We always say that human foods should never be given to our pets, especially our feline friends. The way their digestive systems are designed by nature is simply not compatible with the food that we human species are accustomed to digesting. But there are human foods that are not only edible for cats and dogs alike, but are also deemed beneficial for their optimum health and the management of a number of health concerns. One of these human foods is olive oil. Yes, that liquid with the slightly greenish deep golden yellow color that you drizzle in your Greek salad or even hear Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, or any other celebrity chef utter as they concoct delicious, mouth-watering meals is a highly beneficial oil for cats, too.
What’s in Olive Oil?
Olive oil has always been considered as a superfood, although some would argue that it isn’t. What is clear, however, is that olive oil is not only revered for its culinary uses, it has religious significance and medical significance, too.
When it comes to its health-related benefits, olive oil relies on its unique blend of unsaturated fatty acids that includes both mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. It also contains saturated fats, but they only comprise about 14 percent of the total volume of fat in olive oil.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of the composition of olive oil are monounsaturated fats, mostly oleic acid, an omega-9 essential fatty acid. Olive oil also contains linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, as well as alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid.
Oleic acid, being an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid, can help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood while also potentially increasing good cholesterol. We said “potentially” because there’s still an on-going debate whether oleic acid can provide such a benefit. What is clear, however, is that oleic acid in olive oil can help lower blood pressure. There is also reason to believe that it has the potential to reduce inflammation.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid that is an important molecule for the production of arachidonic acid which is, in turn, important for optimum brain development together with DHA. It is also essential in the growth and development of skeletal muscles. Studies also reveal that arachidonic acid can help improve the sensitivity of insulin which can be beneficial in cats that are prone to diabetes.
Olive oil also contains trace amounts of squalene, sterols, and phytosterols that can produce a number of health benefits as well.
In addition to these fats, olive oil also contains tyrosol esters, oleocanthal, oleuropein, and hydroxytyrosol. There are more than 30 phenolic compounds present in olive oil, too. These can include elenolic acid, flavonoids, pinoresinol, and lignans. Phenolics possess amazing antioxidant properties which can help improve immune system functioning, better nerve impulse conduction, and healthier skin and coat.
Olive oil also contains vitamin E and vitamin K. Everyone knows the role of vitamin E as a powerful antioxidant. What many don’t realize is that it is also important in the control of gene expression, a critical element to effective cell signaling. What this simply means is that vitamin E can help in the creation of healthier cells.
For its part, vitamin K is critical for the ability of blood to coagulate. One very important use of vitamin K is in the binding of calcium especially in bones. What this simply means is that if there is not enough vitamin K in the cat’s body, there’s a chance that your kitty may develop osteoporosis. It may have adequate calcium levels, but if there’s no vitamin K to bind it to the bone, then there’s no way your kitty can have denser and stronger bones. Sadly, this can also lead to calcification inside the walls of arteries as well as other soft tissues.
Benefits of Olive Oil for Kitties
Now that we have a fair understanding of the contents of olive oil, we can get on with the benefits of this oil for the kitties in our lives. Do understand, however, that olive oils that have not undergone refinement are much better since they retain the full nutrient profile of the oil. The more refined the olive oil is, the fewer are its beneficial nutrients. Let’s try to look at what olive oil can bring to your beloved feline.
Promotes Healthier Feline Skin
If your kitty is bugged by dry, flaky, and itchy skin, olive oil can be very useful. As a matter of fact, olive oil for cats’ dry skin is one of the more popular indications of such an ingredient.
There are many reasons why cats can have dry and itchy skin. Allergies can cause cats to have dry and itchy, flaky skin. This is especially true when your cat inadvertently comes in contact with something that can cause its skin to become irritated and inflamed. The major problem with dry and itchy skin is the secondary bacterial infection that can ensue.
When the skin goes dry, its structural integrity is also compromised. Miniscule cracks are present on the skin which can expose the underlying soft tissues. These cracks can also be used by microorganisms as entry points so they can get inside the cat’s skin and cause secondary bacterial infections.
Even if the cat’s skin is not overly dry that it forms fissures or cracks, irritation and itching will make the cat scratch the affected site. Scratching is an animal’s natural way to relieve the ‘itch’, just as we do when we itch. Unfortunately, incessant scratching can also injure the skin which can lead to breaks or openings in the skin. These can again serve as the entrance for microorganisms.
The application of olive oil for cats’ dry skin can easily address such issues. Oleic acid can help reduce the inflammation that is inherent in itchy skin. More importantly, it can help promote healthier skin and coat as well. The various fatty acids contained in olive oil can help provide an effective barrier on the skin. Plant polyphenols can also provide antioxidant benefits that, when coupled with the Vitamin E in olive oil, can easily spell better skin integrity.
