You don’t eat the same foods you did when you were a baby or small child. Why would you expect your cat to eat the same foods he ate when he was a kitten? As cats age, their dietary needs change somewhat. Older cats break down and digest nutrients differently from younger cats and kittens.
Plus, while a middle-aged cat will often need fewer calories per day compared to a growing kitten, senior cats often need slightly more calories per day than their middle-aged counterparts. Older cats also tend to have a slew of medical issues, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or arthritis, that affect their ability to eat or that determine what foods they can eat.
Choosing the best senior cat food for your pet can take a bit of guesswork. You might need to work with your cat’s vet to determine if there are any medical concerns and to figure out what food will be best for him or her.
Quick Look : Best Senior Cat Food in 2019
Defining Senior Cats
Who is a senior cat? Often, cats who’ve reached the ripe old age of seven are considered to be senior citizens. A cat who’s gotten to the tender age of 11 is a “geriatric” cat. According to WebMD, a 12-year-old cat has reached the equivalent of 64 human years.
Just as the human population is getting older and living longer, thanks to advances in medicine and technology, so is the cat population. Between 33 and 42 percent of cats in the US and Australia are at least seven-years-old, according to VetStreet.
The increase in aging cats means that there’s a bigger market than ever for senior cat food. With that expanding market comes more choice, and potentially more confusion, for cat owners.
To figure out what to feed your senior or geriatric cat, it helps to understand what nutrients he needs.
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Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Senior Cats
As cats get older, their ability to digest certain nutrients, namely fat and protein, changes. Older cats don’t break down or absorb fat or protein as well as kittens and middle-aged cats. That means that the fat and protein found in senior cat food needs to be more digestible than the fat or protein found in other types of cat food.
Here’s a quick list of what nutrients to look for in the best senior cat food:
- Protein. Protein is probably the most critical nutrient for cats. A diet that contains an adequate amount of high-quality protein helps cats maintain their muscle mass as they get older. One way to see if a cat food has a sufficient amount of protein is to look at the guaranteed analysis. Dry food should have at least 28 percent protein and wet cat food at least 8 percent.
- Fats. Since many older cats have trouble digesting and absorbing fats, it’s usually not a good idea to feed a senior cat “low fat” cat food.
- Vitamin A and Other Antioxidants. Just like people, cats can suffer from free radical damage and a decline in immune function as they get older. Feeding a senior cat with food that contains Vitamin A and other antioxidants is usually recommended.
- Taurine. Taurine is a type of amino acid. It’s also probably the most essential amino acid for your cat. When cats don’t get enough taurine, they can end up with a range of health problems, including vision loss and tooth decay, according to PetMD. Most commercially available cat foods have added taurine.
- Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid that cats need for various health functions. Making sure your cat gets enough fatty acids in his diet will help to protect him from a variety of medical issues, from skin problems to cognitive decline.
How Many Calories Do Senior Cats Need?
Although the general advice for feeding cats seems to err on the side of making sure your cat doesn’t eat too many calories each day, things get a bit complicated when cats get older.
Sure, some senior cats are pretty plump and might even be what their vet would call “overweight” or “obese.”
But others start to drop weight rapidly as they get older. Cats that lose weight might not be able to digest their food as well as they once did. Some cats just lose interest in eating as they age, thanks to a loss of their sense of smell or taste.
So how many calories does your older cat need each day? It all depends.
Healthy cats who are at an average weight usually need somewhere between 280 and 360 calories per day or about 50 calories for every kilogram of body weight. Your vet might recommend more or fewer calories, based on your cat’s health history.
Overweight or obese cats usually need to follow a calorie restricted diet. If you think your cat is a bit on the heavy side, it’s a good idea to consult with your vet and to see what they recommend feeding your pet.
When measuring out food and calories for your cat, remember that he’s a lot smaller than you. An extra 10 calories per day might not make much difference to you over the course of a year. But in a cat, those 10 extra calories can translate to an extra pound of body fat each year.
There is one case where you might need to be beef up your cat’s calorie intake. If you notice (or your vet notices) that your cat is losing weight and muscle mass, it could be because he’s not digesting his food correctly.
In that case, you’ll want to switch to a senior cat food with more digestible fat and protein sources. Often, such cat food also contains more calories than what you’d typically feed an older cat.
Medical Conditions That Affect Senior Cats
Senior cats can often wind up with one or more chronic medical conditions. These conditions can develop as a result of poor diet earlier in their lives or just as a result of the aging process and general wear and tear on their bodies.
In some cases, making changes to your cat’s diet can help to manage the disease or slow down its progression.
One condition that is becoming increasingly common in cats is diabetes. Although your cat isn’t likely slurping down bottles of soda or snacking on candy and sweets, if he is overweight, he’s at an increased risk for the disease. It’s estimated that up to 2 percent of cats have diabetes, according to WebMD.
