If your cat is advancing in age, it’s time to reconsider her lifestyle. Diet is an essential component when it comes to taking care of your cat regardless of her life stage, but even more so when she no longer can do stuff that she could in her prime. Here’s what you need to know:
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Senior Cats’ Nutritional Needs
Protein builds lean body mass, and it is the most important macro in a cat’s diet. Too much of it, however, can be hard on the kidneys and can turn into fat. For decades, vets believed that senior cats need less protein. But the latest research has found out that this is not the case. Feeding your senior cat less protein than necessary will lead to having a malnourished pal.
While too much fat is hard on the body, it is an essential macro for cats. In the wild, fat comprises around 30-40% of a cat’s diet. Consuming healthy amounts is key to maintaining your pet’s wellbeing, including her brain function, which can deteriorate with age. Fatty acids such as Omega 3 and 6 are recommended in moderation for senior cats.
Carbs are non-essential to a cat’s diet, and if she had a choice, no more than 10% of her daily calorie intake would come from them. Yet, many commercial formulas are full of carbs because they are a cheap source of energy. This energy, however, lasts only for a short time, causing your cat to eat more. Combine that with decreased activity among elderly cats, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an overweight senior cat.
With age, your cat’s immune system weakens. To make up for it, she’ll need to consume vitamins which help the organism to fight off illnesses. Two of the essential vitamins for senior cats are Vitamin E, which is an immune system booster, and Vitamin B12, which helps with cell reproduction. Just don’t give any supplements to your cat without consulting a vet.
Phosphorus and sodium are two minerals whose consumption should be always monitored. High doses of these minerals might lead to kidney and heart problems. This is why senior cat food formulas usually contain less of the minerals that might put excessive stress on your cat’s organism.
A healthy, mature indoor cat requires about 25-30 Cal per 1 lbs. of weight. Yet, there are no rules on how many calories a senior cat needs. One reason is that senior felines vary in their activity levels. Higher activity = more calories, and vice versa. Certain illnesses also affect how many calories a senior cat needs.
If your furball eats fewer calories than she expends, she’ll lose weight. This might be a good thing if she’s overweight and your vet has suggested limiting her calorie intake. However, when it comes to healthy senior cats, fewer calories means losing lean body mass which is bad for your pet’s health.
“Just right” calorie consumption means that your cat gets enough calories to balance the ones that she expends throughout the day. This way she’ll keep her weight intact – not lose or gain any. Calculating how many calories your senior cat needs depends on her activity level. If she’s still active, she’ll be fine with more calories than an elderly cat that’s not moving all day long.
How many calories are too many depends on your cat’s age and condition. A feline in its prime days can get away with consuming more calories provided that it gets enough activity. With elderly cats, this might be a challenge. Not only do they get tired more easily but they might’ve developed illnesses that keep them from moving too much.
Convenience & Palatability
Senior cats are prone to teeth and gum problems, making it harder for them to chew food. If they find it hard or painful to chew, they’ll eat less and not meet their daily nutritional requirements. A good senior cat formula will come in a consistency that is not hard on your cat’s teeth. When it comes to dry food, this means softer kibbles.
Senior cats also have weakened senses. With limited abilities to smell and taste, they might find their food unattractive. Senior cat food formulas come with stronger smell and flavors to make up for the weakened senses. However, this shouldn’t be at the expense of quality. Food coated with natural flavor enhancing agents is fine, food that contains artificial colorants and flavors is not.
Cats, especially overweight ones, can develop diabetes. Age also plays a factor, with senior cats having slower metabolisms which can deter the organism from properly processing foods with high-glycemic index. If your senior cat has diabetes, your vet will most likely recommend high-protein, low-carb diet.
Problems with the bones and joints mean that your cat will be less active and in some unfortunate cases any movement will be accompanied by pain. A less active cat is prone to getting overweight. Cat food formulas aimed at joint problems will have supplemental micronutrients to strengthen the musculoskeletal system.
Cats are prone to kidney issues, especially as they age. In such cases, protein and phosphorus should be adjusted according to the condition. An excess of either of these nutrients puts a strain on the kidneys, so there are special formulas for cats with kidney problems.
Heart issues are among the more common health problems in cats. It’s no surprise that with age the condition of the heart deteriorates. In such cases, as with humans, sodium intake should be limited to a level that’s appropriate for the specific case.
When the brain doesn’t function properly, the effect spreads quickly throughout the whole body. It is also one of the first organs to bear the signs of aging. To help with your cat’s cognitive functions, formulas high in antioxidants and other brain-supporting nutrients will be suggested by your vet.
The word that no person wants to hear under any circumstances. Diet for cats with cancer consists of nutrients that help the organism to fight off the cancer cells without feeding them. Boosting the already compromised immune system requires antioxidants such as vitamins, minerals and some types of omega fatty acids.
