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Feeding Your Senior Cat

Some aging cats lose their appetite or become obese. Experts tell WebMD how to feed your senior cat and what nutritional supplements he might need.
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Special Nutrition for Diseases of the Aging Cat

Several diseases can affect cats as they age. Often, senior cats with medical conditions have special nutritional needs.

Diabetes: Diabetes is a big problem in cats, and it’s often triggered by obesity. Diet is a major part of managing the disease. Many vets recommend that cats with diabetes eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, which may help them gain better control over the disease. If you watch your cat’s diet and weight and give him insulin regularly, there’s a good chance the blood sugar levels will stabilize. In some cats, with prompt treatment, the diabetes will go away entirely.

Kidney Disease: Many cats develop kidney failure as they age. Senior cats with kidney disease may need to be on a phosphorous-restricted diet. Suitable diets for cats with kidney problems often have less salt and protein than standard cat foods.  

Other diseases that are common in older cats can also require dietary changes. Diseases like cancer may cause a cat to lose weight and therefore need extra nutrition.

Dental disease can make it more difficult for your cat to chew dry food, so you may need to switch to a softer canned food.

Proper hydration is also important for the senior cat. Make sure that your cat gets enough water throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Should You Give Your Senior Cat Supplements?

If you are feeding your senior cat a balanced diet, he shouldn’t need supplements. But some health conditions that affect older cats can make it more difficult for them to absorb certain vitamins or nutrients.

For example, gastrointestinal conditions can interfere with a cat’s ability to absorb vitamin B12. In the case of a nutritional deficiency, your vet may recommend a specific supplement.

Be careful when using over-the-counter nutritional supplements. Most haven’t been well-studied in cats.

“Some supplements that have been shown to be just fine in dogs or humans can be detrimental in a cat because their metabolisms are very different,” Wakshlag says. It’s also possible that supplements can interact with medications your cat is already taking. “Check with your vet,” Michel advises.

What to Do When Your Senior Cat Won’t Eat

Sometimes a cat that once had a huge appetite may become reluctant to even approach the food bowl. Cat owners have tried everything to get their pets to eat, from mixing in tuna juice to warming food, but these home remedies have limited success, Wakshlag says.

Any time your cat won’t eat (unless you’ve just switched his food), call your veterinarian.

Appetite loss is usually a sign of an underlying condition. Gastrointestinal disease, cancer, and chronic pain can all affect a cat’s appetite. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and get your cat started on the right treatment.

If necessary, an appetite-stimulating drug, such as cyproheptadine or mirtazapine, may be prescribed.

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Reviewed on May 01, 2010
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