If your cat has diabetes, you need to be particularly careful about what foods you give him. Carbs don’t have any place in a cat’s diet but are often used as fillers in dry cat food. Wet cat foods typically have fewer carbs, if any.
Often, cats with diabetes also have to receive insulin shots. If that is the case, it’s imperative to time the shots so that your cat has some food in his stomach when he gets the insulin.
Kidney disease is another common medical problem in senior cats. Although protein is a significant nutrient for most cats, those with kidney issues usually need to eat foods with lower amounts of protein. Alternately, cats with kidney failure might be feed food that has a different type of protein, one that’s more easily digested.
Additionally, cats with kidney issues usually need to eat food that has low levels of phosphorous. When a cat’s kidneys aren’t functioning the way they should, the organs don’t excrete phosphorus properly. Limiting phosphorus in the diet will help to protect your cat’s health.
Wet vs. Dry Food for Senior Cats
Senior cat food comes in both wet and dry forms. There’s a bit of debate over whether wet food or dry food is better for cats.
The answer all depends on the cat and on the type of food you give him. Dry cat foods, aka “kibble” can be low quality. They are occasionally compared to junk or fast foods for cats.
That’s because some brands of dry cat food contain a lot of extra fillers, such as grains and carbs. Filling your cat’s bowl with cheap dry food can be like giving him a bowl of sugary cereal every morning.
But not all dry cat foods are the same. Some don’t have fillers and are made with good sources of protein.
Another potential issue with dry food is that it can make your pet dehydrated. Some cats are finicky about water. They won’t drink it unless it’s in a particular bowl or unless it’s flowing from a faucet.
A cat who’s picky about water and who eats dry food is a cat who might not be getting enough hydration.
But dry food has its benefits. For one thing, you can pour some into a bowl in the morning and let your cat nibble on it throughout the day, without worrying about the food going bad.
Dry food can also be a bit better for cats with dental issues. The texture of the food can give the teeth and gums a bit of a scrubbing, helping to lower the risk of infection or other tooth troubles.
If your cat is picky about his water, feeding him wet food can be one way to make sure he gets at least some hydration. Wet food has a higher water content than dry. It’s not a substitute for giving your cat a bowl of fresh water or a source of water daily, but it can help as a supplement.
That said, wet food can be just as a low quality and nutritionally questionable as dry food. If you’re going to give your cat wet food, take a look at the label for ingredients. Ideally, a specific meat or protein source will be listed first.
For some cat owners, the answer to the dry vs. wet food debate isn’t one or the other, but both. Plenty of senior cats are happy to nibble on some dry food in the morning, then enjoy a bit of wet food for dinner.
The Best Senior Cat Food Reviewed
Now that you know how senior cats’ nutritional needs differ from those of younger cats get to know some of the best senior cat food options out there. We’ve rounded up some of the best options for senior cats, including wet and dry foods.
Now Fresh Grain-Free Senior Weight Management Recipe Dry Cat Food Buy It
If your senior cat has a bit of a weight problem, Now Fresh Grain-Free Senior Weight Management Recipe dry cat food might be the best option for him. The food contains a mix of protein sources, including turkey and duck.
It’s central claim to fame is that it’s grain-free, which means that it’s lower in carbohydrates than other dry cat foods. That’s mainly useful for cats with diabetes or for cats who need to watch what they eat because of obesity.
While the food is grain-free and lower in carbs than other options, it’s important to understand that it’s not carb-free. Among the first ingredients listed on the ingredients list are potato flour, potatoes, and tomatoes, all of which contain high amounts of starch and sugar.
Another thing Now Fresh Grain-Free Senior Weight Management Recipe cat food has going for it is the smaller size of its kibble. The pieces aren’t too big, so they are easier for older cats who might have some dental issues to chew and swallow.
- Contains min. 30 percent crude protein, min 14 percent crude fat.
- Contains taurine, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, E, B12.
- Doesn’t contain meat by-products.
- The second ingredient is potato flour.
- Costs more than other senior cat food options.
- Some cats just aren’t into it.
Nutro Max Senior Roasted Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food Buy It
Nutro Max Senior Roasted Chicken Flavor Dry Cat food is another dry food formulated specifically for senior cats. The cat food’s primary ingredient is chicken, which is listed first on the list of ingredients.
Unfortunately, Nutro Max cat food isn’t grain-free, and the next three ingredients on its list are Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, and Wheat Flour. While feeding your cat grains isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s something to be watchful of if your cat has diabetes or needs to eat fewer carbohydrates.
