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A Feline Focus: These are the Cat Health Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore

By Amy Castro//April 30, 2024//

A Feline Focus: These are the Cat Health Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore

By: Amy Castro//April 30, 2024//

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It’s fair to say that dogs take the spotlight in the pet retail space, given their popularity and the wide range of products and services tailored to them. However, retailers shouldn’t underestimate the importance of cats in the pet industry and the dedication of cat lovers to their feline friends.

Catering to cat owners’ desire to keep their pets happy and healthy can be a strategic move, allowing retailers to tap into a thriving demographic and build strong customer relationships. While you might not be ready to turn your business into a cat-only zone, there are a few trending areas of cat care you can start with to help you make the best use of your dedicated cat space to serve cat parents.


Hydration for Kidney and Urinary Health

Cats, like all animals, require ample water to maintain their health. However, many cats are not enthusiastic drinkers and as a result, they’re often chronically dehydrated. This condition can have severe consequences, including urinary tract problems, kidney disease, constipation, electrolyte imbalance, and other health complications. Diets that consist of primarily or exclusively dry food can further compound this problem. As a pet retailer, you have the power to make a significant impact on cat health and your business by encouraging cat parents to prioritize hydration. Offering a range of water bowls and fountains designed to promote drinking can be a game-changer.

Angela Velasquez is the owner of The Kitty Bodega in Houston. The store is the first of its kind in Houston to focus on cats.  Velasquez says the topic of cat hydration is close to her heart because her own cat lived with kidney disease for 15 years. “We beat the odds, and I learned how important proper hydration is to maintaining kidney health in cats, preventing UTIs and blockages, and extending your cat’s life.”

Velasquez said the first challenge retailers will have is knowing that your customers’ idea of “a lot” is not necessarily yours, so it’s essential to have an easy-to-understand baseline. “I like to use the example of a 12-pound cat because then it’s easy to visualize a soda that is 12 ounces, [about] the same amount of water a 12-pound cat should be drinking each day. Once you can establish a baseline of “how much is enough,” then we can have an informed conversation about why cats aren’t great drinkers, what we can do to encourage them to drink more, and what signs to look for if you suspect your cat is dehydrated.”

“Water fountains are key. Even if your customer insists their cat won’t use one, it may be helpful to walk them through the various materials, sounds, and even water movements that various fountains make. There is a fountain out there for them,” she says, “I always tell people to not give up and to keep trying different materials and different types of water movement fountains until their cat drinks.”

I’ve tried several varieties of cat fountains, and because keeping them clean is so important, you’ll want to stock fountains that have minimal parts and are easy to clean. It doesn’t do a cat any good to have a fountain that’s always dirty or one that ends up in the trash because the cat’s parents got sick of trying to keep it clean. Velasquez says keeping fountains clean, down to the pump parts is crucial. Therefore, consider the ease of cleaning and the number of parts needing dismantling.

Dr. Aresue “Zoo” Shokrollahi-McClain, owner and lead veterinarian at Family Animal Hospital in Friendswood, Texas, echoes the benefits of water fountains and the need for cat parents to focus on hydration.

“Fountains work on the cat’s primitive brain, which tells them that moving water versus stagnant is safer,” she said. She also says that adding water or even low-sodium broth or bone broth to a cat’s canned food is a good option for increasing hydration and can often appeal more to picky eaters.


Wet Food Win-Win: Hydration Boost and Picky Eater Pleaser

Over the past year, I’ve transitioned my pets from an all-dry-food diet, which I fed primarily for my convenience, to an all-wet-food diet. Although I complain about all the cans and the “hassle,” the change has positively impacted their kidney and urinary health, body weight and activity level. My cat Pickles, who is 14, has not only gained weight and energy, but she’s completely stopped “mowing” her belly, which has been bald for as long as I can remember. Although my experience counts only as anecdotal evidence of the benefits of wet food, there’s no denying the moisture content of wet food, which averages 70 percent or more, versus dry food, which hovers around 10 percent.

In addition to the hydration benefits of wet food, having fostered literally thousands of cats and kittens, I can attest to the fact that when you want cats to eat, moist food is often the way to go. However, not all cats are the same, and not all wet foods are either.

“Something as simple as the shape of the food, texture, or temperature can impact whether a cat eats it,” said Dr. Zoo, adding that she recommends retailers encourage customers to buy foods in small quantities to determine what a cat likes and then establish a food rotation. “It’s a buffet experiment that cat parents can turn into a fun night of epicurean delight!”

Velasquez recommends that retailers always carry two or three foods that are hard for cats to resist. “Make sure to have three to four limited-ingredient options by different brands, and read the ingredient lists to ensure very little overlap on additives like potato, pumpkin, egg, guar gum, herring oil, etc. And if you can, carry some sensitivity testing kits for those ready to stop guessing about why their cat is picky often or suffering from irregular bowel movements.”


Litter Box Woes: Conquering the Challenge for Your Cat-Loving Customers 

I am the queen of litter boxes. I’ve tried just about every type, size, material and automation available in the litter box arena to manage issues with my own cats and those at my rescue. Retailers can help cat customers avoid litter box problems by understanding a cat’s need for safety and privacy when using the litter box.

“The most common issue cat parents encounter is diarrhea, and I don’t think it’s exclusive to cats, but not everyone has to scoop dog poop,” noted Velasquez. “So they just aren’t as aware of these issues the way cat parents are. Potential causes are stress, food sensitivities, and, of course, parasites.”

When a customer complains that their cat isn’t using the box, Dr. Zoo says a retailer’s first question should be, “Have you taken the cat to the vet to eliminate a health issue?”

This is also why she’s a fan of color-changing litter, which she explains is “great for catching problems early because cats are notorious for hiding disease until it becomes severe.”

Once health issues are eliminated as a cause, then it’s time to start looking for other causes.

“Since the reason behind litter box issues is so highly specific to each situation, there isn’t a single piece of blanket advice I could give,” said Velasquez, “But in general, I always advise cat parents to take the lid off the boxes, and do not put the litter pans in bathrooms or laundry rooms as these high-humidity rooms work against the litter and cause stenches that your cat certainly won’t tolerate forever.”

When helping customers with litter box issues, you must do some detective work and ask many questions to assess the situation. Finding out the ratio of cats to litter boxes, the location of the litter box, the litter box material, style and size, how often the litter box is scooped, thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and how often the scoop and litter box are replaced should point you to possible solutions you can offer your customers.

A pet retailer’s role extends beyond selling products; it’s about empowering cat owners with the knowledge and resources to care for their feline companions effectively. By staying informed about key trends and issues in cat care and offering knowledgeable guidance and support, we can help ensure that every cat receives the care and attention it deserves.


Amy Castro is a business and leadership expert who speaks, trains and consults with pet businesses that want to build best-in-show teams that deliver a Five-Star Customer Experience. She’s also the host of the Starlight Pet Talk podcast, where she interviews pet industry experts and others to give advice and information for pet parents to help their pets live long, happy lives.