As your cat gets older, you may wonder about her changing needs. One element that changes as cats age is their nutritional needs. Here's a primer on what to feed your senior cat.
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How to keep older cats healthy: senior cat nutrition basics.
Senior cats have different dietary needs than younger cats do, but not as different as you might think. The main thing to remember is that senior cats need extra help with hydration and vitamins. Older cats also generally need fewer calories than younger cats.
Hydration: While it's important to always provide fresh water for cats, they actually get most of their daily hydration needs met through the food they eat. As cats age, they become more prone to renal failure. This means that hydration is extra important for older cats. For this reason, it's a good idea to feed your senior canned wet food instead of dry food. Canned food has a much higher water percentage than dry food does. In addition, canned food is easier to eat for older cats who may have dental issues. You should also be sure to provide multiple bowls of fresh water around your home that are easily accessible for your senior kitty.
Vitamins: These days, most pet food manufacturers offer a variety of senior options. Many senior cat foods incorporate higher amounts of vitamins B6 and D, fiber, calcium, omega fatty acids and antioxidants. You can also consider giving your cat vitamin supplements, which we'll cover later.
The basics: types of senior cat food.
Wet food: Wet food comes in cans and is about 75 percent water. This food is great for senior cats because it provides so much hydration. It's also soft and easy to eat, which is preferable for cats with any dental issues.
Dry Food: In contrast, dry food typically contains about 10 percent water. Most younger kitties do not have difficulty eating dry food (as long as they don't have kidney or urinary issues). Dry food, however, doesn't provide the hydration that senior cats need extra help with. Older cats often have sensitive teeth and many find dry food more difficult to eat. For senior cats, dry food is best as an occasional treat, or not at all if your cat has dental problems.
Fresh/ homemade food: Homemade food for senior cats is generally not advisable. It may sound like a good idea, but it carries a risk of nutritional deficiency, since you (probably) aren't a trained expert in feline nutrition. (If you are, please disregard this paragraph.) Unless your veterinarian recommends homemade food for your senior cat, stick to canned food, which contains all the protein and nutrients your cat needs.
Recommended diet for older cats
Canned wet food that has been specifically formulated for older cats is the best option to feed seniors. Wet food provides the calories, hydration and vitamins aging cats need. Most adult cats should be fed twice a day, and the same schedule should be maintained for your senior cat.
If your cat doesn't have any dental, kidney or urinary problems, you can give her dry food occasionally, but limit it to "treat" status, rather than making it part of a regular meal.
Another important part of a senior cat's diet is water. Make sure to put out multiple bowls of fresh water every day. It's best to have the bowls in various locations around your home, so as your cat becomes slower in old age, she can still easily access water at any time.
The best food for underweight senior cats.
Weight loss is a common issue in older cats. If your senior cat is underweight, it's best to feed her wet food specifically formulated for seniors. You should also consult your vet to get professional advice and to make sure your cat's health isn't in jeopardy.
What to do when a senior cat won't eat.
A loss of appetite can indicate illness. If you notice a sudden change of appetite in your senior cat, take them to the vet as soon as you can.
The best food for obese senior cats.
Many pet food brands have specially-formulated diet food for pets who need to lose weight. If your senior cat becomes overweight, take them to the vet. The vet will assess them and prescribe the best food for their weight and health goals.
Can my senior cat eat regular cat food?
The answer is complicated. Although there is no research to prove that the nutritional needs of senior cats are different from those of younger cats, senior cats are more prone to certain ailments like kidney failure and diabetes. Senior cat food can help stave off some of those ailments, so feeding your cat food that is formulated especially for seniors is generally a good idea. That said, "regular" cat food won't hurt her, unless your vet has specifically said not to feed it to her. It all depends on the individual senior cat, so it's best to consult your vet.
Does my senior cat need supplements?
If your kitty eats a balanced diet, she doesn't need supplements. However, some health conditions that are common in older cats make it more difficult for them to absorb certain nutrients. If this is the case, your vet will recommend a specific supplement.
Don't haphazardly pick out over-the-counter supplements, as most haven't been well-studied in cats. Wait for your vet's recommendation.
Kidney disease and diabetes in senior cats
Kidney disease is fairly common in older cats. Senior cats who have kidney disease might need to be placed on a phosphorous-restricted diet. Most diets formulated for cats with kidney problems have less protein and less salt than other cat foods.
For a diabetic cat, your vet may suggest that you switch to a specially formulated food, or simply an all-canned food diet. Diabetic cats need increased protein and decreased carbs. Your vet will be able to prescribe the best diet for your cat, so consult them before trying to switch up your cat's food on your own.
Any changes to your cat's diet should be made gradually. And when in doubt, always consult your vet.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.