What food or supplements does my senior cat need?

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What food or supplements does my senior cat need?  - A cat sitting on a kitchen counter about to eat from their food bowl

As we see our pet cats begin to show signs of age, it may be tempting to switch to a senior cat diet or add senior cat supplements to their diet. You might be surprised to learn it is not always necessary to do this. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • Is my cat a senior?
  • Does my older cat need a special diet?
  • Do I need to give my senior cat supplements?
  • How much should I feed my older cat?

As cats get older, their nutritional needs and appetite may change due to underlying disease or even just pickiness. It’s just as important to monitor an elderly cat’s weight and diet as it is for younger cats. Veterinarians can help cat owners choose the best food for their cat’s individual needs and offer scientifically supported advice on supplements.

When is my cat considered a senior?

There are five life stages that cats go through: kitten, young adult, mature adult, senior, and end of life. A cat is generally considered a senior after the age of 10 years. However, this can vary between individuals based on breed and overall physical health. Understanding your aging cat’s needs is the best way to provide a great quality of life for their senior years.

Do senior cats need a special diet?

There are many dry and wet foods available on the market for senior cats. The specific nutritional needs of any cat have more to do with its biology, health risk factors, and lifestyle than aging in and of itself. Selecting a diet based on age alone may not be relevant for your individual cat. Instead, it’s best to consult with a vet about the best diet for your elderly feline. Given this, there are multiple cat food formulations that may be best for your cat, regardless of whether they are specifically intended for seniors.

Diets for seniors

Most diets formulated for senior cats have higher levels of fiber and more calories than adult food. It’s not well understood if this particular type of formula has meaningful benefits for aging cats as a group. Your vet can help determine if the senior pet food formula you are interested in might be a good choice for your aging cat. In any case, make sure you check whatever food you are feeding your pets to ensure they are not formulated for an inappropriate life stage. Look for the AAFCO statement on the label of your cat’s food to confirm which life stage the food is appropriate for.

Diets for weight management

Seniors may require more or fewer calories than when they were younger adult cats. Older cats are prone to weight changes that can develop into obesity or unexpected weight loss. Underlying health concerns are often behind unexpected weight loss, while a cat who has joint pain and mobility issues is more likely to become obese if their caloric intake isn’t decreased. If your cat gains or loses weight unintentionally during their senior years, it’s important to connect with a veterinarian to determine whether any medical conditions may have caused those changes. There are foods available to help overweight cats reach their ideal body weight, as well as foods to help underweight cats put on healthy muscle mass.

Disease-specific diets

As cats age, chronic illnesses often develop, many of which benefit from nutritional support. Older cats may also develop picky eating habits, difficulty chewing food, or digestive issues, and sometimes a diet change can help. “Keep in mind changes in your senior cat’s weight or appetite may not be a sign of aging, but illness,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “Don’t assume your cat is just being picky.” It’s always best to check with a vet before making changes to your cat’s diet.

A graphic of the quote above

While old age is not a disease, senior cats are more likely to develop conditions that have specific nutrient requirements. Common health issues in senior cats include:

Every senior cat is unique and has its own needs. A nutrition consult is an excellent way to help determine what nutritional requirements your cat has and how you can meet them with special diets.

Does my senior cat need dietary supplements?

A cat does not need a dietary supplement simply because they have reached their senior years. If your senior cat develops a medical condition, your vet may recommend a supplement as part of the treatment. Evidence proving any benefit from supplements is weak at best, so it’s best to consult a vet before adding a supplement to your pet’s diet. Pet supplements are not regulated like medications are, which means they are not produced with the same level of contamination and quality control. It also means supplements can make it to market without any proof they are effective or safe. Finally, lack of regulation over supplements means even if the supplement is effective, there could be variation in the final product from one batch to another. Your vet can help you shop for supplements that are appropriate for your cat and advise on trusted brands, if your cat needs any to begin with.

Commonly recommended supplements include:

  • Supplements for joint health and support
  • Omega-3 fatty acids to keep skin and coat healthy
  • Probiotics to support digestion and gut health
  • Specific nutrient supplements for deficiencies caused by disease

Even if a specific supplement is considered safe and effective, it may not be necessary for your cat. Talk to a vet before adding supplements to your cat’s diet to ensure their safety, efficacy, and necessity for your cat. Nutritional supplements are usually not needed, especially in cats that are on a balanced diet, eat well, and have no underlying health conditions.

How much food and water does my senior cat need?

It can be confusing trying to calculate exactly how many calories your pet needs every day in order to maintain a healthy weight. A nutrition consult with a vet can be an excellent resource. The amount of food your cat needs every day depends on how many calories they require and the caloric density of their food.

A cat’s individual daily calorie requirements vary based on:

  • Age
  • Size
  • Reproductive status
  • Overall health
  • Activity level

Many senior cats benefit from drinking more water. But as cat owners know all too well, trying to reason with a stubborn, elderly cat often ends in bloodshed. Luckily, there are some modifications you can make to your cat’s home to try and encourage them to drink more, including:

  • Providing multiple water bowls around the home
  • Offering access to water fountains in addition to bowls
  • Switching to wet food
  • Keeping water clean and fresh

These strategies tend to be effective because most cats like to drink fresh, cool water, and many of them prefer to drink moving rather than still water. If you are having difficulty getting your senior cat to drink enough, there might be something else going on. A consultation with an online vet can help identify if your fussy feline might need some additional veterinary attention.

How do I choose the right food for my cat?

Talking to a vet about your cat’s nutrition needs is the first step in choosing the right pet food. Nutritional needs can change quickly in seniors as their bodies change and due to emerging medical conditions that are somewhat expected with advancing age. Always discuss supplements and food changes with a veterinarian to ensure it is a safe choice for your senior cat. Nutritional supplements and additional vitamins are not always necessary, especially if your cat is on a balanced diet, eating well, and has no underlying health concerns.

Nutrition is confusing, especially with so many pet foods and supplements on the market. A virtual vet appointment can help you navigate your cat’s nutrition any time, from the comfort and convenience of home.

FAQ - What food or supplements does my senior cat need?

Should I feed my senior cat wet food?

Many senior cats are perfectly happy with their dry food and kibble. Some cats become pickier eaters as they get older and may prefer wet food. Cats that need to increase their water intake and cats recovering from treatment for painful dental problems may also benefit from canned food over hard kibble.

Is dry food okay for senior cats?

Healthy senior cats who are eating nutritionally complete dry food that’s formulated either for all life stages or for senior cats do not need to have their diet changed simply because they are older. Cats with specific dietary needs may need wet food over dry food to increase their water intake, but dry kibble is a perfectly fine senior cat food option.

What are good dietary supplements for senior cats?

Much like regular foods, your cat’s need for supplements has less to do with their age and more to do with their overall health. Some cats may benefit from supplementation to support healthy joints, skin, and digestive health, such as fatty acids and probiotics. Talk to a vet to choose a safe, effective supplement for your senior cat.

Should I give my older cat supplements?

It is not necessary to give a cat supplements just because of age. A healthy cat on a nutritionally complete diet does not need additional supplementation. Talk with a vet before adding a supplement to your senior cat’s diet.