Food for Older Cats

food for older cats

If you’ve been lucky enough to care for a cat for its entire life, you may remember that mealtimes worked a little differently when it was a kitten. A cat’s dietary requirements change when they move from youth into adulthood. As they progress from adulthood towards their senior years, they can change again. If your cat is beginning to show its age, or you’re about to house an older gentleman or lady, you should familiarise yourself with food for older cats.

The good news is that food for older cats doesn’t have to be dramatically different from food for younger cats. It’s still largely a mix of wet food and dry food. You just have to be a little more aware of the ingredients, and consider one or two supplements. Your cat’s specific breed might come into play as well. It’s all about looking after ageing joints and muscles, and striking the right nutritional balance. If you’ve read this far and thought “that’s all well and good, but my cat’s teeth have fallen out”, don’t worry. We’re going to cover food for cats with no teeth too!

When Do Cats Get Old?

If we’re going to talk about food for elderly cats, we should probably talk about when cats are classed as elderly. Your furry friend probably won’t thank you for feeding it food for older cats if it’s still in its prime, after all! The definition of when a cat is old relies upon a few things. Some breeds and types of cat are more prone to showing the affects of age than others. Some actually have a longer life span than others, just by default. For the purposes of this article, though, we’ll assume that we’re talking about a regular, lovable moggie.

If you’ve had your pet for a number of years, and you now find yourself looking at it and asking “is my cat old?”, we have the answer for you. Broadly speaking, you can consider your cat to be senior when it reaches the age of ten. Don’t let that worry you; just as humans tend to retire in their mid 60s but can live into their 90s, cats are the same. Most cats now live comfortably into their teens. Some of them even make it to 20, with enough love and care! Here are a few milestones to look out for.

Between 10 and 12 Years Old

Your cat is settling into its old age. Although the effect isn’t immediately obvious, your cat will slow down a little physically. It will also become more set in its ways.

food for older cats

Older cats may find it easier to eat wet food than dry. Their teeth aren’t what they used to be! Image from Wikimedia

The habits that a cat has by the time it turns ten are the habits it will likely keep forever. Similarly, the routine it’s in as it reaches ten is the routine it wants to keep. Making major changes to a cat’s lifestyle after this point can actually stress them out. Around this point is the best time to introduce food for older cats, because they’ll still be receptive to it. Try introducing it to them when they’re much older and they may reject it, even if it’s the best thing for them!

Between 13 and 15 Years Old

A cat at this stage of its life is well into its retirement years! We’re no longer talking about older cats, but elderly cats. Fortunately, food for senior cats and food for elderly cats is exactly the same as food for older cats. You only have to make the adjustment for old age once! That’s probably just as well, given the habits of this age group. Cats of this age often begin to lose a little of their sight and hearing, just as old people do. They’re also more likely to spend a lot of time sleeping. As with older humans, there are a number of illnesses that senior cats are more prone to contracting, so it’s wise to start taking them to the vet for regular check-ups if you don’t already. Oh, and take extra care not to annoy them. They can be quite irritable!

16 Years And Older

Having a pet cat that lives to this age is often a sign that an owner has cared and loved for them very carefully. You have a real old soul on your hands at this point! A cat who is 16, or older than 16, will need special attention. They won’t move as quickly or easily as they did when they were young. They may also experience a degree of mental confusion. That can manifest itself as a lack of alertness, and/or being unresponsive to being touched or stroked. A cat of this age more than likely has a couple of health related issues. They’ll also more than likely have lost some or all of their teeth. That’s where food for cats with no teeth comes into play, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

General Signs Of Ageing In Cats

The above information is only there to act as a guideline. There are always exceptions to guidelines! Just like some 70 year olds have better basic fitness than some 30 year olds, some cats just wear their years better. If your cat is old before its time, or young at heart, here are the signs of ageing to look out for.

  • Diminished mobility
  • Weight gain without a change in diet
  • Weight loss without a change in diet
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty recognising you, or the area around itself
  • Coat condition (specifically a lack of grooming)
  • Changes in drinking or toilet habits
  • Reclusiveness
  • Increased meowing compared to normal levels

If any of the above occur, regardless of your cat’s age, it’s time to speak to the vet, and move onto food for older cats.

