Cat vitamins and supplements: what do they actually need?

March 30, 2023 - 4 min read
Cats + Vitamins and supplements - Header
Cats + Vitamins and supplements - Header

Cats need the right vitamins to live their healthiest and friskiest lives. In most cases, they can get those vitamins simply by eating high-quality, nutritionally complete and balanced foods. But in other cases, a veterinarian may recommend adding vitamins or other supplements to a cat’s diet.

Let’s take a look at the roles that vitamins and supplements play in cat health and how best to provide them.

Cat Vitamins 101

Vitamins are essential nutrients that cats must take in through their diet because their bodies can’t make them on their own. They are considered micronutrients, meaning that in comparison to macronutrients like protein and fat, cats don’t need to eat large amounts — but this doesn’t mean they aren’t important!

Different vitamins do different things in the body, but as a group, they're essential for growth, metabolism, and fighting diseases. Cats who are vitamin-deficient can develop skin and coat problems, weight loss or poor growth, lethargy, and neurologic problems.

Commercially available cat foods that follow the guidelines put forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) contain all the vitamins that cats need to thrive. Look for statements on cat food labels that read something like:

"Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (food name) proves complete and balanced nutrition for (life stage)."


"(Food name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage)."

On the other hand, cats who are suffering from health problems or who are eating home-prepared diets often do need to take vitamins and other nutritional supplements.

But getting too much or the wrong type of a vitamin or supplement can sometimes be just as dangerous as getting too little! It’s always best to talk to your veterinarian before adding anything to your cat’s diet. They can determine whether supplementation is needed and point you toward safe and effective products.

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What Vitamins Do Cats Need to Stay Healthy?

According to AAFCO, these are the vitamins that cat foods must contain in appropriate amounts and ratios:

  • Vitamin A for skin and eye health

  • Vitamin D to keep bones and teeth strong

  • Vitamin E, an antioxidant, to protects cells from the damage caused by free radicals

  • Vitamin K for normal blood clotting

  • B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and cobalamin) to catalyze chemical reactions needed for cats to harness energy from food

  • Other B vitamins, like folic acid and biotin, to help with cell growth and cell maintenance

  • Choline, often classified as a B vitamin, for fat transport, the transmission of neurologic signals, and as a part of cell membranes

Minerals are another type of micronutrient, but unlike vitamins, they don’t contain carbon. The minerals that must be included in a cat’s diet include:

  • Calcium and phosphorus to grow and maintain bone

  • Magnesium for a healthy metabolism

  • Sodium, chloride, and potassium to help maintain fluid balance

  • Iron in hemoglobin to carry oxygen

  • Zinc for healthy skin and immune function

  • Copper as an important part of melanin and red blood cells

  • Selenium, an antioxidant, to protect cells from free radicals

  • Iodine as an important part of thyroid hormones

  • Manganese to support metabolism, bone formation, and immune function

Other nutritional supplements can also be added to a cat’s diet to help manage certain health conditions. Veterinarians commonly recommend:

  • Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), avocado and soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), and hyaluronic acid for inflamed and painful joints

  • Omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation associated with allergies, arthritis, and other health problems

  • Probiotics for digestive health

  • Herbal remedies for liver support

  • Antioxidants for feline senior citizens or cats in poor health

How to Treat Vitamin Deficiency In Cats

A veterinarian may suspect that a cat has a vitamin deficiency based on their diet or their clinical signs but testing vitamin levels in a blood or other tissue sample is usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Here are some signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in cats:

Vitamin or Mineral Signs of Deficiency
Vitamin A skin problems; lesions in the mouth; poor night vision
Vitamin D soft and weak bones
Vitamin E muscle weakness and tissue inflammation
Vitamin K abnormal bleeding or bruising
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) neurologic problems
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) skin problems, cataracts, neurologic problems
Vitamin B3 (niacin) skin problems; diarrhea; dementia
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) poor growth; impaired immune system; weight loss; fatty liver
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) poor growth; muscle weakness; neurologic problems; anemia; kidney disease; bladder stones
Vitamin B7 (biotin) poor growth; skin problems; lethargy; neurologic abnormalities
Vitamin B9 (folic acid) poor weight gain; anemia; impaired immune system; inflammation of the tongue
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) poor growth; weight loss; diarrhea; vomiting; neurologic dysfunction
Calcium and Phosphorus soft and weak bones; seizures; muscle spasms; restlessness; stiffness; lethargy; panting
Magnesium weakness; neurologic problems

While maintaining healthy vitamin and mineral levels in a cat’s body is best achieved through feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, some health problems are managed, at least in part, by giving cats supplements. For example:

  • B vitamins are often given to cats with gastrointestinal diseases.

  • Vitamin A and zinc are used to treat certain skin conditions.

  • Iron may be prescribed for some types of anemia.

  • Vitamin E and selenium can reduce inflammation.

  • Vitamin K is used to treat cats after they’ve eaten rodenticides that impair blood clotting.

  • Choline may help cats with seizures or cognitive dysfunction (dementia).

Risks of Giving Your Cat Vitamins

Most of the time, the biggest risk associated with giving cat vitamins is wasting money. Cats will just pee out water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins, for example) that they don’t need. However, this isn’t the case for the fat-soluble vitamins A and D and some minerals. When these are given in excess they can build up to dangerous levels in a cat’s body. Signs that are associated with toxicity include:

Vitamin or Mineral Signs of Toxicity
Vitamin A Malformed and broken bones; internal bleeding; poor growth; thickened skin; birth defects; gastrointestinal problems
Vitamin D Calcification of soft tissues
Calcium and Phosphorus Formation of urinary stones; calcification of soft tissues
Magnesium Formation of urinary stones
Sodium and Chloride Vomiting; diarrhea; kidney damage; neurologic problems

Talk to your veterinarian before supplementing your cat’s diet with vitamins and minerals to avoid these types of health problems (and wasting your money!).

Tips for Shopping for Cat Vitamins and Supplements

Your veterinarian can help you pick out the right vitamin or supplement for your cat. The goal is to give your cat the supplements they need while avoiding the ones they don’t. For example, cats that have inflammatory bowel disease or gastrointestinal lymphoma often need to be on a Vitamin B12 supplement, but a multivitamin that contains Vitamin B12 and many other vitamins and minerals wouldn’t be appropriate.

Unfortunately, vitamins and other nutritional supplements are not closely regulated so their safety and effectiveness can vary widely. Look for products that are labeled with the National Animal Supplements Council (NASC) Quality Seal. The NASC is a nonprofit industry group that sets standards for pet products. Your veterinarian can also recommend trusted supplements made by reputable manufacturers.

A Wellness Plan Can Help You Pay for Vitamins and Supplements

High-quality vitamins and nutritional supplements can be expensive, particularly when cats need to be on them for a long time. If you have cat insurance, it should cover the medications that your veterinarian prescribes as part of a treatment plan for illness or injury, but not those that are taken for preventative reasons.

But did you know that some pet insurance companies offer Wellness Plans that will help reimburse you for vitamins and supplements that are part of your cat’s routine and preventive care? Combining traditional cat insurance with a Wellness Plan gives you the peace of mind that you’ll be able to provide your cat with all the veterinary care they might need.

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer, Editor, and Consultant

Dr. Jennifer Coates is a writer, editor, and consultant with experience in veterinary medicine, science, animal welfare, conservation, and communications. She has written for outlets including petMD, Chewy, and ManyPets.