you can see the huge moisture discrepancy between the two types of nutrition.

Felines are designed with a lower thirst drive than most animals, which means they must get most of the hydration their bodies need from the food they eat. Your kitty simply cannot make up the water deficit from a dry food diet, which forces her body into a state of chronic mild dehydration. This will ultimately lead to serious problems with her plumbing (kidneys, bladder and lower urinary tract).

Cats should be fed a balanced, species-appropriate diet of either canned or raw food that is grain-free (contains no corn, wheat or rice that can significantly alter urine pH). You can learn how to transition your cat to a healthy, balanced diet by watching my 2-part video, "How to Win the Healthy Food Battle with Your Fussy Feline" part 1 and part 2.

Other suggestions to prevent or manage FLUTD include:

  • Feed frequent, small, moisture-rich meals.
  • Eliminate pro-inflammatory starches (carbs) in the diet: no potatoes, tapioca or grains.
  • Provide a constant supply of clean, fresh water. If your cat isn't getting enough water, consider purchasing a water fountain (some kitties prefer moving water), flavoring the water with tuna water or beef or chicken broth, and/or adding a tablespoon or two of fresh water to your cat's food.
  • Insure you have enough litter boxes for the number of cats in your household, which is at least one box per kitty. Boxes should be kept very clean and in a quiet, low traffic area of your home.
  • Work with your holistic vet to find a blend of nutraceuticals (cranberry extract, glucosamine sulfate, and MSM), anti-inflammatory herbs and appropriate homeopathic and traditional Chinese remedies that may be of benefit.

Periodontitis/Dental Disease

Sadly, the majority of pet cats (70 percent) have significant dental disease by the age of three.

Periodontitis is inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth. Left untreated, inflammation or infection of the gums can spread to the supporting structures of the teeth. Loss of support causes the teeth to loosen and fall out.

Left untreated, periodontal and other oral diseases can result not only in the loss of your kitty's teeth, but also in serious health problems including heart, lung, and kidney disease.

There are three steps to keeping your pet's mouth healthy: a balanced, species-appropriate raw food diet; annual oral exams by your vet and professional dental cleanings as necessary; and brushing your cat's teeth at home.

If you'd like instructions on how to brush your cat's teeth, watch my video "One of the Most Important Things You Can Do to Keep Your Cat Healthy".

I also recommend performing routine mouth inspections on your kitty. He should let you open his mouth and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on or under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of his mouth. After you've done this a few times you'll become aware of any changes that occur from one mouth check to the next. You should also pay attention to changes in the smell of your cat's breath that aren't diet-related.


Feline hyperthyroidism is the most frequently diagnosed endocrine disorder in cats over the age of eight. The condition is the result of overproduction of thyroid hormone, and is usually caused by a benign tumor on the thyroid gland. Occasionally, the tumor turns out to be a carcinoma.

Symptoms of feline hyperthyroidism include increased appetite, high blood pressure, frequent vomiting, increased body temperature and heart and respiration rates, and hyperactivity.

Traditional treatments for the disease include medical management with a drug called methimazole. The drawback to medical management of your kitty's condition is that she'll need to be on methimazole for the rest of her life, and her blood levels must be routinely monitored to keep her stable.

Hyperthyroidism is known to mask kidney problems in cats, so it's also important that vets monitor kidney function in kitties taking methimazole. Elevated kidney enzymes can become a secondary problem pretty quickly once a cat is stabilized. I routinely start holistic kidney support via herbal and nutritional supplementation when the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism is made.

A more aggressive treatment approach is a thyroidectomy -- surgical removal of the benign tumor from the thyroid gland. The procedure should only be performed by a highly skilled soft tissue surgeon. This surgery is my first treatment of choice because it cures the problem.

Another treatment option is the use of radioactive iodine. The treatment takes place in a special radioactive-approved facility and involves a single injection of a radioactive form of iodine that attacks the diseased portion of the thyroid gland. Cats must stay at the facility for a week to 10 days while the level of radioactivity drops back into a safe zone. Believe it or not, this therapy is used very commonly on both cats and people.

Downsides to this option (beyond turning your pet radioactive) are that it's expensive and tends to be stressful for both cat and owner due to the lengthy separation. However, cat owners have had great success with the treatment, so if you're considering it, I recommend you research all the risks and benefits before making a decision.

Holistic vets have suggested cats NOT eat iodine-rich seafood all along; cats did not evolve hunting tuna from the sea. Seafood is the richest source of bioavailable iodine, which feeds the production of thyroid hormones. Interestingly, major pet food companies have finally acknowledged the holistic veterinary medical opinion that commercial cat food should not be seafood based, or supplemented with high levels of iodine. Their solution is a "prescription" low iodine diet. Holistic vets simply continue to recommend a low iodine, seafood-free, human grade diet, which accomplishes the same goal but with significantly better quality ingredients.

When feline hyperthyroidism is caught early, there are a number of natural therapies that can be very helpful in managing the condition, including homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, herbal remedies and nutraceuticals. If it's early enough in the development of your cat's hyperthyroidism, my recommendation is to talk to your holistic or integrative vet about starting with homeopathy, TCM or other natural therapies that avoid many of the risks and side effects associated with more traditional approaches.

+ Sources and References