In the past 20 years, cat owners have stepped up their game by keeping kitties inside and providing good preventive health care and as a result, cats are living longer, healthier lives. Nobody knows for certain how many golden oldie kitties there are in Canada, but one study in the United States reported that between 33 and 42 percent of pets are 7 years of age or older.
That’s a lot of senior citizens!
Feline nutrition is always interesting to me, as it is vastly different than dog and human nutrition. But aging cat nutrition is even more interesting, often tricky, and because of the uptick in senior kitties, a relatively booming area of research in veterinary medicine. With cats living longer and longer, veterinarians are taking a good hard look at just how their nutritional needs differ from youngsters.
As cats age and pass through different life stages from growing kitten to senior citizen, nutrient requirements change. Age affects digestion as well, and while factors such as gut microbes, digestive hormones, gut immunity, gut structure and nutrient digestibility are modified as the cat gets older, to what extent science has yet to determine.
Due to several factors, such as decreased appetite from dental disease or reduce ability to see or smell and taste food, cats over the age of 12 have a harder time maintaining an ideal body weight. Cats, of course, like to be tricky.
In general, a high quality, highly digestible diet is an important part of any older kitty’s health care because many senior cats appear to exhibit quite a marked reduction in their ability to digest macronutrients efficiently, particularly fat. Because this reduces the overall capacity to obtain energy from the diet, veterinarians generally recommend that old cats should not routinely be offered reduced energy diets but should instead have access to high quality, highly digestible diets. If you notice your elderly cat has lost weight, the first thing to do is take your kitty in to see your local veterinarian to rule out common causes of weight loss in older cats, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and dental disease. If everything is normal, there is a couple of things you can try to get entice your fussy kitty to eat:
Try warming the food slightly - cats often enjoy the warmth and pungent aroma of warmed canned food.
Feed your cat smaller amounts more frequently and in shallow bowls.
Some kitties prefer you hang out and pet them while they eat.
As cats age, they also have a diminished thirst reflex that can lead to dehydration and other health problems, and to protect their urinary tract system, it is important that they derive some of their moisture from their food. Elderly cats are more prone to dehydration and fatigue than younger animals. They are less likely to get up and seek out water and many have weakened organs that do not tolerate dehydration well, so keep several bowls of water out for your older cat. Older healthy kitties thrive on food that is high in moisture and protein, which is why supplementing with a high quality canned diet is a wonderful way to support hydration in your older healthy cat.
Older kitties are less able to cope with stress and change, which makes these senior citizens at higher risk for stress-related diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease and certain lower urinary tract disorders. There is strong evidence emerging that older cats supplemented with antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and a prebiotic source benefit with better health and longevity. Talk with your veterinarian about a quality whole foods supplement for your cat, and may your kitty live to a ripe old age!