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Caring for your senior cat

As cats get older, their nutritional requirements start to change. In general, cats of seven years and older start taking life a bit easier. They start to become less active, spend more time indoors and have a slower metabolism, so can be prone to gaining weight. Equally as they reach their geriatric years, illness and blunting of the senses of taste and smell mean it can be hard to maintain a good body condition. In their senior years more than ever cats need a high quality, palatable diet with easy to digest protein and a careful balance of key nutrients.

Cats spend roughly 40% of their lives as seniors, so it's important they eat the right food to stay in good health. A good senior diet provides concentrated, high quality, protein, controlled levels of fat and easy to digest carbohydrates for energy. Key minerals support ageing joints, and vitamins, along with proteins, help support the aging immune system.

Senior cat foods

Depending on veterinary advice and underlying medical conditions it is generally recommended to move older cats onto a specially formulated senior cat food in preference to a normal ‘adult’ cat food as they age. Manufactured senior cat foods provide high-quality protein and may also contain lower levels of phosphorus which may be beneficial to cats with kidney problems, plus added vitamin E to strengthen the natural defences. Senior cat food also contains fewer calories, helping to maintain an optimum body weight as activity levels drop. So your cat can continue to enjoy mealtimes to the full without compromising on the essentials.

As cats age their senses of smell and taste can fade a little, along with their ability to chew effectively. Smaller, softer pieces will help your older cat get the most out meals, particular for sensitive mouths. Higher meat content can improve smell and flavour.

As always when changing onto a new food, you should start by either mixing the new formula with what they are used to, or offering it at the same time as the old diet, slowly building up the proportion over a week to ten days until you are only feeding the new senior formula food. If your cat refuses to eat the new diet consult your vet as there may be a medial reason for this, or he/she may be able to advise you on alternatives.

How to feed

Feed older cats little and often, as they may feel overwhelmed by a large amount of food. Treats may be offered occasionally (unless unsuitable for a medical condition). Older cats can become overweight or obese so regularly weigh your cat and assess his/her body condition score and consult your vet if your cat is over (or under) weight. If your cat is sometimes reluctant to eat, always consult your vet as this is often a sign of underlying disease. Alongside any medical treatment you can attempt to increase food intake by warming the food, or adding a strong smelling/tasting treat (e.g. tuna). Varying the flavour and texture of the food may also help, as well as spending time with your cat whilst he/she eats and make sure the food is easily accessible, this is of particular importance to cats with osteoarthritis.

Serve food at room temperature to ensure your cat can taste and smell it properly. This is especially important for older cats, with their diminishing sense of smell. If you are feeding wet food, warming up an opened can or pouch may take up to two hours from being taken out of the fridge. Alternatively, you might consider microwaving wet foods for a very short time to bring them to room temperature, but be careful of hot spots. In general avoid serving food that is either too hot or too cold.

It's important to serve food in a clean bowl, and don't let wet food go dry in the bowl, cats can be particular about their food. Never keep wet food opened for longer than 24 hours. Offer food in a saucer or low bowl as some cats don’t like their whiskers touching the side of the bowl.

If feeding a dry complete food store it in a dry, clean environment. Re-sealable packaging or an airtight container keeps it tasty by sealing in the aroma.

Cats are creatures of habit, so it's best to feed them away from where you eat and in the same place and at the same time each day. Choose a reasonably quiet area, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It's always a good idea to feed on a surface that is easily cleaned, like a tiled floor or a feeding mat. Place feeding bowls away from the litter tray and preferably also away from the water bowl. If you have two cats, keep the bowls a reasonable distance apart to avoid confrontations or bullying, and you may need to feed your older cat in a totally separate area to avoid quick eating younger cats stealing their food.

How much?

Follow the feeding guide on the back of the pack, but remember the guide is only there to give you an idea. Every cat is an individual, so the most important consideration is to feed enough to maintain a lean, healthy body condition .

Ensure you provide plenty of clean, fresh water in a large metal or ceramic bowl. You may also want to provide a water bowl outside as some cats prefer this or even a water fountain. Water intake should be encouraged in older cats as underlying medical conditions can leave them prone to dehydration, and increasing water intake may reduce the risk of urinary tract problems.

Weight concerns

Older cats can have a natural tendency to put on weight as their activity-level decreases. Obesity is a common nutritional disorder in cats, and needs to be monitored carefully. Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes and urinary problems and obesity will exacerbate arthritis and other conditions. Lower calorie levels in senior foods can help control the tendency. If you feel your older cat is overweight or obese consult your vet before changing his/her diet, to exclude underlying medical conditions and discuss the best way to reduce your cat’s weight. Your vet may advise trying a specially formulated 'light' product, lower in fat while still containing all the necessary vitamins and minerals, ensuring a balanced diet despite reduced calorie intake, but not all light diets are suitable for older cats so seek veterinary advice. Never starve your cat as this can result in serious health problems.

Remember food is only part of the equation and senior cats need to be active as well as younger cats. After a check over by the vet, gentle exercise in the form of play, or following you for a stroll round the garden will burn up calories. It is important that any arthritis is treated by your vet, as this may make your cat reluctant to move around. A dedicated playtime can help and many older cats enjoy gentle play using a ‘fishing’ toy for example.

At the same time, very old cats can often get thinner due to underlying medical problems, or aging changes in their senses reducing food intake and changes in the digestive system reducing the absorption of food. If you think your older cat is underweight, consult your vet before changing your cat's feeding regime.

Purina brands for senior cats

Several leading Purina brands offer formulas specifically developed to meet the needs of older cats, each the result of the very latest scientific advances in quality, taste and nutrition. Click any brand to learn more.
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