We always want the best for our cats, and as they get older, that could mean changing their diet. Food for older cats may provide the nutritional tweaks needed for a healthy life.
In this article, we look at the nutritional needs of older cats, what senior cat food is and when to switch diets. We also discuss whether a wet or dry diet is better for your feline and what to look for in senior cat food. Finally, we review our top five cat foods for older cats.
The Nutritional Needs of an Older Cat
Cats live longer, healthier lives than they used to, with better nutrition and preventative veterinary care contributing to your cat’s life longevity.
Like us, cats endure different stages within their lifetime. The following life stages have been identified and categorized by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP):
- Kitten: Birth up to 1 year
- Young adult: 1 to 6 years
- Mature adult: 7 to 10 years
- Senior: 10 years and older
Your cat’s nutritional requirements will alter several times during its life due to the physical differences that come with aging. Their diet may need adjusting to cater to these changes so that they can enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
An incredible 35-40 percent of cats in the United States are over the age of seven. When cats become mature adults, they can often gain weight as calorie requirements decrease. However, once they enter the senior phase, their energy requirements increase due to a reduced ability to digest protein and fat. These changes can result in weight loss.
It is essential to recognize when your cat’s body and muscle condition is changing. Preventative care and proper nutrition can help your senior cat maintain a healthy weight and muscle. It can also alleviate the risk of health issues such as osteoarthritis, cancer, and kidney disease.
We regularly need to decrease a mature cat’s calorie intake to prevent excessive weight gain as they get older. However, a senior cat usually needs increased calories to maintain a healthy weight and lean muscle mass.
Portion control is vital when it comes to feeding your senior cat. Cat food does come with feeding instructions, but these don’t suit every cats’ needs. Consult your veterinarian if you need help adjusting your cat’s feeding regime.
What is Senior Cat Food?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines the nutritional requirements for kittens and adult cats. There are no dietary profiles for older cats, and there isn’t much difference between adult and senior cat food. The main difference is that senior foods usually contain slightly more fiber to aid digestion.
Therefore, if your cat is doing well on its usual diet, there is no reason for you to switch foods.
When Should I Give My Cat Senior Food?
Changing your cat’s diet is dependant on each feline. Some senior cats will have health issues that may require a specialized diet, not just senior cat food. Health problems such as kidney disease, allergies, hyperthyroidism, and heart disease are among the issues that may require a diet change.
If your cat isn’t suffering from any health problems, keep a close eye out for physical changes like:
- Age: The most apparent sign is age. Many cats will need a change in diet at around seven years old and again at approximately 11 years old. This is because of a change in metabolic rate and the need for extra fiber to aid digestion.
- Dull coat and flakey skin: If your cat’s skin becomes irritable and isn’t caused by allergies, your cat’s food may not provide enough fatty acids. Senior foods usually should contain more fats that help maintain skin and coat and aid joint health.
- Weight loss or gain: A decrease in weight may indicate that your cat’s regular diet isn’t providing them with enough calories anymore. In comparison, if your cat is putting on weight, they may need low energy, high fiber diet.
Always consult your veterinarian if you’re considering changing your cat’s diet.
Is Dry or Wet Cat Food Better for Older Cats?
As cats get older, their teeth and gums may find wet food easier to manage. Wet cat food consists of more animal proteins and fats suited to a felines’ natural diet. There are also fewer carbohydrates in wet cat food, which is excellent as carbs are difficult to digest.
Canned food is full of hydration, whereas dry food contains very little moisture, which can lead to dehydration. Moisture content is crucial for cats as they tend not to drink a lot of water.
Dehydration increases the risk of cats developing urinary tract infections and kidney problems. If you feed your cat on dry cat food, add water to their meal or supplement their diet with wet food.
Not only does wet food provide your cat with more moisture, but it also makes mealtimes more enjoyable. It generally tastes and smells better for your feline.
Another reason it may be better to feed your older cat a canned cat food is if they are suffering from dental problems.
Several dental diseases are common in cats, including gingivitis and periodontitis. These diseases can cause extreme pain and discomfort, and your cat may be reluctant to eat or eat food in a strange way. Cat foods with a pate texture are excellent in situations such as this.
Although wet cat food seems far more beneficial than dry cat food, it is more expensive and harder to maintain. Dry cat foods are generally cheaper and fantastic at supporting oral health. However, it’s higher in carbohydrates, leading to an increased risk of health problems such as diabetes and obesity.
Feeding your cat a combination of wet cat food and dry cat food allows you to give them the benefits of both worlds. It also leaves your pocket feeling a little happier.
What to Look For in a Senior Cat Food
The AAFCO Statement
AAFCO aims to protect consumers by providing nutritional, labeling, and ingredient requirements for manufacturers to follow. Check the packaging for the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement, so you know that your cat’s meal is nutritionally complete and balanced.