Food For Older Cats: What To Feed A Senior Cat

Requirements of a Senior Cat’s Diet

What specific type of cat food to feed your older cat will depend on which age-related ailments it suffers from, if any. We’ll get to the individual types of cat food in a moment. Before that, let’s talk about what changes in terms of an older cat’s dietary needs, and what food for older cats sets out to do.

Nutrients

food for older cats

“Your food tastes weird.”. “No, YOUR food tastes weird!” Cats have different nutrient requirements at different ages. Image from Wikimedia.

The first thing to be aware of is a change in your cat’s ability to digest nutrients. Studies have shown that older cats may not be able to digest fat and protein as well as younger cats can. As a result of that, they need to be fed forms of protein that are easier for them to take on board and store. Getting this wrong can result in either weight gain or weight loss in your cat. They may eat more in an attempt to get the same supply of energy that it used to give them, and thus become obese, or continue to eat the same amount and lose weight because they’re not storing the fat properly.  Cats in general require more protein than many other forms of animal. A cat with insufficient protein in its diet can develop immune system deficiencies. Unless there is a specific medical need, and you’ve been given instruction from your vet, you should never restrict or decrease your cat’s protein intake. Especially if they’re an older cat!

Supplements

Vitamin levels, mineral levels and general electrolyte levels may decrease in older cats. That means you might have to think about supplements when considering how to put together a “food for older cats” menu. There are a number of reasons why levels of these bodily essentials might drop. Older cats aren’t as efficient at absorbing them through the intestinal tract, for a start. They also actually lose more through the kidneys or urinary tract, too. An elderly cat is likely to have a reduced appetite when compared to its younger peers, and as such it will eat less. That might mean they don’t take on enough of the things they need to in the first place. It’s a shame we can’t talk to our cats and explain to them what they need to eat, and why! Some research suggests that vitamins A & C in particular can delay the ageing process in felines, so it’s important they get the right amount in. That being said, always consult your vet before starting any course of supplements.

Special Dietary Foods For Illnesses And Diseases

It’s a sad fact of life that as we get older, we inevitably get an illness of some kind. People over 40 are significantly more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, for example. It’s the same with cats. Your senior cat will probably at some point contract a condition which requires a dietary change. That’s not a problem to provide for, though. The companies who make food for older cats are aware of the challenges that older cats face, and they provide for them.

As a rough guide, cats with diabetes or related complaints usually benefit from foods that are high in fibre. Cats with bowel disease or cats with colitis usually need highly digestible proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Cats with heart disease need more taurine and less sodium. Food for cats with no teeth is always wet, and usually especially soft. That means a diet of canned food only.

Should I Make Homemade Food For Older Cats?

We don’t recommend it. Whilst it is, in theory, possible, there’s such a delicate balance of vitamins, proteins and minerals to take into account. This is doubly true if your cat has an age related illness. The companies that manufacture food for senior cats have years of experience, which is based on even more years of research. They know what they’re doing, and what your cat needs. Even with the best intentions in the world, you could be doing an older cat more harm than good by feeding it on a homemade diet. If you’re absolutely positive you have the required knowledge, and you’ve spoken to your vet about it, make sure you use a reliable recipe. See the blog and general information posts elsewhere on our site for more information.

Dry Food For Older Cats

Here are the brands we consider to be the market leaders when it comes to providing dry food for older cats. Whilst all of these brands do an excellent job, there are some circumstances where your older cat won’t be able to eat dry food at all. Having few or no teeth is the most likely reason. Always read the label on all of these foods before serving them to your cat. Always check with your vet if you’re not sure! All of the brands we list here have been recommended by vets. They don’t give their approval easily, so you can buy with confidence.

IAMS Proactive Health Senior Dry Cat Food

IAMS is a name you should already know and trust within the cat food market. They have several options when it comes to dry food for older cats, including Mature Adult, Healthy Senior, and Mature Adult Hairball-Care. We probably don’t need to explain what that last one is for!

