As cats age, their nutritional needs change. As such, it will be necessary for you to adjust your older cat's diet to ensure your older cat's health is safeguarded. Here are some of the top questions and answers when it comes to senior cat food nutrition.
When should you switch your older cat to senior cat food? Is it even necessary?
Once your cat begins to approach the last third of her normal life expectancy, she is considered to be an "older" or "senior" cat. Cats age differently, but in general, the cut-off age is about 8-9 years old. You may want to discuss this further with your veterinarian, but it would be wise to switch to older cat food to address your cats new dietary needs, especially if she has become overweight.
What makes for a healthy senior cat diet and nutrional cat food?
As with all cat food, a high-quality meat/protein is tantamount to the food you provide your senior cat. Make sure your cat enjoys her food and that it is made of small, easy to chew bite size kibbles. Taurine is also a key ingredient in your cat's food, and try to look for cat foods with cranberries to ensure a healthy urinary tract. While your senior cat won't need as much protein as a kitten, she is still a carnivore and requires a great deal of protein, a greater percentage than older dogs even. As such, it is important not to restrict your senior cat's protein intake. In fact, cat food with low protein may impair your cat's immune function.
In addition to your senior cat's protein requirements, studies have shown that older cat's do not digest and absorb fats as well as younger cats. So make sure your cat's food has has more easily digestible food in order to ensure she gets the same amount of energy. Be sure to keep track of your cat's weight and body and adjust her diet accordingly.
What should I feed my senior cat if she has so-and-so disease or condition?
Senior cat's dietary needs are different if they have certain illnesses or conditions. You should consult your veterinarian about what to look for in foods if your cat is suffering from a particular ailment. In general however, here is a list of common cat health problems and the corresponding nutritional needs and recommended changes in diet:
- Colitis, constipation, or anal gland disease: Pick foods with increased dietary fiber.
- Diabetes mellitus: Pick a diet high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colitis: Pick foods with highly digestible sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Heart disease: Pick foods with decreased amounts of sodium and increased amounts of the amino acid taurine.
- Chronic kidney failure: Cat foods with highly digestible protein are important so there are fewer byproducts, which the kidneys are responsible for eliminating in the urine.
- Dental and oral disease: For cats who experience pain while eating hard food, you will probably need to switch to canned food.
- Cancer: Increasing Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is recommended.
What about obesity and my older cat's weight?
Just like people, an older cat will have a slower metabolism and be less active, causing her to become overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your cat's health. Many senior cat foods are specially formulated to help your cat stay at a healthy weight - and if she's already obese - lose weight. In addition to the food you provide your cat, you should engage her in exercise to stimulate her cardio-vascular system and help her lose weight in a healthy way (for more tips, you can see our article on maintaining older cat health). Exercise is good for your older cat the same way it's good for you!
My older cat is losing a lot of weight and is too thin, what gives?
Some cats tend to naturally lose weight as they age, which normally should not be a problem. Progressive weight loss (without a change in diet/food), however, can be a warning sign for serious illnesses or medical problems that your cat may have. It is important for you to monitor your cat's weight and look for small, gradual decreases in weight as that tends to be the first sign of illness. Some conditions for which weight loss could be a symptom include kidney failure, cancer, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowl disease, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, and some other conditions.
Keep a record of your cats weight on a monthly basis, and if you notice any anamolous changes, be sure to notify your veterinarian and have your cat checked out. He could then suggest a particular dietary change for your cat's condition.