Speaking of carbs, Nutro Max does have more carbs than other senior cat foods. Carbohydrates make up about 40 percent of its content. That said, the food does contain taurine, plus omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and several antioxidants.
One significant benefit of Nutro Max cat food is that it’s produced in the US. That’s particularly important for some cat owners, as pet foods produced elsewhere have had a reputation for containing lower quality or even harmful ingredients.
- Made in the USA
- Chicken is the first ingredient.
- Contains min. 28 percent crude protein, min. 12 percent crude fat.
- Low phosphorous (0.5 percent min).
- Has added taurine, omega 3 and 6, and antioxidants (vitamin C, E, A).
- Contains lots of fillers, mainly in the form of grains.
- Kibble is a unique shape, which doesn’t appeal to some cats.
Nutro Wild Frontier Senior Open Valley Recipe Chicken Flavor High-Protein Grain-Free Dry Cat Food Buy It
Your cat might spend most or all of his time indoors, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t long to heed the call of the wild and get back to his cat roots.
Well, you might not let him out into the garden, but you can give him the next best thing by feeding him Nutro Wild Frontier Senior Open Valley Recipe Chicken Flavor High-Protein, Grain-Free dry cat food.
Nutro Wild Frontier might have an incredibly long name, but what it doesn’t have is a long ingredient list. Chicken and chicken meal are among the first two ingredients. The food is completely grain-free, doesn’t contain artificial flavors and is mainly non-GMO (the food might have come into contact with GMO ingredients during preparation, though).
What sets Nutro Wild Frontier apart from other dry foods on our recommendation list is its incredibly high protein count. The food contains a min 42 percent crude protein. It’s also relatively high in fat, with a min 18 percent crude fat.
If your cat is struggling to maintain his weight or looks skinnier than before, Nutro Wild Frontier can help him to bulk up.
- Chicken is the first ingredient.
- Contains a lot of protein.
- Also contains added taurine, vitamin E, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
- Made in the USA.
- Pricier than other dry cat food options.
- Although it’s low carb, it’s not recommended for cats with diabetes or other medical conditions.
Nutro Senior Soft Loaf Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food Buy It
Here’s the first wet food option for senior cats. Nutro Senior Soft Loaf Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food is a good pick for older cats with dental issues or for cats who just won’t eat dry food.
The cat food is in the form of a pate, so it’s super soft and easy enough for even cats without teeth to eat. The protein and fat found in the food are also very digestible, making it a good option for geriatric cats or for cats with known difficulty absorbing proteins or fats.
Nutro Senior Soft Loaf cat food contains mostly meat, with chicken, chicken liver and chicken broth listed as the first three ingredients. It’s a grain-free formula, although it does contain some fillers such as guar gum.
The wet food has a min crude protein content of 12 percent and a min crude fat content of 5 percent.
- Contains chicken as the first ingredient.
- Soft enough for very old cats to eat.
- Contains added taurine.
- Made in the USA.
- Some cats just don’t like it.
- Can give some cats litter troubles.
Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Mature Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat Food Buy It
Blue Buffalo Freedom Indoor Mature Chicken Recipe Grain-Free canned cat food is designed for senior cats who need to avoid gluten or grains for whatever reason. The cat food features chicken as its first ingredient and has Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Carrots, and Sweet Potatoes rounding out the top five.
One of the big benefits of feeding a cat Blue Buffalo Freedom is that it’s designed to improve and support urinary tract health. The food has a high moisture content — 78 percent. It also contains cranberries, which have a track record of helping to clear up or reduce infections in the urinary tract.
The senior cat food comes in pate form, so it’s soft and smooth enough for even cats with dental problems and limited teeth to enjoy.
- Chicken is the first ingredient.
- Contains fibers to help reduce hairballs.
- Contains taurine and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
- Only available in 5.5 ounces can sizes.
- Cost is higher than other wet cat foods.
Chicken Soup for the Soul Weight & Mature Care Canned Cat Food Buy It
Chicken Soup for the Soul Weight & Mature Care Canned Cat Food is designed for older cats who might have a weight issue. If your vet has recommended that your cat lose a few pounds, this might be the best senior cat food option for him.
That said, Chicken Soup for the Soul Weight & Mature Care cat food contains less protein than other wet food options. Although Ocean Fish, Chicken Broth, Turkey Broth, Chicken, and Chicken Liver are the first five ingredients listed on the can, the food also contains a considerable number of fillers, such as xanthan gum and cellulose fiber.
- Designed for cats who need to lose weight.
- Doesn’t contain meat by-products.
- Fish and meat listed as first ingredients.
- Lower protein content, min 9 percent, which might not be enough for some cats.
- The primary ingredient is fish, which can turn off pickier cats.
Every cat is different, so keep in mind that there might be some trial and error before you find a senior cat food your kitty loves.