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The role of food for neutered cats

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01 June 2013, at 12:00am

IAN WILLIAMS in this sixth in a series from Royal Canin, looks at the role of nutrition in the management of neutered cats … and dispels the myth that neutering causes them to become fat and lazy

THE vast majority of cats in the UK are neutered, as vets become increasingly adept at advising owners about the various benefits that neutering can bring in addition to the obvious reduction in unwanted litters.

For example, neutered cats wander and stray less and so are less likely to be injured on the road. Wounds and abscesses caused by fighting with other cats are a very common problem in entire cats but are much less likely in neutered cats.

Importantly, neutered cats are at a lower risk of contracting infectious diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV). FIV is spread through fighting and biting (via infected saliva and blood) and it is well known that this disease more commonly affects entire male cats and stray or feral cats.

In addition, for female cats, spaying removes the risk of infections or tumours of the uterus. If testicles are retained in the abdomen in male cats they are at a high risk of developing tumours so castration is always advised in this case. These health benefits are certainly not to be sniffed at as they mean that a neutered cat will often live for a greater length of time than an unneutered cat.

There are occasionally some complications after neutering, such as a slightly increased risk of urinary incontinence in females, urethral blockage in male cats, infection of the surgical wound or slight changes to the coat. However, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Physiological changes

This said, neutering does result in some physiological changes which need to be considered and addressed. Within 48 hours of neutering, a cat will increase food intake by around 30%, as it is less able to regulate its hunger.

At the same time, its daily energy requirements actually reduce, so obesity is a real risk if the cat’s diet is not adapted straight away.

Of course, weight gain can lead to many other problems including joint problems, grooming problems, urinary tract problems and an increased diabetes risk.

Interestingly, whilst females have a higher fat ratio to begin with, three months after neutering takes place, food intake is greater in males than in females. Therefore it is the male cat which is more likely to gain weight, and more likely to suffer with medical problems.

Recommending a diet specifically formulated for neutered cats helps to control bodyweight after the procedure. Some pet food manufacturers offer distinct diets for both male and female cats and their different needs – for example slightly lower energy levels, using higher protein quantities for male cats.

Strict observance

In addition, owners should be advised to strictly observe daily rations, rather than simply topping up the bowl each time it is empty.

The cat’s weight and body condition score should be regularly assessed, with rations adjusted in response, and exercise should be encouraged through play activity.

Dedicated diets for neutered cats tend to feature formulas with a reduced energy content, along with high protein levels and L-carnitine. Lcarnitine is classed as a “non-essential” amino acid, which means that the body can synthesise it from other amino acids if necessary. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful though!

Diets high in L-carnitine can help with healthy weight loss, as it promotes the use of fat stores for energy. This also helps to preserve muscle mass and, because muscles use energy, further encourages weight loss.

In addition, special diets can contain fibres that help cats feel fuller so they are less likely to return to their bowl so frequently. Diets can also be adapted to help support the neutered cat’s delicate urinary health too, creating an environment unfavourable for the development of both struvite and calcium oxalate uroliths (urinary stones).

In summary, a common reason for not neutering a cat is the belief amongst many owners that it will cause the animal to become fat and lazy. This is simply not true.

Neutering does decrease the energy requirement of the cat by up to 50% but all that is needed is a diet specifically tailored for neutered animals after the operation has been performed, to help reduce the risk of weight gain.