Olive oil can be massaged onto the cat’s fur and skin usually after a bath and before the final rinse.
Promotes Better Bowel Evacuation
Some pet parents also use olive oil for cats constipation. While it is perfectly okay for cats to be constipated occasionally, if it is becoming more often it can be a real problem.
Constipation in cats can be related to a cat’s hydration levels. Since kitties don’t have a strong thirst drive, you really cannot expect them to actively seek water to drink. The same is true with intestinal blockage. This can be brought about by the cat’s excessive grooming tendencies whereby it will also be ingesting its own fur and create a ball of fur right inside its colon. Strings and other objects that your cat may have swallowed can also be lodged in its colon.
Feline constipation can also be a sign of a growing tumor or even the possibility of a feline megacolon. In this condition, the cat’s colon grows to an unusual size that it can no longer push fecal matter through the gut. This causes the stool to build-up and further solidifies as water is continuously drawn from the stool.
Olive oil for cat constipation, while it can help facilitate the easier passage of stool through your cat’s gut and down its rectum and anus, doesn’t really address the problem. That is why if your kitty is experiencing more frequent or chronic constipation, it is best to have it checked by your veterinarian.
You can still give olive oil to help stimulate your cat’s bowel movement. However, you should always introduce olive oil into its food a little at a time. Some cats are not actually that tolerant when it comes to oils in their diet. This can lead to diarrhoea. It would be best if you start with half a teaspoon of olive oil added to your cat’s food. Check whether it will develop diarrhea within the next 24 hours. If not, increase the dose to a teaspoon and again check if diarrhea doesn’t occur.
The maximum amount of olive oil you can give to your kitty is a tablespoon. You shouldn’t give more than this amount.
Facilitates the Removal of Hairballs
We mentioned above that cats have the tendency to form hairballs in their tummies. As fastidious as they are, they can easily lick loose fur from their coat and ingest these. Over time, these strands of fur can accumulate inside the intestines to form a massive ball of fur.
By itself, hairballs are not really a serious concern. Unfortunately, they can cause blockage of the intestines. This can result in constipation. However, this is not the only issue associated with hairballs. Because hairballs take up space in the intestines, the cat may no longer be able to absorb many of the nutrients present in food since the hairball can adversely affect nutrient absorption. This can lead to lethargy or weakness.
Cats with hairballs will also attempt to remove the ball by hacking or trying to vomit it out. The hairball may not go out this way, but some of the stomach acid may be removed. This can lead to acid problems as well as issues in electrolyte balance. If the vomiting continues, the cat can exhibit lack of appetite.
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Adding half a teaspoon of olive oil into your pet’s food can help lubricate the intestinal lining, allowing the hairball to be easily moved through the gut. Again, caution should be exercised not to overdo it because of the tendency of olive oil to upset the stomach of certain cats.
The oleic acid plus phytophenols present in olive oil can help address a number of inflammatory conditions in cats. While chronic inflammation can be brought about by a number of disease conditions, it is nevertheless characterized by the same things – swelling, pain, discomfort, redness, and elevated temperature.
Olive oil can help reduce the severity of inflammation. However, like everything else, it doesn’t really address the root cause of the problem. That is why if you’re looking at managing your cat’s chronic inflammation, it is best that your kitty be checked, evaluated, and treated by your veterinarian. This is to make sure that the problem is properly addressed and the inflammation is managed on a more permanent basis.
Nevertheless, for symptomatic relief, olive oil can be an exceptional tool. Cats with arthritis or even inflammatory bowel disease can benefit from a teaspoon or so of olive oil in their diets. Inflammatory conditions of the cat’s skin can also be managed with olive oil by simply applying modest amounts over the affected area.
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Cleanses the Ears and Kills Ear Mites, Too
If you notice your kitty to be always scratching its ears, there’s a chance that it has ear mites. And when you look inside its ears, you may notice coffee ground-like crumbly substances that are colored brown or dark brown. Ear mite infestation is very common in cats, just as common as flea infestation is in dogs. These critters feed on organic debris that can include dead skin and dried blood and other fluids from the cat’s ear. Mites grow and proliferate, gnawing the ear tissues and causing irritation and inflammation.
Ideally, you would want a cat-formulated ear cleaner. But in case you don’t have one, you can try using a few drops of olive oil into your kitty’s ear canal. However, it is best to tell your vet about what you are going to do. Some vets will recommend using only specific ear cleaners that are formulated for cats. There are also those who can advise you to apply a few drops of olive oil for both cleaning and killing of the ear mites.
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Olive oil can provide a number of benefits for cats. However, it is best not to overdo it as it can also bring about other health concerns.
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- Sarah Whitman, Is Canola Oil Bad for Cats?, The Nest
- Elizabeth Xu, Coconut Oil for Cats: Is It a Good Idea?, PetMD
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.