As your cat gets older, their body changes – which means their diet and the way you feed them needs to change too. From about the age of 11, your cat is considered ‘senior’ and requires different nutrients than in the earlier stages of its life.
What’s happening in your cat’s body as they age?
As you cat gets older, and from the age of about 11 years old, you’ll notice outward signs that their body and behaviour is changing.
They may sleep more or behave differently – such as being less sociable or vocalising more. You might notice their skin and coat becomes less silky, or gets whiter. As their joints age, they may be less able to walk steadily, jump up or groom themselves.
Internally, your cat’s bodily functions are slowing down. Their immune system is less effective, as is their digestion. Dental problems, such as teeth wearing down or gum disease, can affect their appetite as it may be painful for them to eat; this in turn can cause weight loss. Their ability to smell, taste and hear also becomes less acute, and their resistance to stress decreases.
Your cat may also begin to suffer from common conditions in senior cats, such as kidney disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis or hyperthyroidism, although these can be alleviated with the right diet and medication.
What impact does ageing have on your cat’s nutritional needs?
Because your cat’s physical abilities are changing, it needs different nutrition from any other time in its life.
It now takes their digestive system more effort to digest and absorb nutrients from their foods, particularly fat and protein. Dental and digestive issues also mean your cat might find it hard to eat or chew the food it’s previously consumed, so softer, mousse-like textures can be easier for them to eat.
A decreased ability to smell and taste can affect appetite, so their food needs to be particularly palatable so they’re more likely to eat it and therefore continue to get the nutrients they need.
What specific nutrients does a senior cat need?
To support their health and slow down the progression of diseases associated with ageing, your senior cat’s diet should include specific nutrients. For instance, glucosamine, chondroitine and free fatty acids like EPA/DHA, together with green-lipped mussel extract, help to increase mobility in ageing cats. Veterinary diets dedicated to improving mobility in cats have seen improvement and decreased pain after 1 month of dietary treatment.
Digestive impairments can be alleviated with precisely formulated diets and the right selection of high-quality nutrients. Highly digestible proteins, for instance, help support digestion in mature cats. Beet pulp can have a beneficial prebiotic effect, while omega 3 fatty acids, EPA/DHA, help maintain digestive health.
Older cats can suffer with chronic kidney disease and urinary problems. Phosphorus restriction in the diet of a predisposed mature cat may help to delay the appearance of the condition. Phosphorus is one of the first elements to build up to toxic levels in the blood in cats suffering with renal disease. Wetter foods or those which help increase your cat’s water intake are also beneficial, as these increase the volume of urine your cat passes and in turn lowers the risk of mineral ‘stones’ forming.
For a senior cat, there are four aspects to their diet: for it to be easy to digest, to be complete and balanced, to maintain their wellbeing, and to slow down the processes associated with ageing. Speak to your vet for more advice on which specific food is the best choice to fulfil all four of these requirements for your senior cat.