Cat Vitamins and Supplements: Do They Work?

Cat supplements spark a big debate. Find out if your feline really needs them.

By Kelli Miller Stacy
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Drew Weigner, DVM

July 16, 2009 -- You or someone you know probably takes a daily multi-vitamin. Does your cat need one, too? Turn on Animal Planet or flip open Cat Fancy, and chances are you'll be bombarded with ads for cat supplements that promise to keep your feline companion in tip-top shape.

“The interest in nutritional supplements for people and pets has exploded into a billion dollar industry over the past several years,” says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, chair of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Communications.

Unfortunately, the pet supplement industry is fueled by the Internet, which is basically unregulated. “Anyone, regardless of their expertise,can set up a web site and claim that their product can make your pet feel younger and have increased energy,” Cruz says.

So, do cat supplements live up to their claims? And, does your cat need supplementation? Well, that partly depends on who you ask.

Are Cat Vitamins and Supplements Necessary?

Cat supplement manufacturers and advocates say such products should be seen as an extension of a cat's diet, adding that they can help the pets live longer, healthier lives.

Others, including Cruz and members of the Pet Food Institute, say if your cat is generally healthy, a good, quality cat food is all that's needed. Giving your cat more vitamins or minerals could cause more harm than good.

Supplements may be recommended if your cat is sick. “There are some circumstances where a cat has an underlying condition that may warrant a supplement, but many supplements are untested and unproven in veterinary medicine. The key point is that most cats consuming a complete and balanced diet probably have a better balanced diet than most humans,” says Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

Supplements are meant to correct deficiencies. For example, your cat may need a supplement if she has a medical condition that makes her unable to absorb a particular nutrient. Small intestinal disease can cause an inability to absorb the B vitamins folate and cobalamine.In this case, the cat would require injections of those two supplements, as oral supplements won't be absorbed either. Cats that are pregnant and breastfeeding may develop nutritional deficiencies that require supplementation, particularly if the cat becomes pregnant before age 10-12 months, Cruz says. Your vet can direct you to the appropriate product.