What Should I Feed an Older Cat?

Preventing obesity is the single most important thing you can do to prolong the life of an older cat. Geriatric cats are less active and may require up to 30 percent fewer calories than do younger cats. If the cat’s diet is not adjusted accordingly, overfeeding will result in weight gain.

If you are feeding canned cat food, divide the daily ration into two or three equal parts and feed them at regular intervals throughout the day. Although canned foods need to be stored in the refrigerator once opened, many geriatric cats will eat better if the food is slightly warmed before feeding. Underweight cats may be better off with three or four meals a day.

Feeding an Older Cat

Feeding an Older Cat

Counting Calories

Unless maintaining a good body weight is a problem, senior cats should be on a reduced-calorie diet. In general, an older cat who is neither too fat nor too thin needs about 20 calories per pound of body weight per day—and sometimes even less—to meet her caloric needs. These are guidelines, and the exact amount needed to keep your cat at an ideal weight may vary. Various health conditions may also dictate that your cat needs more or fewer calories.

If the cat’s diet is not lower in calories, feeding the adult maintenance food in the same amount the cat has had all her life may result in weight gain. However, you do not need to switch your cat to a senior food if she is doing well on her current adult maintenance diet. You may simply need to feed her a little less. The actual amount to feed your senior cat will depend on the individual cat and her activity level, health, and metabolism.

The cat food label will tell you how many calories are in a serving of cat food, and the serving size. Weigh your cat and compute the daily calories required, then determine how much to feed her each day, based on the caloric content of the food. Adjust the amount depending on whether the cat is above or below her ideal weight and whether she is active or sedentary. Cats who lose weight on a calorie-adjusted feeding program may have a medical problem and should be seen by a veterinarian.

Overweight cats should be placed on a weight-loss diet. Before doing so, consult your veterinarian to be sure there are no medical reasons for the obesity and that it is safe to cut back the number of calories. Your veterinarian will provide you with diet instructions.

Older cats should lose weight gradually—no more than 1.5 percent of their initial body weight per week. It is important not to feed table scraps and snacks between meals, as the additional calories can unbalance the cat’s diet. If you offer treats during the day, you need to adjust the daily meal amounts.

When feeding an older cat, it is a good idea to divide the daily ration into several meals spread throughout the day. If your geriatric cat is on a set feeding schedule due to health problems, consult your veterinarian before changing anything.

And remember that older cats are less tolerant of changes in diet, and even of changes in drinking water. When changes are necessary, make them gradually.

Protein Requirements

Since you are feeding an older cat less, it is most important that the food be highly digestible to make sure the cat gets all the nutrients she needs. Protein quality is of particular importance. To ensure that the protein is of the highest quality, look for meat sources of protein in the first ingredients printed on the label.

Although protein is important, a diet too rich in meat produces an increase in nitrogen that must be eliminated by the liver and kidneys. Old cats tend to have reduced kidney function. When given protein in excess of their capacity to excrete it, the blood urea nitrogen level (BUN) rises, and the cat develops uremia or kidney failure. This can happen from adding meat products to an already balanced diet in excess of 10 percent of the total daily ration.

Phosphorus, too, has been shown to accelerate the progress of kidney failure. For cats with kidney failure, a special prescription diet may be recommended.

Since taste and smell diminish with age, the palatability of food becomes increasingly important in encouraging appetite and acceptance. The maintenance food should be supplemented if the cat will not eat enough to maintain body weight.

High-quality supplements suitable for the digestive tract of older cats can be supplied by adding small amounts of white meat chicken, white fish meat, boiled egg, cooked and drained ground beef, and, if the cat does not have lactose intolerance problems, low-fat plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

If the cat does not maintain weight on this diet, add small amounts of fat to increase palatability and supply extra calories. Plain olive or vegetable oil, or fish oils, are good fat supplements. Always consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements to your cat’s diet.

Vitamins and Minerals

Older cats need more vitamins and minerals, because their ability to absorb vitamins through the intestinal tract diminishes as they age. In addition, B vitamins are lost in the urine of cats with reduced kidney function. Calcium and phosphorus incorrect balance (1.2:1) help prevent softening of the bones.

Most high-quality commercial foods for geriatric cats contain added B vitamins and balanced minerals. If you are feeding one of these products, you should not need to add vitamin and mineral supplements. If the cat has an eating problem, however, discuss supplements with your veterinarian.

A food that’s low in magnesium (less than 0.1 percent on a dry-weight basis) is an important consideration for cats suffering from FLUTD. However, low-magnesium diets are not necessarily recommended for all cats.

Antioxidants slow down or prevent the damage done to cells by free radicals. Free radicals are the result of oxidation processes that occur in normal and damaged tissue. A free radical is a molecule that is missing an electron. This molecule basically “steals” an electron from a protein or a piece of DNA, causing damage to that cell. Antioxidants donate a molecule to the free radical, which neutralizes its effects. This also ends the usefulness of the antioxidant, so these substances need to be replaced.

There is some evidence that the accumulation of free radicals accelerates the aging process, and it may even lead to degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis. Although specific proof is lacking, many veterinarians believe antioxidants can benefit older cats. The antioxidants used most often are vitamin E, vitamin C, and co-enzyme Q. You can safely supplement your cat’s diet using an antioxidant product prescribed by your veterinarian.

Special Diets

Prescription diets may be required for cats with heart disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, or obesity. They are available through your veterinarian.

Here are some kind of foods I do a search on Amazon for my older cats, hopefully one of these will be right for your cats:


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