The main difference between the ‘mature’ and ‘senior’ ranges is that IAMS classify a mature adult as being aged 8-10, and a senior cat at 11 or over. They balance the nutrients and contents of the food accordingly. You’ll find both prebiotics and probiotics in the IAMS offerings,  plus a range of vitamins and minerals. A healthy dose of beet pulp should make the whole thing easier to digest for your senior cat. You’ll notice many of the foods listed here contain an ingredient called L-carnitine. That’s a clever little ammonium compound which aids metabolism and digestion, thus assisting with weight control. It also works on all mammals. If you’ve ever eaten diet food, you’ll have more than likely consumed it yourself.

Hill’s Senior Dry Cat Food

food for older cats

Some cats can live as long as 20 years with a little help from us along the way. Image from Wikimedia.

Hill’s are another major player in the market, who are a known quantity to pet food buyers in both the UK and the USA. Like IAMS, they diversify their range, offering different options for different types of senior cat. First up, their catchily-titled “Hill’s Science Diet Senior Dry Cat Food” (try saying that ten times fast). Like their rivals, they’ve also split this into two categories; one for cats over seven, and one for cats over eleven. Where they’ve gone a step further than IAMS is they’ve also produced two options based on your cat’s lifestyle. There’s “Active” and “Indoor”. Despite the presumably unintended suggestion that indoor cats aren’t active, this is actually pretty clever. The stresses and strains placed upon a cat’s body; and the elements it will be exposed to; are different for cats that go outdoors and cats that don’t. There isn’t a massive difference in the formulas for the food, but there are subtle changes which presumably take into account those subtle differences.

Hill’s also offer “Hill’s Ideal Balance Natural Cat Food, Senior Cat”. What they lack in ability to create snappy product titles, they make up for in food design skills. This senior cat food was actually designed via consultation with feline health experts and vets. Although it doesn’t explicitly say so, it’s intended more for elderly (+11) cats than senior cats. The kibble is smaller than you’ll find with most dry cat food, and so should be easier for an older cat to chew and digest. It’s also completely free from artificial ingredients, and uses 100% real chicken as its base. Plenty of fatty acids and fibre should do an older cat’s stomach the world of good, too.

Nutro Max Senior Cat Food Dry

Another dry food that caters for the older end of the market. The distinctive feature of Nutro Max’s dry cat food offering for elderly cats is the shape of the kibble. It’s small, it’s triangular, and there’s a little hole in the middle that makes it easier for a senior cat’s teeth to grab on to. This food is free from all artificial elements, as well as soy and any by-products.

The recipe seems very similar to the Hill’s “Ideal Balance” offering, with chicken once again present as the main ingredient. Fatty acids and dietary fibre are used prominently, too. There’s a healthy dose of L-carnitine as well, so the focus of this food seems to be preserving digestive health as well as helping out the chewing and eating process.

Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Cat Food, Senior Cats

This is yet another take on providing dry food for older cats, and another one that bases itself around chicken. It’s probably safe to say that chicken must be the safest or most preferable meat for older cats to eat, given that every brand seems to base itself around it. We won’t disagree with their research or findings. As well as advertising itself similarly to the other options; i.e. it’s easy to eat and swallow, and good for digestive health; Wellness add a couple more wrinkles to their offering with regard to other health benefits their product may provide.

The presence of glucosamine within the product is intended to support an ageing cat’s joints. Cranberries have also been mixed into the recipe, which are there to promote urinary health. Flaxseed looks after your cat’s fibre needs. Factor in the fact that rosemary is also there to act as an antioxidant and you have a fairly comprehensive and detailed recipe.

Before We Move On….

…to wet food, there’s an important piece of advice we want to impart. You may have seen it suggested on other websites that you should add a little water to dry food, to make it easier for a senior cat to digest. We do not recommend doing this under any circumstances. Getting dry food wet rapidly increases the chances of bacteria generating within the food, and making it unsafe to eat. There’s no issue if your cat immediately eats all of the dry food, but you should never leave damp dry food in a cat’s feeding bowl for hours on end. A strong adult cat could get ill that way. The risks to an elderly cat are much worse. If your cat is struggling to eat dry food, then it’s time to completely switch to a wet food diet.

