Nutrition deficiency in a kitten: Vitamin A

Is it okay to fed only meat to a kitten? Can a cat fed the wrong diet have severe neurological signs? Why is it important to have balance diet particularly on growing animals?

This is a quite sad story, this cat was fed only with beef liver because his parents though this was the best diet they could feed him. They were only been exposed to street cats hunting and finding food for themselves, so they thought this will be the best diet for this kitten they had.

On this video we can see a cat that is tetraplegic: He can’t walk, he can’t even move any of the 4 limbs, this is why we call this TETRA (4) and plegic (no voluntary movements). There is no hoping

When we perform the withdrawal on the hind limbs it’s present and the patellar reflex is also intact. However, the withdrawal reflex on the front is absent as well as the extensor carpus radialis reflex.

We can’t observe the cutaneous trunci reflex, but once we use the forceps we can appreciate it’s present all the way to the lumbar spine: it’s normal. Finally we see the palpebral reflex is normal bilaterally.

So what do we have here?: a 7 months old cat, with  slow progressive difficulties walking to tetraplegia, with normal hind limb reflexes but reduced on the front limbs and normal cranial reflexes. The cat is otherwise bright and alert. SO the neurological localization was C6T2 spinal cord segment. The differential diagnosis was consistent with a congenital or degenerative disease, but we knew already the cat’s diet, because it’s part of our routine questionnaire:

  • Age and breed
  • Travel history
  • Diet
  • Vaccination and deworming status
  • Any surgeries, chronic diseases or treatment

SO what happened to this kitten bones? Why the X-ray is so abnormal with no bone density and fused cervical vertebraes on the caudal neck?

VITAMIN A TOXICITY is not commonly observed in cats but may occur if cats are fed beef liver. Affected cats typically develop stiffness and muscle and joint pain. This can be associated with the bony exostoses that develop along the muscular insertions of the cervical vertebrae, ribs, and long bones of the fore limbs, as well as the cervical spondylosis that we tend to observe. Vitamin A toxicity is usually accompanied too by anorexia, weight loss, exophthalmia, and an unkept appearance and may lead to moist eczema, alopecia, cracking scaly dermatitis, ascites and death.

High doses of vitamin A consumed for a short period of time by kittens can result in acute toxicity with residual depression of bone growth during subsequent development. As in other species this defect is thought to represent a cytotoxic influence of vitamin A on osteoblasts and chrondrocytes. The vitamin A required to induce toxicity in rats, cats and dogs is approximately ten times greater than the threshold for most species, including man.

The diagnosis is readily made from radiographs with abnormal bone density, cervical spondylosis and even malformation/fusion of the vertebras like observed on this case.

The response to removal of vitamin A from the diet is generally rapid and, unless the toxicity has been chronic in young kittens where there is bone remodelling, recovery is generally satisfactory.

What are other common nutrition deficiencies related to abnormal vitamin absorption in dogs and cats?