AAFCO test the food or complete a formula check to confirm the pet food is nutritionally adequate. A feeding test requires the food to be tested on live animals to check digestibility and nutrient absorption. A formula check compares the nutritional analysis of the ingredients against the AAFCO nutritional profiles.
Manufacturers will label their foods according to the life stage it’s aimed at, and the calorie content will differ between them. However, although AAFCO has nutrient profiles for kitten and adult cat maintenance, they fail to mention senior cats. Therefore, nutrient profiles can vary dramatically.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need animal-based protein in their diet. Felines can’t synthesize amino acids such as taurine and arginine; they need to obtain them from meat. Cats also need these essential vitamins such as niacin, vitamin A, and vitamin D from the meat in their diet.
Look for sources such as chicken and beef rather than meat by-products.
Meat by-products can contain animal organs, bone, blood, and fatty tissues. These are non-rendered and used as a cheap alternative source.
You may also come across meat meals. These are rendered and dried before being added to pet foods, and they can be an excellent source of concentrated protein.
The AAFCO recommends a minimum of 26 percent protein on a dry matter basis for adult cat maintenance. However, studies have shown that cats consistently fed less than 40 percent protein lose lean muscle mass over time.
Older cats aged 12 years and over require more protein in their diet. Unfortunately, due to common health risks such as kidney disease, many diets for older cats contain reduced content. Unless your cat has been recommended a protein-restricted diet, there is no need to reduce it.
The nutritional analysis on pet food packaging is printed on an ‘as fed’ basis. AAFCOs nutritional profiles are on a dry matter basis; this means water isn’t taken into account.
Dry matter calculators like this one help calculate the macronutrients such as protein, fats, and carbohydrates in your cat’s diet.
Highly Digestible Ingredients
As cats get older, they become less efficient at digesting food. To help them cope with this decline in efficiency, check that their diet is full of easily digestible ingredients. Cats find meat proteins much easier to digest than grains. Make sure the first ingredient in your cat’s food is a meat source.
High Moisture Content
Water is the most important nutrient in your cat’s diet. As discussed earlier in this article, cats don’t drink a lot, so it’s crucial to aid hydration. You can assist water intake by providing wet cat food or adding water to dry cat food. You could also encourage your cat to drink by giving access to a drinking fountain as they usually prefer running water.
Underweight senior cats will require a calorie-dense formula. Veterinarians occasionally recommend kitten food to senior cats that are severely underweight due to its high calorie and fat content.
Cats that are overweight will need a restricted-calorie diet that’s high in fiber and low in fat. This diet needs to be combined with a strict feeding schedule and portion control.
Cats can’t synthesize essential fatty acids, so they need to obtain them from food. Dietary fats are derived from animals, plants, and seed oils. They contain essential fatty acids that keep your cat’s skin and coat, provide energy, and aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
They can also reduce inflammation which can alleviate joint pain, and clinically benefit heart and kidney disease.
Cats require several minerals in their diet; calcium, chlorine, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc. If a cat food carries the AAFCO statement, these minerals should be present in the recommended amounts.
Low Phosphorus Levels
Older cats are at a higher risk of kidney problems, and phosphorus can exacerbate symptoms. Although senior cats need phosphorus in their diet, excess phosphorus in the bloodstream can cause other health issues. Some senior cat foods will contain restricted phosphorus levels to avoid overworking your older cat’s kidneys.
Reviews of Best Cat Food For Older Cats
Hill’s Science Diet is nutritionally complete and balanced dry food for your senior cat, aged 11 and over. It comes in resealable bags ranging from 3.5-pounds to 15.5-pounds.
This recipe is produced with easily digestible, natural ingredients such as chicken and whole-grain wheat to support your cat’s maturing stomach. It contains chicken fat and fish oil, providing omega-3 and -6 to keep your cat’s skin and coat healthy, also aiding joint care. These fats also give this dish a great taste.
The kibble pieces are small and brittle, making it easy for your senior cat to manage and digest.
Hill’s Science Diet is excellent value for money and can be complemented with their wet food range. Unfortunately, it is low on protein, providing only 30.4 percent on a dry matter basis. Although AAFCO recommends a minimum of 28 percent, higher levels are desirable for cats above 11.
- Quality protein.
- Contains omega-3 and -6.
- Easy to manage pieces.
- No artificial ingredients.
- Low protein content.
- Low moisture content.
Royal Canin Aging, thin slices in gravy, is a wet cat food that meets the needs of senior cats. This food comes in six, 12, or 24 packs of 3-ounce pull-top cans. It has been specially formulated and nutritionally balanced to support optimum feline health.
It contains omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and glucosamine to maintain your cat’s skin, coat, and joint health. Pork plasma is used as a binder in this formula; it’s high in protein and supports the digestion of other ingredients.
This recipe also has added vitamins, minerals, antioxidants to aid the immune system and limited phosphorous to help support kidney health. It’s also high in moisture, highly digestible, and the thin slices make it easy for your senior cat to manage. Although some consumers said their cats found it challenging to chew.
