As cats age, their dietary requirements change significantly. Just like humans, senior cats need specialised nutrition to maintain their health and thrive as long as possible whether that’s due to biological changes they experience or to support behaviour and cognitive changes that come with ageing. You may be surprised to hear that 44% of cat owners have a senior cat, but only 24% of them feed their cat senior food.
In this article, we will look at why senior cats require different nutrition, identify three key changes that occur as cats age, discuss three essential ingredients and considerations when buying food for senior cats, and highlight at what time it’s time to talk to a vet.
Why senior cats need different nutrition
Cats, whether young or old, are obligate carnivores, meaning their diet primarily consists of animal-based proteins and they require certain amino acids only found in animals such as taurine and arginine. However, as cats age, their bodies undergo various changes that result in a shift in their nutritional intake. Understanding these changes is essential for providing the best care for your senior cat.
1. Slower metabolism:
One of the most significant changes in senior cats is a slower metabolism. As cats age, their metabolic rate decreases, which can lead to weight gain and reduced energy levels. To combat these effects, senior cats require a diet that is lower in calories and fat while maintaining appropriate protein levels. Nutritional additives such as the amino acid L-carnitine can also help with this. L-carnitine is proven to increase metabolism in cats and is added to some cat food.
2. Reduced muscle mass:
Muscle loss is common in older cats. Decreased physical activity and changes in the way their bodies metabolise protein contribute to muscle wasting. To counter this, senior cat foods should contain higher levels of easily digestible, high-quality protein to help maintain muscle mass.
3. Decreased kidney function:
Senior cats are more prone to kidney disease or reduced kidney function. This is called Chronic Kidney Disease or CKD. To support their ageing kidneys, it's crucial to provide a diet with controlled levels of phosphorus and enhanced hydration. Kidney-friendly ingredients are key to preventing kidney issues in ageing cats.
Three key ingredients or considerations when buying senior cat food
Choosing the right food for your senior cat is vital for their overall health and wellbeing. Here are three key ingredients and considerations to keep in mind when purchasing food for your ageing cat:
1. High-quality protein:
Protein is essential for cats, and senior cats require a sufficient amount to maintain their muscle mass and overall health. Look for senior cat foods that list a high-quality animal protein source, such as chicken or fish, as the first ingredient. This ensures that your cat receives the necessary amino acids for muscle maintenance.
2. Controlled Phosphorus Levels:
Phosphorus control is crucial for senior cats, especially those with kidney issues. Excessive phosphorus can strain the kidneys and worsen renal function. Seek cat food brands that have lower phosphorus levels to reduce the risk of kidney problems. In addition to dry food, wet cat food can be beneficial, as it often contains higher moisture content, which helps with hydration and kidney health.
3. Joint support ingredients:
Arthritis and joint issues become more common in older cats. Look for cat foods with added joint support ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin. These components can help maintain joint health and mobility, ensuring your senior cat remains active and comfortable.
When to seek help from a vet
While choosing the right food for your senior cat is essential, it's equally important to be vigilant about their overall health. Regular vet check-ups are crucial as your cat ages and remember that a nutritional assessment should always form part of a routine vet visit, so if your vet doesn’t offer it please ask them to perform one (not to say that they wouldn’t do it on purpose, but they may be short on time or forget). Here are some signs that indicate it's time to consult your vet:
1. Weight changes:
Keep an eye on your senior cat's weight. Both sudden weight gain and unexplained weight loss can be indicative of underlying health issues. Your vet can help you determine the cause and provide guidance on dietary changes or medical treatment.
2. Changes in appetite:
If your senior cat suddenly loses interest in food or experiences a significant increase in appetite, it could be a sign of an underlying health problem, such as dental issues or organ dysfunction. Consult your vet to rule out any serious conditions.
3. Increased thirst and urination:
Frequent drinking and urination can be indicative of kidney issues, diabetes, or other health concerns. Monitoring your cat's water intake and litter tray habits is crucial. If you notice any drastic changes, consult your vet immediately.
4. Lethargy and behavioural changes:
A lack of energy, increased sleep, or unusual behavioural changes should not be ignored. These can be signs of various health problems, including pain, arthritis, or cognitive dysfunction. Your vet can provide guidance on managing these issues.
5. Dental Problems:
Dental issues can be particularly troublesome for senior cats. Dental disease can affect their ability to eat and overall well-being. If you notice signs of dental problems such as bad breath, drooling, or reluctance to eat, consult your vet for a dental examination and potential treatment.
In conclusion, understanding the unique nutritional needs of senior cats is essential for maintaining their health and quality of life. As cats age, their metabolism, muscle mass, and kidney function change, making it vital to choose the right senior cat food that addresses these issues. High-quality protein, controlled phosphorus levels, and joint support ingredients are key considerations when selecting cat food for senior cats. Additionally, regular vet visits and attentive monitoring of your cat's health are essential for addressing age-related health concerns promptly. By providing proper nutrition and medical care, you can ensure your senior cat enjoys a comfortable and happy life.
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