As cats age their needs change, they may require more rest – if that’s possible for a cat, fluffier beds, and more regular veterinary care to ensure they remain in the peak of health. One other aspect that needs to be addressed as your furry friend ages is their diet. The right food can make a huge difference to the longevity and vitality of your beloved pet. With that in mind here are our best food picks based on the experiences of countless cat lovers and our own resident pet expert.
Best Cat Food for Older Cats Buying Guide
There are so many great products on the market that buying the right one for your feline companion can seem like an impossible task. Choosing between wet and dry foods, knowing which ingredients are the best, and which added vitamins to look for are just some of the decisions you need to make. However, that is where we are here to help with out guide to the best cat food for older cats.
Special Dietary Requirements for Senior Cats
Senior cats have very specific dietary needs that differ from those of their younger and middle-aged counterparts. Older cats are more susceptible to a range of illnesses and degenerative conditions, as well as just the normal effects of getting old. As cats approach middle age their energy needs decrease, until they reach around 11 years old, then they begin to increase again. This is one of the reasons why good quality protein and complex carbohydrates are essential in older cat food. Other dietary considerations include:
Changes in digestion
Older cats have been shown to have difficulties digesting fat and protein as well as younger cats. This means they are not absorbing the amount of these that they need to maintain good health. Lack of protein can impair their immune system, so to counteract this, older cats need higher quantities of easily digestible fat and protein.
Lower Vitamin Levels
The level of various vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes may decrease as your cat ages. They tend to absorb less of the nutrients they need through the intestinal tract and are more prone to losing them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Oral diseases and age-related tooth loss can also cause older cats to eat less, meaning they may not receive their recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals through food that is not designed specifically for their age. Antioxidants such as vitamins A (beta-carotene), E, and C may play a role in protecting against some aspects of the normal aging process.
Age related illnesses
As with all animals, cats become more prone to various diseases as they age; good nutrition is vital to slowly the progression of such illness and lessening their effect on your beloved pet.
- Increased dietary fiber can support cats suffering from anal gland disease, constipation, colitis, mellitus or diabetes.
- Highly digestible sources of fat, carbohydrates and protein can also reduce suffering from colitis, as well as inflammatory bowel disease and kidney problems.
- Decreased sodium and higher levels of taurine (an amino acid) support cats with heart disease.
- Liquid or canned food is helpful for cats with dental problems.
- Higher omega-3 fatty acid content is recommended for cats with cancer.
Older cats have a tendency to drink less than they should. This can increase the risk of kidney problems and constipation. Flavoring water can help or adding small amounts of warm water to dry food. This can also help encourage reluctant eaters.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Quality Senior Cat Food
Of course, taste is one of your main considerations when choosing a cat food for your senior cat. However, as we discussed above, keeping your cat healthy requires specific nutrition as well as great tasting food. So, here are some factors you need to think about when buying food for your senior cat.
- Understanding Ages
At what point does your cat become a senior or older cat? Generally, it is understood that at around the age of 11 cats stop being classed as adults and begin to be seniors. This is not a hard and fast rule, and there are some differences depending on breed, but it is a good guide when looking at different foods.
- High Protein content
Cats are obligate carnivores and need a diet rich in protein to maintain healthy muscle tone, skin and hair. However, older cats need a higher protein content than younger cats, and it needs to be easily digestible as well as good quality.
- Animal Protein
The source of the protein in your senior cat’s food is just as important as the amount. Animal protein should be your preferred source as it contains some amino acids that cannot be sourced from plants. Animal protein should be the first ingredient on the food’s ingredients list.
- Complex Carbohydrates
Older cats need to source more energy from their food than younger cats. Complex carbs are the best way to achieve this without risking over feeding your feline.
Fiber is essential to maintaining gut health, but the source and type of fiber makes a huge difference to the overall health and weight maintenance of your cat. Look for dietary fiber, rather than insoluble fiber. Dietary fiber contains carbohydrates and nutrients, as well as increasing bulk to support the transit of food through the gut.
- Colors, Flavors and Preservatives
Where possible it is always best to opt for foods that only use natural colors, flavors and preservatives. Not only does this make the food taste, and smell, better, but it is better for your cat’s overall health and wellbeing. Artificial colors and flavors have no nutritional value, and many animal professionals believe that artificial preservatives can actually be harmful to pets over the long term. Opting for foods that clearly state on their ingredients that there are no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors is the best way to avoid artificial ingredients, especially if you are unsure of the compounds you are looking for.
Derived from fruits and vegetables, antioxidants help to reduce the effects of aging in older cats and support general vitality.
- Gluten / Wheat Free?
There are many cat owners and some professionals who are proponents of feeding cats a gluten free diet. In fact, there are those that would go as far as suggesting there should be no grains in a cat’s diet at all as their digestive systems are not designed to process such ingredients. However, whole grain is one of the main sources of complex carbohydrates, along with vegetables – so the argument can become quite complex. There are foods that avoid using gluten rich grains – opting for other cereal crops instead. There are also excellent foods that include wheat and provide the perfect balance of nutrients for older cats. Unless your cat has a specific allergy or stomach complaint, this is really an individual choice.
How Much To Feed Senior Cats
Just as the type of food your cat needs changes as they enter their senior years, so too does the amount of food they need. When considering how much to feed your senior cat, you need to take into account their activity levels, whether they are primarily an indoor cat, any existing health conditions, and their overall state of wellbeing.
Outdoor cats are likely to be more active and therefore need to take in a greater number of calories. They should also be fed a food that is designed for more active and outdoor cats. If your cat is primarily an indoor cat, then they need less calories and food that is designed to meet their needs.
One of the biggest causes of obesity in older cats is feeding treats. All pet lovers want to treat their pets, but with more sedentary older cats it is important to keep treats to a minimum and only feed treats that are meant for cats. Feeding human food not only increases the risk of obesity but can cause other health problems.
The best way to ensure that your cat is getting the right amount of food is to follow the feeding guidelines on the specific food you choose for your pet. Adjust these amounts in small increments to meet your senior kitty’s individual needs and activity levels. And if you are still unsure speak to your veterinarian.
If fed the right high-quality food in the right amounts, your senior cat can go on to have many more years with you. Not only that, but they will maintain their vitality and agility, being able to live out their days happy and in the best of health.