Needs-Based Feeding of Senior Cats

Obesity, diabetes, kidney failure, or heart disease require diets. But normal needs also change with age.

Healthy into old age – that’s not just what we humans want, we also want it for our animals. Cats are considered old after the age of twelve. Middle-aged or older cats are designated from the age of seven, whereby the physiological age does not always correspond to the chronological age. A healthy 12-year-old cat may be physiologically younger than an 8-year-old underweight cat with kidney disease.

The aging process

Aging is a gradual process and senior cats require more attention from pet owners. Even in healthy cats, aging brings physiological changes. At the cellular level, the ability to defend and repair is altered, leading to the accumulation of cellular damage (due to free radicals) and the accumulation of toxic waste products (lipofuscin granules). This limits performance. In the tissue, there are changes in the proportion and properties of the various mucopolysaccharide fractions. This reduces the elasticity and the water-binding capacity and the permeability of the membranes decreases. As a result, there are changes in the metabolism, reduced absorption and excretion ability of the organism, to decrease the number and size of cells and thus to a decrease in the functionality of organs. A reduction in the storage capacity for nutrients and a reduced ability to regenerate can also be observed. Some older animals show general coat deterioration, declining senses (sight and smell), or altered behavior. Clinically observable changes in this process are dehydration, loss of elasticity, decrease in muscle and bone mass, and increase in fat mass. A reduction in the storage capacity for nutrients and a reduced ability to regenerate can also be observed. Some older animals show general coat deterioration, declining senses (sight and smell), or altered behavior. Clinically observable changes in this process are dehydration, loss of elasticity, decrease in muscle and bone mass, and increase in fat mass. A reduction in the storage capacity for nutrients and a reduced ability to regenerate can also be observed. Some older animals show general coat deterioration, declining senses (sight and smell), or altered behavior. Clinically observable changes in this process are dehydration, loss of elasticity, decrease in muscle and bone mass, and increase in fat mass.

Energy and nutrient requirements in old age

Energy requirements can change during the life of adult individuals. It is known that the total energy expenditure in humans decreases with increasing age. The reasons for this are the decrease in lean, metabolically active body mass and also the decrease in physical activity. Older dogs also have a lower energy requirement, since the basal metabolic rate decreases and the willingness to move decreases. Older cats have lower energy requirements than cats up to about six years of age. But from the age of twelve, i.e. in old cats, the energy requirement seems to increase again. The cause is suspected to be the measurably reduced digestibility of fat in one-third of old cats. In cats over the age of 14, 20 percent also show reduced protein digestibility, which is why geriatric cats may also have an increased protein requirement. The protein requirements of old cats must be met to maintain muscle mass for as long as possible.

Since old cats can lose more water-soluble vitamins through urine and feces, the intake should be increased. Due to the reduced fat absorption, there may also be a higher need for vitamins A and E. The phosphorus supply should be tailored to the needs of older and old cats, as diseases of the urinary tract are the most common causes of death in cats.

Food for senior cats

As the number of older and older cats increases, so has the feed industry; today there are several foods on the market specifically for older or old cats. However, the nutrient content of the different feeds can vary considerably. However, it can be assumed that the protein and phosphorus content in food for older cats is lower than in ready-made food for younger cats. In the absence of disease and blood, counts are within normal ranges, these commercial diets for senior and senior cats are preferable to those for adult cats.

The energy content of these foods for older and old cats is also relevant. While middle-aged cats tend to be overweight, older cats often have trouble maintaining their weight. Accordingly, when selecting the food for older, well-nourished cats, a low-energy food or – if necessary – also food for feeding obesity is suitable, while for old cats that tend to be underweight, a tasty, energy-dense and very easily digestible food should be used. Of course, commercial feed does not necessarily have to be fed, appropriate rations can also be prepared yourself using a suitable recipe.

Feeding and husbandry management

Cats per se and old cats in particular love a regular life. This includes fixed feeding times. The more often a cat gets small amounts of food, the more structured and varied everyday life is. This is especially true for indoor cats. Dry cat food can be used to develop dexterity and mental skills with the help of cat activity toys.

Old cats or cats suffering from diseases of the musculoskeletal system (arthrosis) often need climbing aids to get to their favorite places. The feeding place and the water places must also be easily accessible, the same applies to litter boxes. These should also be easily accessible and accessible for the cat.

State of health in old age

Heart and kidney diseases, but also diseases of the liver and arthrosis naturally occur more frequently with age. A study by Dowgray et al. (2022) examined the health of 176 cats aged between seven and ten years. Fifty-nine percent had orthopedic disorders, 54 percent had dental disorders, 31 percent were diagnosed with heart murmurs, 11 percent were diagnosed with azotemia, 4 percent had hypertension, and 3 percent were diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Only 12 percent of the cats found no evidence of disease.

