How Much To Feed Your Senior Cat
Most cats are considered seniors by the time they reach 10 or 11 years of age. Still, many cats now live to 20 or more. Living indoors minimizes daily risks while improved veterinary care and nutrition have all contributed to a longer lifespan with good quality of life for many senior cats.
Most senior cats will have about the same caloric needs as an adult cat—roughly 280 to 360 daily calories depending on the normal lean weight — as long as they are healthy. Some older cats will actually have an increase in energy requirements. That increase may be due to a decrease in the ability to digest and utilize calories or it may be due to health problems that are commonly seen in senior cats.
Use your cat’s food label to calculate how much you need to feed to meet his caloric requirement. Most cat food has calorie counts on the packaging. Initially, it’s best if you weigh out the daily meals. That will help you feed precise amounts.
While cats can use carbohydrates, a diet with a high level of protein is important. That protein must be of high quality with all the necessary amino acids present. Meat protein is generally the best choice for senior cat foods.
You might want to consider a diet especially designed for senior cats. These foods tend to be energy dense and highly digestible to compensate for older cat metabolism. Look for increased levels of antioxidants to slow down aging. Some diets will also include supplements to help with worn-out joints and to combat arthritis.
Certainly, senior cats who are overweight need to diet a bit, but obesity in cats is seen more commonly in adult cats. Weight loss is a much bigger problem for most seniors. It is important to do an at home body and muscle condition evaluation of your senior cat at least monthly, if not twice monthly. This is especially important for long-haired cats whose luxurious coats may hide significant weight loss.
Assuming you have the calorie count correct for your cat’s normal weight, what are problems that might contribute to weight loss or a lack of interest in food? Dental problems are high on the list of minor but potentially serious problems that may lead to a loss of appetite in your cat. Think about how much a toothache hurts you. It will hurt your cat just as much. Broken teeth, cavities and severe gingivitis are all dental problems that can stop a cat from eating the nutrients he needs. Be sure to have your cat’s mouth thoroughly evaluated on his twice-annual checkups. He may need a full veterinary dental workup and cleaning.
Yes, I did say twice annual. Once your cat reaches senior status, it is important to have regular checkups. Just as a kitten can go from healthy to in trouble quickly, so can a senior cat. They also have fewer reserves and often have underlying health problems that contribute to weight loss. Regular blood work can often detect problems early on.
While it is important for all cats to have fresh water available at all times, it is especially important for older cats. Feline kidney disease can be a silent killer that creeps up on an older cat. Drinking and flushing out toxins helps to keep kidney problems at bay. If your older cat is drinking less than he should there are ways to tempt him. Consider adding the juice from tuna canned in water to his water bowl. Some cats are attracted to moving water — a slow drip faucet or a pet fountain may be the stimulus for more drinking. Also, your veterinarian may recommend a move from dry to canned food if you have been feeding dry food.
Both feline kidney disease and feline diabetes may show up as your cat drinking more water than usual. At the same time, a cat with diabetes may seem ravenous and will eat more than usual while losing weight. The same symptoms can be seen in hyperthyroidism. Both conditions are treatable and respond best if caught early.
Health problems such as feline kidney disease and feline diabetes are partially managed by diet. Your senior cat may need a prescription diet to help manage his illness. Always do diet changes gradually. Mix in the new food at a ratio of 25 percent new to 75 percent old at first. After a few days shift to 50/50. Then go to 75 percent new and 25 percent old before going to all new.
If you can’t find a medical reason for your older cat to be losing weight, work on ways to encourage him to eat more. Try warming up his food. That will increase the odors that attract cats to eat. An older cat who can’t smell very well anymore is often unlikely to eat. Add “smelly” things like tuna juice to his food. Consider trying a different flavor of his favorite foods. There are medical appetite stimulants your veterinarian can try, but if you can get your cat to eat on his own, that is even better.
Our senior cats are treasures, and every day with them is a gift. They rely on us to help keep them well-fed and healthy, so make sure you are feeding your senior cat the right amount of calories and monitoring his eating habits.
By: Dr. Deb M. Eldredge