Feeding your cat a high-quality diet is the key to good health and a long life. Over time, your cat’s nutritional needs will change, in both nutrient composition and quantity.
Nutritional Needs for Senior Cats
Once your cat reaches the age of eight, most veterinarians will consider them to be a “senior”. As your cat ages, body functions may not be as efficient and metabolism steadily decreases. Many senior cats develop reduced kidney function, fluctuating glucose tolerance, and a reduction in immune response. As such, it is important to adapt the diet to these important changes occurring in the body.
The protein needs of cats are high and, unless there is a specific health condition dictating a reduction in protein consumption, an older cat should not be placed on a protein-restricted diet.
Obesity is a significant problem for middle-aged cats (six - eight years old), but generally, obesity is seen less in cats aged ten and beyond. A few studies suggest that senior cats do not digest / absorb fat as well as younger cats. Older cats may therefore need to eat more digestible fats to receive the same amount of energy. Weight monitoring is an important part of your cat’s wellness check with your veterinarian.
Another important consideration is the ability for your senior cat to utilize minerals, vitamins and electrolytes. In senior cats, these may be less well absorbed in the intestines or more easily lost through reduced kidney function. Speak to your veterinarian about supplementation.
Finally, oral health is critical in older cats. Bad teeth and inflamed gums are a leading cause of reduced food intake. Make sure your cat has regular dental checks throughout their life. Canned foods may be better for cats with existing dental disease but, as they say, prevention is much better than cure.
Dietary Conditions For Senior Cats In Poorer Health
Some diseases may necessitate changes in the diet in an attempt to reduce the symptoms or progression. For example, cats with diabetes or constipation often benefit from increased fiber in the diet.
While senior cats in general benefit from highly digestible sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates, this is even more so for cats with colitis or inflammatory bowel disease. Other special diets include low sodium, increased taurine (an amino acid) diets for cats with heart disease and highly digestible protein diets for cats with chronic kidney disease. Cats with cancer often have dietary needs unique to the patient but Omega-3 fatty acids are usually recommended.
Tips for Feeding Your Senior Cat
One of the most important considerations is water consumption. A senior cat that does not hydrate enough is at risk of constipation and dehydration (especially in cats with kidney disease). Adding additional water to food or adding flavor to the water may help to encourage your cat to drink more.
Gently warm canned or moistened dry food in the microwave (taking care not to make the food too hot) to increase aroma and palatability of the food. If on dry food, consider switching to canned food.
Ensure your cat has a quiet, low stress place to eat well away from foot traffic and other hungry pets. Petting your cat while they are eating often reassures them.
Make sure you speak to your veterinarian if you are concerned about your cat’s appetite. It is generally recommended to have a wellness check every six months to ensure everything is OK.