Forget the idea a cat ages seven years for each calendar year. A cat ages rapidly her first two years, reaching the equivalent of 24 human years by her second birthday. When she reaches 3 years old, it's estimated she ages about four years for every calendar year. Like people, cats age differently, influenced by health, heredity and environment. The vet can help you determine the correct food for your older cat.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, a cat between 7 and 10 years old is mature, a cat between 11 and 14 years is senior and a cat older than 14 years old is geriatric. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends starting a cat on a senior diet at the age of 7, however Dr. Ronald Hines of 2ndChance.info notes every cat's diet should be determined by her health status. He notes many cats become overweight as they age, particularly as they transition from their prime years to maturity, or middle age. As a cat ages and her body changes, she becomes prone to medical problems that can lead to weight loss. Dr. Hines states studies indicate that up to 50 percent of cats aged between 15 and 25 actually are underweight. Your cat's weight and medical condition will affect what and how much she eats as much as her age does.
Pet food manufacturers offer an array of food choices for health conditions and life stages, including senior diets. Dr. Ronald Hines notes many senior diets incorporate higher amounts of vitamins B6 and D, fiber, calcium and extra omega fatty acids and antioxidants, though it varies according to food manufacturer. However, WebMD states there's no research stating that healthy older cats have different nutritional needs from younger cats. Hines cautions about feeding a senior diet with lower calories to an already underweight older cat. However, as long as your cat is getting the calories she needs to maintain weight, he notes a senior formula won't hurt her. Talk to your vet about the best diet for your cat.
Canned food is gaining favor in the veterinary community, especially for older cats, because it offers a much higher water content than dry food. Hydration is important for all cats, however as a cat ages, she becomes more prone to renal failure, making proper hydration critical. For a cat with painful dental issues or who has a loss in appetite from a deteriorating sense of smell, canned food will keep her nourished and help maintain a better level of hydration. Dr. Hines recommends feeding a variety of flavors of a premium brand of canned food and avoiding feeding only fish-based canned foods, which often use low quality fish products. If you choose to feed your cat canned food, offer at least four meals throughout the day.
Feed to the Need
As your cat ages, she's prone to a variety of illnesses, many of which can impact her dietary needs. Hyperthyroidism, renal failure, diabetes mellitus and hypertension are common diseases among older cats. A cat in renal failure will require a diet with highly digestible protein. If diabetes is an issue, a diet higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbohydrates is often recommended. A hyperthyroid cat's diet may have to be adjusted with treatment, as the new, depressed thyroid often means weight gain. Hypertension often requires a low sodium diet.
Water and Supplements
Senior cats tend to be vulnerable to fatigue and dehydration, as they're often less inclined to seek water. Constipation and dehydration, especially in a cat with renal failure, are two potential problems for the cat not drinking enough water. Keep multiple bowls of water around so your older cat won't have to travel far for a drink. Adding flavoring, such as clam juice or chicken broth, may increase her interest. As well, an older cat may have less interest in eating, perhaps from bad teeth, a decline in her sense of smell or a physical condition. Canned food may goose her appetite a bit, especially if it's served at room temperature and not cold. As long as your cat is eating a balanced diet, supplements aren't necessary. If you have questions about your cat's diet and how it may be impacting her health, discuss potential changes with 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.
- 2ndChance.info: The Special Needs of Older Cats -- Caring for Your Elderly Feline
- WebMD: Feeding Your Senior Cat
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine -- Cornell Feline Health Center: The Special Needs of the Senior Cat
- American Animal Hospital Association: Journal of American Animal Hospital Assocation: AAFP-AAHA Feline Life Stages
- ASPCA: Feeding Older Cats
- PetEducation.com: Nutritional Needs of Senior Cats