Is your older cat in need of a new diet? Take note of your older cat’s eating habits at mealtime, and then read on for advice from Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian at New York City Veterinary Specialists, about when and how to put your cat on an age-appropriate diet.
What Is Senior?
For nutritional purposes, a senior cat is one that is “moving out of old middle age,” according to Joyce. She suggests thinking about beginning to transition your pet to a senior formula around the age of 9 or 10. “That’s when you begin to be more likely to see medical issues crop up,” she says.
“Make a wellness visit to your veterinarian to find out if anything -- like weight gain or kidney problems -- is beginning to become apparent. Senior formulas can help in the early stages of common age-related issues, but you don’t want to make the switch prematurely.
- What Is Senior Formula?
As with any high-quality cat food, a good senior formula contains balanced nutrition given a seal of approval by AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). But aging cats have different concerns than their more youthful counterparts, and senior formulas address these:
- Fat absorption and digestion. Studies have shown that senior cats don’t absorb fat as well as they once did and may need to consume more of it to get the same amount of energy. They also need a good fiber source. “Cats are more likely to be constipated in old age, just like people,” says Joyce.
- Joint and mobility issues. Arthritis is common in cats and is easy to overlook. “We don’t walk our cats, so we don’t notice it like we might in a dog, but they become less agile and less inclined to jump,” says Joyce.
- Weight loss and gain. Senior cats can suffer from weight problems, ranging from being underweight to overweight. Both conditions can have a deleterious impact on their overall health as they age, making the quality and palatability of food all the more important.
- Immune system maintenance. “Everything kind of wanes as a cat gets older, including its ability to fight off illness,” says Joyce.
- Kidney considerations. Good kidney function is critical for cats, since these organs remove waste substances from the blood. They also maintain the normal balance of fluid and minerals within your cat’s body. Good senior formulas help to support kidney function, which can decline over the years as your pet ages.
What to Look For
Joyce recommends foods that contain ingredients to address each of the above concerns: good fiber sources like beet pulp and FOS (fructooligosaccharide) to improve fat absorption and prevent constipation, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for joint health, L-Carnitine to help with weight maintenance, antioxidants like vitamin E for a healthy immune system, and optimal levels of quality protein for the aging cat.
She also emphasizes regular veterinary care throughout the lifespan, but especially as your cat gets into its senior years. “Unlike with a dog, where you have opportunities to notice when it’s slowing down, cats don’t clue you in that anything is wrong until they’re much sicker,” says Joyce. “Cats should be having annual blood work from the age of 8 or 9. You can identify problems as they come up, and manage them with something like a senior formula before they get serious.”
She cautions that cats with serious medical conditions may begin to need prescription diets, like those for kidney or bowel disease, and that pet owners should consult their veterinarians before making any dietary changes.