While cats are considered to be senior at age 7, they move into the “senior-plus” category at age 11. Below, Dr. Trisha Joyce, veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, shares the special nutritional needs of cats in their golden years.
Nutritional Considerations Change as Cats Age
“The biggest thing for older cats is protein content,” says Joyce. “All cats older than 11 have some degree of kidney disease.” Cats are obligate carnivores; they need animal protein to not only thrive, but also survive. As they age, though, their kidneys can’t generally handle so much of a good thing. “A little less protein is easier on the kidneys,” emphasizes Joyce.
Other concerns for older cats will not be new to anyone who is familiar with the human aging process:
- Obesity. The biggest health problem among household pets is difficult to manage in cats, particularly because they tend to become more and more sedentary as they age.
- Constipation. The aforementioned kidney problems leave older cats prone to dehydration, which can contribute to constipation, as does a sedentary lifestyle.
- Immune functioning. A cat’s ability to fight illness declines with age.
- Mobility. Joyce says that arthritis is probably underdiagnosed in cats. “They don’t move around as much in general, so pet owners won’t often notice their stiffness. But it’s reasonable to assume that they get joint degradation, just like dogs and people.”
Is Senior-plus Food Right for Your Cat?
Senior-plus food is appropriate for all cats 11 and older whose health problems do not meet the threshold for a specific prescription diet. Cats with more severe health problems may need a more aggressive dietary approach. “Senior food is no substitute for a prescription diet. Make sure to involve your veterinarian in any decision to change your pet’s food,” says Joyce.
When transitioning to a new food, it is recommended that you make the change gradually, substituting small amounts of new food for old over the course of a week.
What to Look For in Senior-plus Food
Given the most common health concerns of older cats, senior-plus formulas should address kidney health, immune functioning, joint health, digestion and weight concerns. As Joyce mentions above, a lower-protein formula can help promote kidney health. The following ingredients address each of these other common concerns:
- L-carnitine. This compound is thought to promote the metabolism of fatty acids, helping cats burn them as energy.
- Prebiotics and beet pulp. “Prebiotics promote a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Combined with a good fiber source like beet pulp and enough water, these fight constipation,” says Joyce.
- Antioxidants. “Antioxidants are thought to support immune functioning. These fall under the category of ‘Might help; can’t hurt.’”
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These compounds are produced naturally by the body and keep cartilage healthy. A senior-plus formula should be supplemented with these to stop the progression of arthritis.
“Cat’s don’t complain like dogs do, so owners are less likely to know they’re suffering, but it doesn’t mean joint pain is not an issue for them!” emphasizes Joyce.
Cats need extra TLC in their golden years, and one place to provide it is in the dish. With the right pet formula, your senior-plus cat can enjoy its old age as much as its youth.