At the pet store, you may have noticed the range of cat food options, each targeting a specific ailment or stage of your cat’s life. There’s kitten food, which is nutrient-rich to help kitties grow healthy and strong. There’s adult food, which offers a balanced mix of nutrients. There’s even specialized food for cats with food intolerances, allergies, hairballs and urinary tract issues. And then there’s senior cat food—but what does that do?
Senior cats tend to have different health needs as they age, so it only makes sense that they might need a different blend of nutrients than the average adult cat. However, there are many misconceptions about a senior cat’s ideal diet. Here’s what you should know.
The myth about protein
One common belief about senior cat’s diets is that they should be low in protein. This is largely due to the prevalence of kidney disease in older cats. However, newer research suggests this may not be entirely true.
Cats still need protein in their diets to stay healthy, even in their old age. The quality of the protein is what truly matters. Low-quality protein may be harder for your cat to digest, which can put stress on the organs. High-quality animal protein, on the other hand, is much easier to digest and is often recommended for older cats to help them maintain proper organ function, muscle mass and overall health.
Food that addresses particular health issues
Aside from protein, you’ll also want to pay attention to the other nutrients present in your senior cat’s food. Almost all senior cats can benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in their diets. These compounds help to bolster the immune system, which may not be as effective as your cat ages. They can also help reduce inflammation and stave off the effects of some diseases.
However, other nutritional compounds might need to be prioritized based on your cat’s unique health needs. For example, cats with heart conditions tend to need low-sodium diets, and diabetic cats may benefit from lower-carb foods to help monitor their blood sugar. Some diets are formulated specifically for cats with severe arthritis to improve mobility.
Of course, the diet that you choose for your cat will need to be made on an individual basis to address your cat’s specific health problems. There really is no “ideal diet” for senior cats.
Pay attention to calories
Older pets are not as active as younger ones, whether due to lethargy from disease or from arthritis that causes aching joints. Regardless of the reason, senior cats tend to burn fewer calories than they did in their youth. On top of that, older pet’s metabolisms are subject to changes. This means that the amount of food they eat each day should be re-examined as they grow older.
Overfeeding senior cats can lead to obesity, which is linked to a number of health problems. Excessive weight can also make it more difficult for senior cats—particularly those with arthritis—to move around, potentially exacerbating the issue of overfeeding. Owners of senior cats should be very careful that the calories their cat receives each day is appropriate for their age and activity level.
When in doubt, speak with your vet
Although most senior cats will require some nutritional changes as they grow older, they still need a healthy balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, along with a range of vitamins and minerals. If your cat has a health problem that needs to be addressed through food, their diet should still cover all of those bases.
If you have an aging cat who you believe needs a new diet, resist the urge to make an abrupt change in food. Talk to your vet during your cat’s next annual exam and see what food they recommend your cat eats every day. Changing your senior cat’s food without your vet’s input could have negative consequences for their health. In some cases, a switch isn’t needed at all! Some healthy cats are perfectly capable of eating the same adult food well into their senior years.
In the event that your vet does recommend a diet change, ask for some of their recommended choices or what ingredients you should look for. Pet foods are formulated differently, so you’ll want to be careful when selecting the right food to address your cat’s specific needs.
Of course, after you make the switch, be sure to monitor your cat for any adverse signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and coat changes. If your cat refuses to eat the food, you might need to try some tricks, such as adding water or broth and heating it up to entice your kitty through smell.
By feeding an age- and condition-appropriate food to your senior cat, you can help minimize symptoms of illness, keep health problems under control and allow your cat to age comfortably and happily.