This cat food contains pork by-products as the first ingredient, which is undesirable. But, it also includes chicken, chicken liver, and pork liver, giving a minimum of 47.5 percent protein on a dry matter basis.
- Contains fatty acids.
- Added vitamins and minerals.
- Includes antioxidants.
- Reduced phosphorus.
- High moisture content.
- Contains pork by-products.
Blue Buffalo Healthy Aging, chicken and brown rice, is a nutritionally complete and balanced diet for older cats aged seven plus.
You can purchase as a bundle that contains a 7-pound bag of dry food and a 24 pack of Blue Buffalo’s Tastefuls in 3-ounce cans. This package is excellent value for money and allows you to try combination feeding with one quick purchase.
Deboned chicken is the first ingredient in this product to promote healthy muscle. Protein on a dry matter basis is 35 percent for the dry food and 38 percent for the canned cat food.
Both recipes are free from corn, wheat, soy, and artificial flavors and preservatives. They’re also full of fiber which aids your older cat’s digestive system. Blue buffalo’s LifeSource bits contain a precise blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support immunity.
The dry cat food is in small manageable pieces, although some consumers say the LifeSource bits are a little challenging. The wet cat food is a smooth pate high in moisture and incredibly easy for older cats to lap up.
- Quality protein.
- Highly digestible.
- Contains antioxidants.
- Excellent blend of vitamins and minerals.
- LifeSource pieces can be challenging to manage.
Purina Pro Plan comes in a 24 pack of 3-ounce pull-top cans. It’s nutritionally complete and balanced for your senior cat. Unlike many cat foods on the market, this food has undergone feeding trials set by AAFCO. Feeding trials are often seen as superior to the formula check.
On a dry matter basis, protein levels are 45.5 percent; it’s sourced from salmon, liver, chicken, and tuna. It also contains meat by-products which will provide some desirable nutrients. However, the quality is questionable, and we’re not given the details of the meat source.
This formula is high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that give your cat’s coat a glossy shine and aid skin and joint health. It’s also full of vitamins and minerals to help support your cat’s immune system.
- High in omega-3 and -6.
- Contains meat by-products.
Nulo Freestyle is a nutritionally complete and balanced meal for your older cat. This food is an excellent option if you’re looking for a grain-free diet. It’s a dry cat food that comes in several sizes ranging from 4-pound to 14-pounds.
This recipe is rich in animal-based protein sources, including pollock, chicken meal, turkey meal, salmon, and deboned duck. It contains a minimum of 42.2 percent protein on a dry matter basis. It’s a lower-calorie diet perfect for cats who begin to put on a little weight in their old age.
Nulo’s patented probiotic and taurine help support digestion and immunity health. While pollock, chicken fat, and salmon oil provide omega fatty acids to maintain skin, coat and joint health.
Grain is replaced with carbohydrates such as peas and lentils; these are highly digestible and full of energy.
Many consumers say their cats adore this food and find the small kibble pieces easy to manage. But some pickier felines won’t eat it.
- Quality protein.
- High protein content.
- Contains probiotics.
- Contains omega fatty acids.
- Some cats won’t eat it.
- Low moisture content.
Can I Suddenly Change My Cats Food?
Changing your cat’s food should be done gradually over a minimum of one week. Slowly transitioning your cat’s diet helps to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Check out these general guidelines for switching foods by the Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University.
How Often Should I Feed My Senior Cat
It’s been suggested that you split your cat’s daily food portion into at least two meals. Some older cats don’t like to be overwhelmed with large amounts of food, and they may require feeding little and often. It’s okay to provide your cat with more meals throughout the day but stick to the daily food intake recommended by your vet.
Do Senior Cats Need Less Protein?
The most critical nutrient in a cat’s diet, after water, is protein. Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, an expert in feline nutrition, states that senior cats need more protein than kittens.
Veterinarians often recommended low protein diets for cats with kidney disease as they thought high protein posed a risk to kidney function. However, protein is no longer considered the issue; they now believe phosphorus levels are responsible for causing kidney damage.
Should I Give My Cat Vitamins and Supplements?
If you’re feeding your cat a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, there should be no need to provide vitamins and supplements. If you think your cat may need supplements, consult your veterinarian. Feeding your cat with excessive vitamins can be dangerous.
Overall, our best cat food for senior cats is Royal Canin Aging. This food for older cats is high in protein and contains a superb balance of nutrients.
Royal Canin’s recipe is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support immune system health. This formula restricts phosphorus to aid kidney health, and the ingredients are highly digestible perfect for older felines.
Our runner-up is Blue Buffalo Healthy Aging. This food contains excellent quality proteins to promote healthy muscle mass. Blue Buffalo’s signature LifeSource bits are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support immunity.
It’s also loaded with natural fibers to aid digestion and comes with a complementary we food for great hydration.
Health begins with nutrition, and we hope we’ve helped you find the best food for your faithful old feline friend. Long live our cats!