Mature cats need the same kinds of nutrients as younger adult cats, but as their metabolism slows, the quantities of those nutrients and the ways in which they are provided may need to change. Each cat is different, so ask your veterinarian for dietary recommendations based on your cat's physical condition.
Here are some special dietary concerns of mature cats:
- Obesity. Cats tend to gain weight as they age and become less active. Those between the ages of 7 and 9 are at the highest risk of becoming obese, making a lower-calorie diet appropriate in some cases. If your cat is overweight, ask your veterinarian to help you modify the diet you're providing.
- Weight loss. Some cats may become thinner as they get older. This can be part of the normal aging process, but progressive weight loss can also be caused by serious medical problems. Tell your veterinarian about any significant changes in your cat's weight and then discuss whether diet modifications are necessary. If a physical examination rules out disease, you might consider a calorie-dense "senior" food that has higher amounts of readily digestible fat, which cats find especially tasty. It may help improve your cat's appetite.
- Dental problems. As your cat ages, periodic dental checkups will help prevent the oral diseases that are common in older cats and can affect their ability to eat. If your cat has irreversible dental problems, a change from dry food to canned or semi-moist food might be necessary.
Follow these guidelines for feeding an older cat:
- Take your senior cat for regular (at least once a year) medical checkups. Your veterinarian can talk with you about any special health problems your pet has and the dietary changes that might be necessary. In many "old age" diseases, special foods can be prescribed along with medication to help manage the conditions. Give your cat supplements only if your veterinarian specifically recommends them.
- Watch your cat's weight. If you notice that your older pet is gaining or losing weight, tell your veterinarian. The doctor can check for medical problems that might be contributing to the weight change and recommend modifications in diet to correct the problem.
- Watch the treats. Older cats—and their digestive systems—are even more sensitive than the youngsters to the unbalancing effects of frequent snacks, treats, and table scraps.
- Keep fresh water in a clean bowl available at all times. If your pet is not drinking, consider buying a pet water fountain, as running water is sometimes more appealing to cats.
- Make food more appetizing. As cats age, their senses of smell and taste become less acute, so pet food manufacturers have developed senior cat food with intensified aromas and flavors. You can try to make your older cat's food more appealing by warming it to increase its smell (just be sure to stir it to eliminate any hot spots), or by adding bouillon or gravy. If your cat has dental problems, you can change the food's texture by blending or mashing it with water.
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Cats are known for being a bit choosey about what they will and won’t do. And a little pickiness is fine when it comes to picking out toys and napping spots! But if your cat is or becomes extra-selective about what they’ll eat, it’s time to pay attention and perhaps talk to your vet. You and your vet know your cat best, so it’s always worth checking in if you think your cat isn’t eating enough and want their professional advice.
Start by paying close attention to what your cat is eating and how they behave. This information will help you, your household and your vet work together to make sure your cat is living and eating well.
Feeding Tips for the Truly Finicky Cat
Pay Attention to All the Cat Treats
Is your cat begging for table scraps or holding out on eating until you offer treats? Extras like these can be very disruptive to your cat’s appetite and diet. Think about them like snacks or desserts for you — tasty cravings that are easy to fill up on. A small portion may not seem like much, but it can make a big different for a cat-sized digestive system!
Try dialing back how much you treat your cat to tasty extras and see if their interest in the food bowl starts to return. Remember, it’s generally all right for cats to skip a few meals, but if they haven’t eaten for 24-36 hours it’s time to call the vet (even if they’ve continued drinking water).
Review Your Cat’s Food Routine
Humans often crave variety in their meals, but for cats, routine is king. It’s not likely they’d avoid their regular food out of boredom with it, but if you’ve recently changed the kind of food, the number of feedings or the times you feed your cat, they may be avoiding eating as a response.
It's a good idea to change your cat’s diet gradually (unless your vet advises otherwise). Pickiness can often be resolved by helping your cat adjust and get comfortable with their updated diet!
Help Your Cat Relax While Feeding
If your cat starts eating less, you may want to look for factors that could be causing stress. Seemingly unrelated changes to their environment can shift your cat’s stress levels enough to impact their interest in food. Has another animal or person joined or left the household? Has your cat been adapting to new surroundings due to a move or renovation? As the stress of that change begins to subside, your cat will probably go back to a normal diet.
Talk to your vet about good ideas for reducing your cat’s stress levels and share any concerns you have about their diet then too. You’re both on the same team, so work together to help your cat feel better!
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