Food For Mature Cats
There are several reasons why a special diet may be needed for an elderly pet. He or she may be less active than a younger animal, and therefore may require fewer calories.
The digestive organs may become less efficient in digestion and absorption, and a highly digestible diet may need to be fed. Phosphorus and protein content may need to be decreased if your pet has kidney problems.
For many pet owners, an aging pet is an old friend in need of a little special care. Taking time to re-evaluate your senior cat's changing nutritional needs is a small kindness you can do for him/her that can have a big impact on your cat's quality of life.
Signs Of Aging In A Cat
- As old cats are often less active, their muscle tone tends to reduce which may further reduce their ability to run, jump and climb. Lack of exercise contributes to the stiffening of joints.
- Frequently older cats suffer from a poor appetite as the senses of taste and smell often deteriorate with age. Teeth problems are common and can discourage eating.
- Bowel function may deteriorate with age, causing problems such as reduced ability to absorb food nutrients. This can lead to weight loss. Some elderly cats suffer from constipation.
- Elderly cats have decreased thirst and they are at risk of becoming dehydrated. This is particularly dangerous in cats with kidney problems.
- Older cats tend to sleep less heavily but more frequently.
- Old cats often have poor coats that may make them less resistant to the cold and wet.
Your cat is considered a senior citizen after the age of ten and many cats live well past 14 years of age, so much of their adult lives may be spent as a "senior." As cats age, their dietary needs change and their energy requirements decrease. A lower calorie, higher protein diet is appropriate to maintain lean body mass and promote a healthy immune system. Dietary antioxidants, including vitamins A and E, have an important role in helping support healthy immune function. A lack of these and other essential nutrients in the diet could result in damage to the wall or membrane of cells throughout the body. Also, some senior cats may develop health conditions that may benefit from special, veterinary-dispensed diets.
If switching foods, gradually mix the new food with the previous food over the course of 7-to-10 days. Some guidelines for feeding your cat during his/her mature years:
• Your cat should be fed a food appropriate for older cats.
• Older pets are often more finicky about what they'll eat and may prefer to eat smaller portions at a sitting. Some have fewer and more sensitive teeth than in their younger days and find it harder to eat food that requires a lot of chewing.
• You should measure the amount of food you give your cat so that you know how much you should increase or decrease the portions if your cat starts losing or gaining weight. This also allows you to monitor food intake, as changes in appetite may indicate a health problem that should be investigated by a veterinarian.
WHAT IT MAY MEAN
• Hyperthyroidism (overproduction of hormones by the thyroid gland); early diabetes; parasites
• Diabetes; kidney disease; hyperthyroidism
• Gum disease; a mouth tumor; broken or diseased teeth
• Colon problems; poor diet; hairballs
• Impaired immune system
Nutrition is increasingly one of the greatest factors cat guardians have some control over when it comes to the health of their senior cat. Yet what constitutes a proper diet for the senior cat remains controversial. This paper is a summary of the latest scientific research and other available data from the veterinary community regarding senior cat diets. Senior cat physiology, disease prevention by dietary means, matching diet to disease, implementing diet adjustments, preservatives, and cat food quality standards are examined. Cat food choices and recommendations from veterinary experts based on the specific medical and behavioral issues of the senior cat will be presented throughout.
Senior Cat Physiology
Like people, a cat's nutritional needs tend to change with age. Cats are generally termed "older" and "senior" once they hit age 7 and labeled "geriatric" once they reach age 10-12.
Physiological changes are the primary reason for changing dietary needs of the senior cat. Organs and tissues deteriorate and become less efficient. Nutrition and nutritional history are major contributing factors to the rate of this deterioration. A decreased thirst response and decreased taste sensation are common in older cats. For this reason veterinarians agree that feeding senior cats food that is highly aromatic and warmed to body temperature to increase its palatability are good practices. Keeping the senior cat hydrated is also important.
Chronic dehydration can exacerbate disease and even reduce the cat's ability to regulate body temperature. Digestibility also affects food intake in older cats and decreases by about 10 percent by the time a cat reaches age 14. Dental problems are quite common and can lead to a lack of appetite, weight loss and abnormal chewing and swallowing behavior. In the worst cases the issues above combine to lead to anorexia and/or dehydration. Oral examinations and the treatment of oral cavity disorders should not be overlooked during regular veterinary visits for they are often one of the greatest contributing factors to morbidity in geriatric cats. Decreased immune response, decreased glucose tolerance, decreased renal function, and several other changes commonly develop with age. However, not all cats will experience these age-associated changes and different rates of aging will occur.