Avoid These in any Cat Food
Avoiding grains, corn, and artificial ingredients is a given for any cat food. There are other things to consider when it comes to choosing a cat food that’s been specially formulated for senior cats. These are also things that you should avoid no matter the age of your cat:
Cats cannot survive on plant proteins, because they are not complete and they have a low-digestibility index. Not being complete means that plant proteins do not contain all nine essential amino acids that your cat needs to survive. Having low-digestibility index means that your cat cannot extract much of the protein from plants. So, a plant-based protein that contains 1 oz of protein that is 50% digestible means that your cat will only get 0.5 oz of protein from it. On top of that, senior cats have slower metabolisms, so their ability to make use of nutrients is further impaired.
Not only do some formulas contain low-quality protein, but they also don’t contain enough of it. Because of the long-held belief that senior cats need less protein, some formulas might even boast about it. Unless your vet has prescribed a low-protein diet stay away from such formulas. This macronutrient is essential for your cat, especially when it comes to senior age.
To offset the low-quality and scarce protein, low-quality manufacturers tend to stuff their formulas with high-carb ingredients known as “fillers.” Grains and potatoes are among the most common fillers in cat food. They provide quick satiety, but one that disappears as quickly. In turn, your cat feels hungry more often and indulges in more fattening food. Provided, there is hardly a formula on the market that won’t include at least potatoes. As we already mentioned, carbs are fine in moderation, but seeing them on the top of the ingredient list is a huge no-no. When it comes to grains and corn, stay away from them, too – not only do they not provide healthy nutritional for your cat, but they are hard on her digestive system.
To make their products more appealing, some companies get quite creative with the ingredient list. Seeing that formula contains the “superfood” tapioca might mistakenly lead you to believe that this is a superior diet. However, most “superfoods” that regularly hit the market are nothing more than a gimmick. When it comes to cats, they are unnecessary and dangerous. Tapioca has become a favorite ingredient for many cat food manufacturers because it’s a cheap source of carbs and has a “superfood” status. So, when choosing food for your cat go for one that sticks to the basics without falling for some marketing mumbo-jumbo.
Best Food for Senior Cats
Food for senior cats should be highly-digestible, with high-quality protein, like meat and eggs. Look for softer kibble, adequate calories, and supplemental Vitamin E, B12 and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Avoid lots of carbs, low-quality meat, grains, artificial and unnecessary ingredients, and high counts of phosphorus and sodium.
In preparing for this post, we didn’t find a formula for senior cats that really stuck out. Here are the three that might work for your cat, though each one comes with a caveat as we will disclose below:
Canidae Pure Meadow’s first three ingredients are chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal. The formula is grain-free and corn-free – two things that we love to see. Canidae’s senior diet also contains Vitamin E and B12 supplements in addition to several other vitamins and minerals that benefit senior cats. Another plus of this formula is its relatively short ingredient list of only eight key ingredients. Keeping it simple is better than using a ton of fillers that do not add nutritional value.
One caveat with this formula is the macro ratio which is less than ideal. When adjusted on dry matter basis (DMB) the Pure Meadow contains 35% protein and 22% fats. This leaves about 40% for carbs.
Wellness Complete Health Senior formula also comes with a shorter ingredient list. Deboned chicken and chicken meal come in the first two places, followed by rice and barley. It’s the latter two that raise a red flag, albeit not like in other brand’s formulas that contained wheat and corn. Wellness’ formula also contains Vitamin E and B12 supplements, so they get a point for this.
Where they lose one, is in the guaranteed analysis. Converted to DMB this formula contains 42% protein and 14% fat. While this formula does have slightly more protein than Canidae’s one, the carbs still come at over 40%. The reason why it came second is the ingredient list – Canidae’s Pure Meadow lists meat as the first three ingredients while this formula’s third component is a plant.
Fromm’s Mature Gold formula lists duck and chicken meal as the first two ingredients and pearled barley as third. In this sense, it doesn’t differ much from Wellness’ Complete Health™ Senior diet. The reason why Fromm’s came third, however, is that after barley, the next two ingredients are rice and potatoes – carb-spiked fillers that are not nutritious for cats.
Fromm’s formula also comes last in terms of guaranteed analysis. When adjusted on DMB the Mature Gold diet contains 33% protein and 11% fat. Because there is no info on how much ash it contains, we are going to assume the standard 5%. This leaves about 45% for carbs.
There are not many formulas on the market that are tailored specifically to senior cats. After we dropped the ones that contained artificial ingredients, corn, and wheat the list got even shorter. As you see, even the remaining formulas are far from ideal. So, if your cat doesn’t have any specific nutritional needs, there is no reason why you can’t feed her quality food for “regular” cats. Like Orijen Six Fish.
Orijen is a premium brand of Canadian cat food. The first nine ingredients in the Six Fish formula are fishes, and the rest of the list is completed by low-carb fruits and veggies. Plus, the Six Fish formula contains Omega 3 and 6 and Vitamin E and B12 – all necessary micronutrients for senior cats.
The guaranteed analysis of Orijen’s Six Fish gets as close as possible to a natural diet. On a DMB this formula contains 47% protein, 22% fat and less than 20% carbs.
On this note, we end this post. When it comes to senior cat nutrition, your best bet is to consult with your vet. Unless your cat suffers from a disease, you have two options – go for a diet formulated for senior cats or chose high-quality food that’s appropriate for all life stages.