Just like their human owners, cats may experience new health challenges as they get older. Cats make the transition from adults to senior citizens between the ages of seven and 11. During this time their dietary and nutritional requirements also change, and may require them to switch to a food specially formulated for older felines. As their pet parent, you can play a vital role in helping your kitty adjust to their new diet.
Why Do Senior Cats Need Different Food?
Senior cats have different energy requirements than younger adult cats, partly due to changes in activity level.
Sedentary Lifestyle Can Lead to Obesity
Older cats may grow more sedentary as they age, and can easily develop obesity if they continue to consume the same amount of calories as when they were active. Obesity is a serious health threat to cats and other pets because it raises risks for diabetes, heart disease, organ failure, cancer, and degenerative joint problems. If obesity or weight gain is a problem for your cat, you may need to reduce portion sizes and/or switch your senior cat to a lower-calorie food.
Even cats that don't grow obese can struggle with osteoarthritis as they get older. Stiff, painful joints can make running, jumping, and playing a challenge. As a result, an active cat may turn into a sedentary one, prompting the need for caloric adjustments. On the other hand, if your cat has passed the age of 11, it may actually need more energy to compensate for nutrient absorption problems. Your veterinarian can help you navigate this tricky balancing act.
High Blood Pressure and Kidney Trouble
Senior cats can also suffer from other age-related diseases and disorders. Your cat may begin to develop high blood pressure and kidney trouble, which calls for a slow-sodium or low-protein diet. Kidney failure can also occur in geriatric cats that don't consume enough water. If your cat currently eats dry food, you should consider switching it to wet food for the extra water content.
How Can You Help Your Senior Cat Adjust to the New Food?
It's one thing for you and your veterinarian to agree that your cat needs a new diet, and quite another to get your cat to play along. To make the transition easier for your kitty friend, both physically and psychologically, you'll want to ease into the new menu gently and carefully.
Gradually Replace One Type of Cat Food With Another
A one-week transition period allows most cats to get used to a senior diet. Here's how the change typically works:
- Days 1 and 2: Replace 25% of your cat's current food with senior cat food.
- Days 3 and 4: Change the ratio so your cat receives an equal mix of his usual food and senior cat food.
- Days 5 and 6: Start feeding your cat 75% senior cat food and 25% regular cat food.
- Day 7 and beyond: With any luck, you should be able to feed your cat a diet entirely consisting of senior cat food.
Slow the Transition if Necessary
Not every cat makes the transition to senior cat food successfully in just one week. Finicky eaters may require more time to adjust to their new diet. Some senior cats' digestive systems may have trouble adapting to the new food if you introduce it too quickly. Watch for symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
If you see any of these warning signs, take a step back and give the transition two weeks instead of just one. If your cat is still having trouble eating the new food, consult your veterinarian.
Pay Attention to Skipped Meals
If your senior cat was eating its previous food eagerly enough but won't touch a senior cat diet, you may just have a picky cat on your hands. In that case, you can try alternative flavors or brands as long as they meet your cat's nutritional needs. However, if your cat seems to have lost its appetite completely, take it to your veterinarian right away for an evaluation. Cats need to eat regularly, and refusal to do so may indicate a serious underlying health problem. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a medication to stimulate your aging cat's appetite.
Help Your Senior Cat Adjust to Wet Food
Although many cats love wet food from the first bite, others can struggle to make the transition from the dry food they've enjoyed for years. Again, a gradual switchover can help your cat adjust.
Cats feel comforted by routine, which is one reason dietary adjustments can prove tricky. Don't change your feeding schedule unless your veterinarian expressly advises it. Keep feeding your cat the same number of meals at the same times of day.
Try to minimize the obvious differences between wet and dry food at first. Let refrigerated wet food warm up to room temperature before serving it. Mix the wet food into the dry food in slowly-increasing proportions until the transition is complete. To help your cat embrace the new routine, you may also want to switch from a traditional feeding bowl to a flat plate. The change in serving vessel can make it easier for senior cats to access their food and lick the plate clean.
Yes, Your Cat Can Grow to Love Senior Cat Food!
Even finicky felines can make the adjustment from ordinary adult cat food to senior cat food -- with the right assistance from their owners. Ask your veterinarian about your elderly cat's specific nutritional needs, then gradually replace the previous food with the new food for a happy, healthy senior cat.