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Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Cats by Gloria Fox ThePets

Remy Bibaud | 19 January, 2021

            Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Cats by Gloria Fox Pet Perennials Blog

Gloria Fox is a Senior Content Editor at ThePet. 

Cats need a good diet to live a long, happy, and healthy life. People often do not contact a veterinary nutritionist for their food formulation but instead rely on pet food companies for their pet food. Most companies claim that their pet food is veterinarian formulated and contains all necessary food nutrients.

 Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies in Cats pic 1 PP blog

However, if cat food does not contain all the necessary nutrients, it can lead to certain nutritional deficiencies and health problems. By the continuous use of low-quality cat food, you will notice that many symptoms appear in your cat, and these signs show that your cat is suffering from nutritional deficiencies. To control your cat's diet and provide well-being, you need to feed your cat the right amount of food and choose the correct type. In addition, according to advice from Dr. Sara Ochoa, if you prefer dry food, you need to feed your cat 3-4 times daily, a food specially formulated to provide all the necessary nutrients, calories, and a high level of protein.


This article will discuss the cat's essential nutrients and the signs related to nutritional deficiencies in cats.

Essential nutrients that a cat need

The essential nutrients that a cat need in its regular diet are:

  • Water
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Vitamins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Minerals

These are the basic categories of nutrients. Among them, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins are essential for cats' health. It has been observed that if a cat's food is deficient in any of these crucial nutrients, the cat's body will not perform certain functions correctly.

Cats always have subclinical deficiencies, and pet parents do not even know that, but the body can survive in such a situation by going into crisis mode. However, the chronic lack of any nutrient in food makes the body more sensitive and prone to diseases and allergies.


Signs of Water deficiency in Cats

Water is an essential component of cat nutrition, and its deficiency can cause dehydration in cats. Dehydration occurs when the level of fluid in the body falls below the average level. It is due to increased loss of fluids from the body or due to low water intake. Cats generally do not like to drink water, so they are more prone to dehydration and water deficiency.


Dehydration also occurs due to increased activity, scorching weather, diarrhea, and vomiting. These problems also lead to fluid loss in cats. Most cats do not drink water regularly, and most pet owners assume that they are not sensitive to dehydration. Most cats drink water when they lose almost eight percent of their body's water stores, but they are still susceptible to dehydration. It is essential to provide access to fresh water for your kitten at all times. Some common symptoms that occur because of dehydration are:

  • Lethargy
  • Sunken eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Panting
  • Decreased skin elasticity

According to a study by Dr. Julia fritz, cats require about 50ml of water per kg of their body weight daily. 


Signs of Carbohydrate Deficiency

Signs of Carbohydrate Deficiencies in Cats pic blog PP

According to the literature review, digestible carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient for healthy cats, but the cat's body still needs carbohydrates in the form of glucose to meet the body's physiological needs. The body cells need the energy to carry out their normal function, and glucose provides that necessary power.


Although some cells in the body can perform their function through other energy sources, the cells present in the brain require a continuous supply of glucose to perform their functions. Glucose is critical for the survival of such systems, so it is continuously supplied at the cellular level.


Carbohydrates are macronutrients, and when the cat suffers from a carbohydrate deficiency, the first symptom that will appear is that the cat will be weak, listless, and will move without energy. In the end, she may suffer from ketone disorders, and her mouth will smell like acetone.

Signs of Protein Deficiencies

Cats are obligate carnivores and need more protein in their diet than any other animal. The proteins are then broken down into amino acids used to generate energy and make new proteins. Amino acids are of two types: essential and non-essential amino acids and cats cannot produce all 22 amino acids and need eleven of these amino acids, known as essential amino acids, from the food source.


Proteins are also essential for building new tissues, regenerating body structures, and protecting the body against infection. The immune system and white blood cells also depend on protein. Some main signs that appear because of protein deficiency are:

  • Reduction in muscle mass
  • Developmental disorders
  • Anomalies in the coat and epidermis
  • Recurrent infectious diseases


Signs of Fat Deficiencies

Lipids are fats that are important for the formation of cell membranes. Fat protects the organs of the cat's body and helps in the transport of fat-soluble vitamins.

Although fat deficiencies are rare in cats, they can occur when fed poor-quality food, homemade diets, poorly formulated foods, and low fat-dry food. Sometimes polyunsaturated fatty acids wear out due to oxidative damage, and fat depletion can occur due to prolonged food storage.

Sometimes fatty acid deficiency occurs in combination with fat mal-absorption due to pancreatitis, liver disorders, and gastrointestinal diseases.

A fat deficiency can cause many symptoms; apparent signs of fat deficiency appear within 2-3 months after the fat-deficient diet is given. The first sign that occurs when the production of lipids on the skin surface decreases is a dry and dull coat, together with the formation of fine scales.

According to a study published in the journal of nutrition, if the fat deficiency is prolonged, other skin diseases will occur in cats, such as greasy skin between the toes and on the ears, alopecia, and secondary pyoderma.

