Top 5 Healthy Cat Treats

Don't serve up tricks, just treats that your cat can eat for health this holiday and beyond.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: October 26, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Cat eating treats
The best treats serve two purposes: tasty reward and healthy supplement.
Cats require a nutritionally complete and balanced diet to live an active, healthy life. Life is meant to be enjoyed, however, and every now and then it’s OK to toss your cat a tasty treat.

Not all cat treats are the equivalent of kitty candy. Some “treats” are actually beneficial for cats and are almost on par with giving medication. Here’s my list of five “treats” that can make your cat happy and healthy.

1. Dental Treats Dental problems are the most common disease that we see in cats. They can lead to bad breath, swollen and bleeding gums, loose teeth, oral pain and difficulty eating.

Periodontal disease is very common in cats. Untreated, it can lead to oral pain, abscess formation, osteomyelitis (bone infection) and tooth loss. Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream through diseased oral tissues, affecting other organs as well, most notably the heart valves and kidneys. Treatment of periodontal disease requires professional cleaning under general anesthesia. The plaque and calculus are removed, and the root surfaces are cleaned.

Prevent advanced periodontal disease with early detection and treatment. Home care is essential after professional cleaning, and that includes brushing and — you guessed it — cat dental treats! Most cats aren’t too crazy about having their teeth brushed, but tartar-control treats seem to be popular with many cats. Cat owners who regularly give their cats treats should consider using crunchy tartar-control treats over the softer treats, especially for cats prone to dental disease.

2. Hairball Remedies Hairballs are a constant problem for cats (and cat owners). The most important part of hairball prevention is to brush your cat regularly and to remove as much loose hair from the coat as possible. Get your cat used to being handled and brushed regularly while he is a kitten.

If cat hairballs become a problem despite diligent brushing, other deterrents include feeding specially formulated hairball diets, administering the brown gooey oral hairball remedies from pet stores and veterinary offices or handing out some crunchy hairball treats with the gooey hairball gel in the center. Many cats love the gel and/or the gel-filled treat, and it’s a great way to reward your cat and prevent hairballs at the same time.

3. Heartworm Preventatives Heartworm disease has been a major concern for dog owners for the last few decades. For cat owners, however, heartworm disease barely registers a blip on our radar screen, with most cat owners wrongly assuming that cats aren’t susceptible to the disease. In fact, feline heartworm disease (FHD), although relatively uncommon, is a serious and potentially fatal disease in cats. Fortunately, the disease is entirely and easily preventable.

Some FDA-approved drugs are marketed for monthly use in cats. One very popular formulation (Heartgard for Cats) is a chewable treat!  Because the consequences of cat heartworm disease are potentially dire and treatment options are limited, give monthly preventatives to cats living in endemic areas. Remember, even if your cat goes crazy over the taste, you can only give the treat once a month.

4. Lysine Upper respiratory infections are very common in cats, most frequently caused by the feline herpes virus. Lysine is an amino acid that many believe speeds the resolution of herpes virus infections, and is recommended for cats with clinical signs of herpes virus.

Lysine tablets are quite large and are difficult to administer to cats. Crushing them and hiding them in the food is fine, if the cat will take it that way, but easier options exist these days. A variety of veterinary preparations of lysine now available include powders, pastes and … crunchy lysine treats! Each treat contains 50 mg of lysine, which means a typical cat can get five treats twice daily. Ten treats a day, prescribed by a veterinarian — Not bad! Bear in mind that herpes viruses stay in the body forever and during times of stress the virus may re-emerge from dormancy and cause recurrence of the upper respiratory symptoms. Keeping cats current on their vaccination status should help reduce the severity of the upper respiratory infections.

5. Glucosamine and Chondroitin Arthritis is common in cats, especially elderly cats. The hips and elbows are the most commonly affected joints. The most obvious signs would be lameness and stiffness when walking or an inability to jump well, however, other more subtle signs may exist, such as urinating defecating outside the litterbox because arthritis makes it difficult to step into or crouch in the litterbox. Hair matting or an unkempt coat might appear because arthritis in the spine can make it difficult to properly to groom.

One way to help relieve the discomfort of arthritis is to give glucosamine and chondroitin, the  same supplements humans use for arthritis. This supplement comes in several forms. A popular form is a capsule containing a chicken-flavored powder. Most cats enjoy the taste and regard it as a treat. It’s an easy way to administer glucosamine and chondroitin. Cats who fail to respond may require stronger medication, such as anti-inflammatory drugs.

So there is a tasty way to stay healthy. Take these five treats and enjoy them in good health!
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Reader Comments

Paula    Mequon, WI

8/8/2013 9:17:32 AM

What can I give a diabetic cat, age 14 years old.

Marilyn    Columbus, NE

8/8/2013 6:03:20 AM

Interesting! I give my cats both hairball remedy and tartar control treats. They love them. At bedtime they both sit in our bedroom and wait for me to throw the treats. Then they get to play with the laser and we don't hear from them all night.

Carol    Silver Spring, MD

4/18/2013 11:37:47 PM

I use these suggestions and they work. My senior guy is a sucker for a treat!

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

4/5/2013 11:56:39 PM

Yum.

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