Diseases of the teeth or gums therefore often occur in middle age. The cats usually eat normally again when the teeth have been cleaned and there is no longer any pain when eating.


While middle-aged cats are more likely to be overweight and obese, the proportion decreases again from the age of twelve. Accordingly, obesity should be avoided throughout the cat’s life. Being overweight and especially obesity shortens life span and various diseases occur more frequently.

body mass loss

A loss of body mass despite good or increased food intake could be a sign of hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), or small-cell intestinal lymphoma. Reduced feed digestibility must also be considered as a cause. Disease and pain in the teeth or gums can contribute to reduced feed intake, and a reduced sense of smell and taste can also lead to reduced feed intake.

Weight loss in older cats should always be investigated and the cause corrected as soon as possible. Perez-Camargo (2004) showed in a retrospective study of 258 cats that those cats who died of cancer, renal failure, or hyperthyroidism began to lose weight on average about 2.25 years before their death.

Dietary care for illnesses

Since different diseases result in different nutritional needs, the diet for senior cats must always be adjusted to suit their nutritional status and the needs of the disease, if any.

heart diseases

Since taurine deficiency was recognized as the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is now the most common heart disease (about 70 percent of all heart diseases) in cats. Even with heart disease, obese patients should be subjected to a slow weight reduction. In a study by Finn et al. (2010) survival of cats with heart disease was significantly associated with body weight and nutritional status; severely underweight and obese cats survived the shortest.

The protein supply should be adapted to the needs, an oversupply should be avoided in order not to unnecessarily burden the liver and kidneys. The food should be divided into several – at least five – meals to avoid an elevated diaphragm and to ensure the energy supply in cachectic patients.

Sodium restriction is only justified when there is water retention. Too high a sodium content in the feed should be avoided. In food for adult cats, the sodium content is usually around 1 percent on a dry matter basis.

Certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors and aldosterone antagonists, can cause hyperkalemia, but the risk is likely to be low in cats. 0.6-0.8 percent potassium in the feed DM is recommended.

Studies in humans and dogs have shown that long-chain n-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) can reduce the formation of pro-inflammatory cytokines and thus reduce the risk of cardiac cachexia. These fatty acids also have an antithrombotic effect, which would be beneficial in cats that are prone to platelet aggregation that can be triggered quickly. It can be assumed that the administration of L-carnitine also has a beneficial effect on cats with heart diseases. It is essential to ensure that there is an adequate supply of taurine.

Chronic renal failure

Chronic renal insufficiency, a slowly progressing irreversible damage with loss of renal function, usually affects older animals from the age of seven or eight. The disease often goes unnoticed for a long time, since only about 30-40 percent of cats show the typical symptoms of polyuria and polydipsia. Therefore, healthy cats in which elevated kidney values ​​have been found should be switched to a kidney diet immediately.

Protein and phosphorus are key factors in the dietary management of chronic renal failure. The restricted kidney function leads to the retention of urinary substances, as shown by the increased urea levels in the blood of affected animals. The more protein the food contains, the more urea has to be excreted, and when the capacity of the kidneys is exceeded, urea builds up in the blood. A reduction in the protein content in the feed is therefore of crucial importance in the case of elevated urea levels in the blood, also because the tubular epithelia are damaged by forced tubular reabsorption of protein from the primary urine and the progression of the damage in the kidneys is promoted. Since many foods for cats, especially wet food,

In addition to reducing the protein content, a reduction in the phosphorus content in food or a reduction in phosphorus absorption through phosphate binders is of crucial importance. The reduced excretory capacity of the kidneys also causes phosphorus to be retained in the body, leading to hyperphosphatemia and further damage to the kidneys. The phosphorus requirement of the cat is low and a reduction of the P content in the food, which leads to falling below this required value, is hardly possible since meat per se already has a high P content. However, studies have shown that inorganic P compounds in particular damage the kidneys more than the phosphorus present in organic compounds in meat. These inorganic P compounds are used as technical additives in feed production. Therefore, for cats with kidney disease, either special diets from the drug trade with a P content of 0.1 percent in wet food or 0.4 percent in dry food or appropriately calculated rations that you prepare yourself are recommended.

diabetes mellitus

Cats over the age of seven are at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus (DM). In addition to age, risk factors include obesity, inactivity, race, gender, and certain medications. Because obesity reduces insulin sensitivity and increases insulin resistance, obese cats are four times more likely to develop DM than ideal-weight cats. Burmese cats and males are more at risk, and progesterone and glucocorticoids can cause insulin resistance and subsequent DM.