Signs of Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamins are essential for performing a vital function in the body. Vitamins are micronutrients, but their deficiency can cause many problems. Some vitamins and their signs that occur because of their weaknesses are given below.

Signs of Vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is necessary and is an essential part of your cat's diet. It is essential to maintain your cat's health. If your kitty suffers from vitamin A deficiency, the first symptom to appear is that her coat and skin will look unhealthy, her body will become weak, and she may suffer from night blindness.

According to Teresa Barber, vitamin A deficiency can compromise the organs' functions and cause different diseases due to the alteration of the extracellular matrix's composition and structure.

recent study has also shown that early supplementation with vitamin A can increase the number of immune cells and improve the immune response.

Signs of Vitamin D deficiency 

Signs of Vitamin D Deficiencies in Cats PP blog cat pic

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to increased heart problems, congestive heart failure, osteomalacia, and rickets. Research also suggests that a low level of vitamin D can also lead to cancer.

Signs of Vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and is essential for optimal cat health. When cats are deficient in vitamin E, the main symptom is muscle weakness, including liver hepatitis and heart dysfunction. In severe a case of vitamin E deficiency, brown bowel syndrome occurs when bleeding occurs in the large intestine.

Signs of Vitamin K deficiency 

Vitamin K is an essential nutrient in cats' diet; it is a fat-soluble vitamin and aids in blood clotting. Vitamin K deficiency signs include increased bleeding due to lack of clot formation, intracavitary hemorrhage, spontaneous hematoma occurrence, and eventually death due to excessive blood loss. In cats, vitamin K deficiency occurs due to rodenticide poisoning.

Signs of Vitamin B1 deficiency 

Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is necessary for the diet of cats. Its deficiency will show symptoms such as anorexia, vomiting along with neurological signs, including dilated pupils, impaired vision, vestibular signs, ataxia, seizures, and tremors.

Signs of Vitamin B2 deficiency 

Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, and its deficiency can cause weight loss, anorexia, periarticular alopecia, testicular hypoplasia, fatty liver, bilateral cataracts, and death.

Signs of Vitamin B5 deficiency 

The common signs of pantothenic acid deficiency are histological changes, growth retardation, vacuolar formations, fat metamorphosis, and increased fibrosis.

Signs of Vitamin B6 deficiency 

Signs of vitamin B6 deficiency are low growth rate, calcium oxalate crystalluria, and hypochromic microcytic anemia.

Signs of Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency signs are lethargy, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Signs of Folic acid deficiency

Signs of vitamin B9 or folic acid deficiency in cats are anemia, weight loss, and leukopenia.

Sign of Mineral Deficiency In Cats

Minerals are essential for maintaining profitable body growth and development, and their deficiency can cause many health problems.

Signs of Calcium deficiency 

Calcium is an essential mineral and is present throughout the body in small amounts. Calcium performs many vital functions, such as the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, bone growth, and blood clotting.

In a mild calcium deficiency, symptoms will not appear but can be detected by routine blood tests. Symptoms appear when severe calcium deficiency occurs. Common signs that arise due to calcium deficiency are stiffness, restlessness, weakness, muscle tremors, irritability, and hypersensitivity to touch and sound. Other symptoms that appear are severe muscle twitching, seizures, muscle spasms, and death.

Signs of Phosphorus deficiency   

Signs of Phosphorous Deficiency in cats pp blog cat pic

The clinical signs that appear because of phosphorus deficiency in cats are flexion of the hind legs, hemolytic anemia, and metabolic acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is seen in those cats whose diet contains 0.83% calcium and 0.21% phosphorus.

Signs of sodium deficiency 

Sodium deficiency occurs gradually and slowly, but sometimes its lack occurs quickly. When it happens quickly, the brain will suffer from shock and cause many neurological problems that can be fatal if not treated properly. If sodium deficiency occurs slowly, the body will adjust and protect the brain from the sudden shock. Other common signs that may appear are

  • Anorexia
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of response
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Head tremors
  • Dyspnea 
  • Coma

Signs of Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is rare in cats, but it affects different parts of the body when it occurs. Some of the common signs that appear because of magnesium deficiency are

  • Muscle trembling 
  • Severe pain
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Convulsions
  • Stunted growth
  • Depression
  • Sudden lameness
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat


Nutritional deficiencies are widespread and cause many problems in cats. You may have seen that many different nutritional deficiencies can show similar signs, so it is essential to consult your vet whenever your kitty shows any of the above symptoms. 

Written by

Gloria Fox | Senior Content Editor at ThePets
thepets.net  press@thepets.net

ThePets offers practical tips to help you care for your pet. Their library of over 100 in-depth articles covers a breadth of topics about pets. Their team of certified veterinarians and writers publish and update insightful articles full of valuable information, honed by many years of experience. These pet experts strive to provide pet lovers with the most reliable information about keeping animals healthy and happy.


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