Wet Food For Older Cats

Just like we identified the best brands to dry food for older cats from, here are the ones we consider to make the best wet food for senior cats. In both cases, the lists are not exhaustive. These are market leading brands with reputations for quality, and approval from veterinarians. Choosing the right one shouldn’t be complicated. What you really want is to find a reliable wet cat food with good protein based content, and a solid dose of vitamins, minerals and age-care ingredients to back it up with. It’s generally better to avoid anything that contains grain, too – older cats have sensitive stomachs, and grain can set them off.

Hill’s Science Diet Senior Wet Cat Food

Hill’s, and their impressively long product names, are as active in the market for wet food for older cats as they are for dry food. As they do with their dry food, they categorise their offerings based on the age of your cat, and the sort of lifestyle your cat enjoys.

Every wet food product that Hill’s makes for senior cats is free from artificial ingredients or preservatives. All of them also contain carefully balanced vitamins and minerals. In fact, the makeup of the ingredients is very similar to the dry food products they offer. They’ve taken the same formula and adapted it for wet food instead of dry. That’s both clever and consistent.

Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Ageing 12+ Canned Cat Food

food for older cats

If your cat keeps giving you this kind of stare when you feed it dry food, it might want to move on to wet. Or it might just be old and grumpy! Image from Flickr

Well, what can we tell you about Royal Canin’s wet food offering that they haven’t already covered off in that title? If you can forgive the brand for the fact that they actually started out life making dog food, this is quite a specialist product. They’re specifically aiming at cats over the age of 12, which is a niche market nobody else really goes for. As you’d expect, the formula is especially targeted at elderly cats in particular, and as such should be easy to digest.

It’s rich in vitamins and fatty acids, contains glucosamine to look after joints, and also reduces the level of phosphorus in comparison to other brands. That apparently helps with kidney function.

Nutro Max Senior Chicken And Lamb Formula Canned Cat Food

For their own entry into the wet cat food for older cats market, Nutro Max have broken with the ‘chicken only’ pack and added lamb into the recipe. The claim made on the packaging is “complete and balanced nutrition”. That’s a big claim, but they seem to have backed it up based on the content.

If you’re looking for food for cats with no teeth in particular, this might be your solution. The texture is almost paste-like, and even a cat that struggles to chew should be able to lick up enough of it to get the benefits. It’s also worth noting that Nutro offer a “Soft Loaf” range. It might sound like bread, but is actually just their wet can food recipes turned into a paste, so that cats with no teeth at all can just lap it up. If your cat is still able to chew it may not be a fan, because there’s no texture to it at all. On the other hand, if licking is all they have, then they should appreciate it.

Purina Pro Plan Prime Plus Adult 7+ Wet Cat Food

Purina are a brand with strong recognition in the marketplace. Their senior wet cat food offering has been earmarked as a good one for ‘transitioning’ cats. If you normally feed your cat a dry food based diet, and are having difficulty convincing them to move on to wet food, the Purina product is a strong option. It’s quite chunky and chewy by wet food standards, and should give your cat enough of a biting and chewing sensation to make it acceptable for them to eat.

Purina don’t hugely diversify their range. Your cat is either over 7 or it isn’t, and those are your two choices! There’s a lot to be said for simplicity though, and if your cat is getting what they need from whichever option applies to them, there’s nothing to complain about.

So Which Food Is Best?

That depends on your cat! All we can do is outline the options and give you the information. If your cat has no teeth or struggles with chewing dry food, you’ll want to look at the wet food options. Perhaps the Nutro offerings in particular would suit you best.

If you want a variety of options, Hill’s seems to be the brand that provides the most. They have separate recipes based on a number of ages, plus indoor and outdoor cats. That suggests they’ve taken the time to really tailor their ingredients to your specific cat. We’re inclined to give them a try and see how our cats like them. Every brand we’ve been mentioned has been extensively peer and vet reviewed and approved though, so you won’t go wrong choosing any of them!