How does my cat’s nutritional requirements change as she becomes a geriatric cat?

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When cats become about 10 years old, they start to slow down. They might sleep more often, develop arthritis or visual and other health challenges.

Proper nutrition is essential. An individual cat’s physical condition will determine what that particular cat needs, and elderly cats’ energy needs do not differ substantially from those of younger ones. However, an older cat will likely have lost some of its ability to digest food and absorb essential nutrients. Foods should contain readily digestible fats, ample amounts of protein and vitamins and minerals. Food intended for elderly cats should contain about 30 percent high-quality proteins. Important vitamins A, C and E may protect against some aging processes.

Some things to watch:

• Weight: Elderly cats may have trouble keeping a healthy body weight and become too thin as they age, because their senses of smell and taste diminish.

You will also want to take her to the vet to rule out any underlying illnesses, as older cats are particularly susceptible.

If she receives a clean bill of health, feed a high-energy food with easily digestible fats. The food should also contain essential fatty acids. Of course, you’ll want to consult with your vet before making any dietary changes.

• Obesity
Older cats can be prone to obesity. These animals need about 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight a day. Cat foods formulated to help elderly cats maintain their weight are not appropriate for overweight or obese cats, regardless of their age; only a veterinarian can help establish a diet low in calories that still provides the necessary nutrients. Exercise is also important for any elderly cat and will help maintain a proper body weight. Moderate levels of play help control weight and promote bone and muscle strength.
• Supplements
Your vet may recommend supplements, because aging cats absorb lower amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients are present in the food that your cat eats may no longer be enough for the aging feline.
• Water
The cat’s body is comprised of about 75 percent water, and senior cats need to drink more than the younger ones so they can break down additional nutrients, supplements and fats properly. You can meet this water requirement partially by providing them with foods high in water content. Adding flavorings to water may also encourage the elderly cat to drink more. If your cat is refusing to drink water, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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