Our cats’ bodies will naturally change as they get older, so it’s no surprise that their nutritional needs shift, too. You may have noticed some “senior” cat foods available at your local pet shop or supermarket, and wondered if they are really worth it? Is it all hype? Or can these diets help us to keep our cats healthier as they enjoy their retirement?
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What kinds of food are available?
There seems to be a dizzying array of different kinds of “senior” cat foods available, both in shops and online. Some of these are generic foods for older cats. But good manufacturers will understand that older cats go through several distinct phases, and so will have more than one kind of “senior” cat food available. Often, these are foods designed for cats around seven to ten years of age; and then others that are designed for those that are over eleven or twelve years old.
Mature Cat Food (7 years plus)
Much like in humans, middle-age is the time when cats are at the highest risk of becoming overweight or obese. There are several different reasons why this happens, including changes in their metabolism, and generally being less active than when they were younger.
“Seven Plus” senior cat foods are designed to help cats who are at this stage of life. They still have high levels of good-quality protein to help them maintain their muscles but are generally lower in calories than regular adult cat foods. This is to try and help prevent any weight gain.
Most cats who are over seven years old will benefit from being on one of these kinds of diets unless your vet has recommended something different.
Senior Cat Food (11 Years Plus)
As cats get older, their bodies become less good at digesting food – particularly the fats and the proteins. This can mean that they will find it harder to get energy from their food, and can start to lose weight as a result. These changes to cats’ digestion often start to occur around eleven or twelve years of age, though it can vary.
Diets marketed as “11+” or “12+” are usually made to try and help these cats to stay healthy. They still contain plenty of high-quality protein but are usually more calorie-rich than the “7+” diets. They may also contain slightly more carbohydrates; as these are an energy source that is easier for old cats to digest. Carbohydrates are not a natural part of cats’ diets in the wild. But there is good evidence that a moderate amount of carbohydrate in their food has no ill effects and can be a useful source of energy for our ageing friends.
This energy-rich, digestible food is easier for old cats to use. It can also help both to keep their fat reserves in place and keep their muscles in good condition. However, as we mentioned earlier, not all cats will have these changes to their digestion at the same time. Some cats might start losing weight around nine years old. Whereas other cats will still be at risk of becoming overweight when they are fourteen years old.
Many “11+” diets also are specially formulated to help maintain other aspects of your cat’s health. For example, they may be designed to protect their ageing kidneys, as chronic kidney disease is very common in the elderly; or containing ingredients for joint support.
This means that it is not only important to look at a cat’s age, but also their general health, when deciding which food to feed them. If you are unsure which sort of food would be best for your ageing cat, speak to your vet for further advice.
Prescription Cat Food
Sadly, the older our cats get, the more likely they are to develop health conditions. Some illnesses are treated with changes to their food. So it is common for older cats to need “prescription diets” as part of their treatment. These foods do not actually require a prescription to buy, but should only be used if they have been recommended by a vet.
Examples of prescription foods that might be recommended for senior cats include:
- Renal diets – these are the best food for your cat if they have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease
- Gastrointestinal diets – to help cats with sensitive stomachs
- Urinary diets – to help cats who are prone to stress-related cystitis, or who have had issues with crystals or stones in the urine.
Senior diets can be a great way to support your cat as they age. However, not every diet is the same, and not all cats need the diet that their age suggests. It’s important to consider our cats’ general condition, rather than just their age, when we are deciding which foods to feed them. If you are unsure how to feed your cat as they age, then speak to a vet or nurse at your local practice for more advice.