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One of my cats, Sweetie Pie, is now over 20 years old. According to age conversion charts, that means she’s at least 96 in human years. The black-and-white-furred wonder is far from slowing down, however. She still loves to play and flirt with my elderly male cat. She wakes me up each morning by energetically jumping on my head and butting me in the nose.
But Sweetie has slowed down since her middle-aged years. For advice on what foods are best for senior cats like my Sweetie, I recently consulted Dayton, Ohio-based veterinarian Amy Dicke, DVM, who has been a member of teams consisting of nutritionists, researchers and fellow veterinarians.Cats Are Senior at 7 Years of Age
Feed a Low-fat Diet
Mammals experience reduced energy expenditures and lowered metabolic rates as the years tick on. Exercise helps, so continue to play with your mature cat but be sensitive to your pet’s limitations and when rest time is needed. In terms of food, diets reduced in fat levels with lower caloric density than adult maintenance foods are beneficial to the majority of older cats. In addition, high-quality manufactured foods often include healthier fats, like fish oil, which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies indicate that these acids support heart, brain, joint and digestive functions.
Pay More Attention to Dental Issues
Some creatures, like sharks, can regenerate teeth if they lose them. Unfortunately, cats can’t perform this natural tooth-replacement trick. Once a tooth is lost, it’s gone for good, and kitty dentures aren’t yet available. Another problem, according to Tiffany Margolin, DVM, is that older cats can develop cavity-like “gum erosions,” which can practically dissolve the teeth. If you cannot brush your cat’s teeth on your own, take it to your veterinarian for annual professional cleanings. Also, seek out dry cat foods formulated to reduce tartar buildup.
Note Behavioral Changes
When I recently celebrated a birthday, Sweetie Pie and I looked at each other as if to sing a mental chorus of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide: “I’m getting older too.” Sometimes it takes a birthday or other milestone in life to wake us up to physical changes. Dr. Dicke advises that cat owners “can improve the quality of life for senior cats by recognizing their changing physical capabilities -- such as a declining ability to jump up or a difficulty in climbing into the litter box -- and make efforts to aid their feline companion in these everyday activities.” The lowered litter box and maturity cat food in my pantry remind me that Sweetie is a bit past her prime. But I treasure every moment with her and hope she continues to go off the cat age chart.
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.