Don’t let cat make main meal of dog food

Q: I heard that it’s bad for a cat to eat dog food. Is it because there aren’t enough vitamins? I have a cat named Ferdinand that likes to eat out of the dog bowl. How bad is that for him?

A: Cat food is considerably different than dog food and for good reason. Cats have nutritional requirements that are different than those of their canine counterparts. And there are at least two things about cat food that are essential to a cat’s good health.

The first is protein. Cats need more of this in their diet. Dietary protein provides nutrition for good muscles and strength. It also provides the so-called building blocks for a healthy metabolism. And cats have a higher requirement for dietary protein than dogs.

In addition, kitty-cats have a specific dietary requirement for the amino acid taurine. Dogs manufacture this nutrient within their own body, so they don’t need to have Taurine in their food. But cats can’t do this. Taurine is an essential amino acid found only in cat food. If Ferdinand eats only dog food and nothing else, he’ll suffer the consequences of a nutritional deficiency. This could affect his heart, his muscles and his immunity to disease. Without a proper diet, he would become a sickly cat.

The good news is that as long as the majority of his diet is cat food, he’ll do fine. It’s okay for him to sneak an occasional dog kibble once in a while. So let him snack on the dog’s food if he likes. But make sure that his main meals are out of a container meant for kitty cats.

Q: Our dog, Nicky, has a weird eye. It looks real red and seems to hurt him. He squints when he is in a bright room. He also seems to have lost his appetite even though he seems hungry. When we feed him, he starts to eat, then just stops. What could be his problem?

A: It sounds as though Nicky has one of several serious conditions. So first, let me tell you that he needs to be examined and treated by his veterinarian right away.

He could be suffering from glaucoma, a painful increase in pressure within the globe of the eye. Glaucoma leads to blindness in dogs just as it does in people, because its pressure damages the nerves of the retina. Unfortunately, this damage is mostly irreversible. But a simple test can help to diagnose this disease in its early stages and early treatment can be effective in preventing total blindness.

It’s also possible that Nicky has an infection in the space behind his eye. Two types of infections, retrobulbar cellulitis and retrobulbar abscess, can cause redness and pain when he chews. The pain results when he opens his mouth. His jawbone, the mandible, pushes up on the area behind the eye as he tries to eat. If there is infection, this can cause a great deal of discomfort.

Dogs can be miserable with this condition – hungry, but unable to eat because of the pain. Often they have a low-grade fever which adds to their malaise. But retrobulbar infections are treatable problems and usually the recovery is fast after medication is started. So have Nicky evaluated by his vet. His whole outlook on life will improve once he feels better.

Q: Our old dog, Charlie, has gone deaf, and I know this is a common problem in older dogs. He also has partial cataracts in both eyes which we had evaluated by his vet. But I wonder, do old dogs ever lose some of their sense of smell? How could anyone know for sure?

A: What an interesting question! And you know, I’m not sure if anyone has an answer. I bet it would be difficult to determine if a dog or cat lost part of his olfactory abilities as he aged. Many dog owners have seen their pooch develop a deaf ear as he gets older. It’s common for a dog over 10 years of age to lose his hearing.

And cataracts often start to show in the eyes of older cats and dogs. Even though they are not usually complete enough to cause total vision loss, cataracts affect a pet’s clarity of vision.

But smell … that’s one of the senses we take for granted and never discuss. Yet it’s very important to all animals. Smell allows pets to identify things. I’ve often wished I could get my dog to tell me what goes through her mind as she investigates everything with her nose during one of our walks. The different aromas must be incredibly interesting (though some are probably not so inviting!). I’ve always thought that older dogs rely more on their noses as they lose some of their other senses with age.

I remember a childhood dog, Reggie, whose favorite treat was a banana. We trained him to do a lot of tricks using bits of fresh banana as his reward. As an old dog, he became deaf and would sleep very soundly. But if we were in the same room eating breakfast and someone peeled a banana, Reg’s nose would wake up to the smell and he would make his way to the table hoping to get a taste of his favorite fruit. It worked every time! His sense of smell (and his love of bananas) never faded with age.

You could try a test or two for Charlie. If he has a favorite toy or food, wrap it loosely in some clean paper. While he’s resting, put it next to him and see if he wakes up to its aroma. You might also try putting sometime he likes in your pocket and sit next to him. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts.

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