Healthy Senior Cats and Disease Prevention Through Diet
It's important to remember that aging itself is not a disease and that the physiological "slowing down" that occurs with aging is a normal part of the life cycle. Generally agreed upon guidelines for senior cat nutrition include diets that are: nutritionally complete, well balanced, highly digestible and palatable, and with plenty of taurine and potassium. Like some of the other dietary recommendations from veterinarians cited in this paper, this applies to cats of all ages but even more so to the senior cat. But what does "nutritionally complete" and "well balanced" mean for a senior cat?
Some veterinary experts suggest that due to the lack of studies on nutrient requirements of cats in the last third or quarter of their lives, we must base our decisions on dietary history, a physical exam, and diagnostic testing. Veterinarians have yet to develop a "one size fits all" senior cat diet. The task is merely impossible given the enormous diversity of senior cats and their varying health issues.
Obesity and Diabetes
Obesity may be the most common problem among older cats between the ages of 7 and 12. A variety of health problems may result from obesity including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, skin disease, urinary tract disease, and more. Veterinary nutritional experts have yet to come to a consensus regarding what diet is best for the obese feline. Low carbohydrate diets termed "Catkins" have recently gained in popularity but even a low carbohydrate diet will not lead to weight loss if consumed in large amounts. Because cats are carnivores and require a higher level of protein there may be some benefit to the Catkins diet. Studies of obese and diabetic cats show that most cats that were put on low carbohydrate, high protein diets lost weight gradually and about half of the diabetic cats went into remission and no longer needed insulin injections.
|A typical mouse contains 65-85 percent moisture versus typical dry cat foods that contain only 10 percent moisture. Dry foods can contain up to 50% carbohydrates while a mouse generally contains less than 10 percent. Extra carbohydrates mean extra calories and weight gain for most sedentary older cats ages 7-12. Excessive feeding of any food will not result in effective weight control. Yet just like humans, each cat is different and a diet that is right for one obese older cat may be wrong for another. |
Some of the confusion over diet advice may be based on the fact that we are often told that "geriatric" cats need more calories. The problem lies with the definitions. Generally, older cats between the ages of 8 and 12 tend to grow heavier and after age 12 tend to become thinner and metabolically old.
Other recent studies with promising results for the treatment and prevention of obesity and diabetes in cats include cat foods with added supplements of vitamin A, chromium, and carnitine. Reading cat food labels carefully and visiting a veterinarian for geriatric laboratory tests to determine a cat's ideal weight and diet are wise decisions.
Adjusting the Diet
Older cats are less adaptable to changes in their diet. Whether or not dietary changes are even necessary depends on the health status of the individual senior cat. Another consideration is that for cats on medications, dietary intake and nutritional requirements may be affected by interactions between drugs and certain nutrients. It's also important to note that for a sick cat that is supposed to be on a veterinary prescribed diet, it is better for the cat to eat something than nothing at all if the prescribed diet is rejected.
Preservatives in Cat Food
The role of preservatives in cat food has come under fire and is still frequently debated among traditionally-minded veterinary professionals and those with a more "holistic" approach. Preservatives have been blamed for everything from allergies to cancer in cats.
On the other end of the debate are veterinarians and researchers who warn that the lack of preservatives, or so-called "natural" preservatives may cause food to become rancid more easily. Rancid cat food has been linked to cell abnormalities that lead to cancer.
Tailoring the diet to the individual senior cat based on the cat's age (senior versus geriatric), health issues, and veterinary lab diagnostics is key. For healthy cats of all ages: the current trend toward meat-based, high moisture or wet food diets with higher protein and lower carbohydrate content, or diets that imitate the moisture and nutritional content of a cat's typical prey, seem to be gaining a high level of acceptance among many veterinary nutritional experts. It is clear that more research is needed to determine the specific nutritional requirements of senior cats. Perhaps consumer demand for products specialized for the geriatric cat will drive this research as the cat becomes more popular, gains higher status as a pet, and the cat population continues to age.