Question: Several weeks ago my husband started feeding our cat fancy white albacore tuna directly out of the can while he eats his lunch. It appears that both have become addicted to tuna! Unfortunately, I cannot get our cat to eat anything other than tuna now. Will eating only tuna eventually cause our cat problems? What can I do?
Answer: Feeding your cat only tuna or only other fish products can eventually cause serious health problems such as pansteatitis. Feeding an overabundance of unsaturated fatty acids in the diet, coupled with a deficiency in vitamin E, usually results in the deposition of yellow pigment in the fatty tissues of the cat. After this happens, the fat within the cat usually becomes inflamed or abscessed.
Usually fat deposits on the chest and within the abdomen are affected first. The fat just under the skin becomes granular or lumpy in appearance. Sometimes the hardened fat in the groin area of affected cats is mistaken for hernias. Cats with pansteatitis are sore and usually quit jumping and climbing. Some affected cats quit moving altogether and bite or scratch whenever handled by anyone. Advanced pansteatitis causes intense generalized pain. Other signs of pansteatitis include fever and loss of appetite. Affected cats become progressively weaker, exhibit increasing lethargy and eventually die due to all of the problems seen with pansteatitis.
Pansteatitis is usually tentatively diagnosed based on the signs and history of feeding only fish diets. A biopsy of the fat of the cat is helpful in making a definitive diagnosis. Cats with pansteatitis are usually treated by feeding them a complete, balanced diet supplemented with vitamin E while administering drugs to reduce pain and inflammation. Usually cats with severe cases must be hospitalized while being treated. Recovery from pansteatitis usually takes several weeks or months.
Your veterinarian can help you decide what is the most appropriate diet for your particular cat. Hopefully, your husband, knowing about the long-term problems that can develop, will support you in not feeding your cat only tuna. Prevention of pansteatitis is very important for the health and welfare of your cat.