Type 2 DM is by far the most common form in cats. According to Rand and Marshall, 80-95 percent of diabetic cats have type 2 diabetes. Glucose tolerance is lower in cats than in humans or dogs. In addition, gluconeogenesis cannot be reduced even in the presence of excess carbohydrates.

Since obesity is a high-risk factor and weight loss increases insulin sensitivity, weight loss is a priority in both treatment and prophylaxis. However, pet owners often only notice the disease when the cats are eating poorly and have already lost weight.

Because hyperglycemia causes beta cell damage, persistent hyperglycemia should be treated as early as possible. Adjusting diet to take account of nutritional status and appropriate therapy can lead to remission, similar to that seen in people with type 2 diabetes. In humans, a weight reduction of just 10 percent leads to an increase in insulin sensitivity.

Obese cats should lose weight slowly and receive only 70-80 percent of energy requirements (calculated by estimating ideal body weight) to achieve a weight reduction of close to 1 percent/week. Cats that have already lost weight need to regain adequate nutrition quickly to minimize liver damage. An energy-dense, highly digestible, and tasty diet with a high protein content (> 45 percent in dry matter (DM), low carbohydrate (< 15 percent), and low crude fiber (< 1 percent) content) is recommended (Laflamme and Gunn-Moore 2014). Obese cats should also be given a high-protein diet to avoid losing muscle mass. The crude fiber content can be higher for overweight cats but should be less than 8 percent of the DM.

When treating insulin-dependent diabetic cats, feeding times are probably less important in management. Postprandial hyperglycemia in cats lasts longer and is not as high as in dogs, especially when fed high-protein and low-carbohydrate diets. However, ad libitum feeding is not possible for overweight cats. In these cases, ideally, small meals should be offered frequently at set intervals throughout the day. If this feeding regimen is not possible, the feeding should be adapted to insulin administration. In fussy animals, the food is given before insulin administration to prevent hypoglycemia if the cat refuses to eat the food.

Since polydipsia is present in DM, it is important to ensure that sufficient water is provided. Dehydrated cats and those suffering from ketoacidosis need parenteral fluids. The amount of water the cat is drinking corresponds well with the blood glucose level and indicates whether the animal is on the right track or whether a reassessment and insulin adjustment is needed.

Frequently Asked Question

What can I do for my old cat?

Respond to the needs of your old cat and make it easier for her to retreat. A quiet, soft place to sleep that the cat can easily reach is a must. If your cat is no longer physically fit, it should no longer have to jump to reach its sleeping place.

How do you know a cat is suffering?

Altered Posture: When a cat is in pain, it may exhibit a tense posture, have a tummy tuck, be lame, or hang its head. Loss of appetite: Pain can upset cats’ stomachs. As a result, cats in pain often eat little or nothing at all.

Is senior food useful for cats?

Senior cats have an increased need for vitamins and minerals, as the enzyme activity of the digestive organs decreases with age. Therefore, this need must be covered by food suitable for seniors. It is also advisable to feed a feed with a low phosphorus content.

When is the best time to feed cats?

Feed at the same time whenever possible. Adjust feeding to suit your cat: Young cats need three to four meals a day. Adult animals should be fed twice a day: in the morning and the evening. Older cats should be allowed to eat three times a day.

Should you feed cats at night too?

The cat’s natural eating behavior means that it eats up to 20 small meals throughout the day – even at night. It is therefore an advantage if you provide some food just before going to bed so that the kitten can also eat at night if necessary.

Can you mix dry and wet cat food?

To cover your cat’s energy needs with wet and dry food, we recommend dividing the total amount of food by 3 and then feeding it as follows: Give your cat 2/3 of the amount of food in the form of wet food and divide this into two rations (e.g. breakfast and dinner).

What is the healthiest cat food?

Lean muscle meat from veal, beef, sheep, game, rabbit, and poultry is suitable. For example, poultry offal such as the heart, stomach, and liver (caution: only small portions) are inexpensive and cats welcome.

Why do old cats get so skinny?

Thin or too thin? How much can cats weigh? We can give you the all-clear: It is completely normal for cats to lose weight as they get older. Muscle mass and connective tissue decrease, making your cat appear lighter and also visually narrower.

How does senility manifest itself in cats?

Typical signs of senility in cats

In general, the coat becomes duller with age and loses its shine. Due to old age, the fur of cats often looks matted, since affected fur noses can no longer do enough personal hygiene in old age.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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