Is there such a thing as a senior diet for cats?

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The answer is “yes”—and “no.”

AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) only recognizes two nutrient life stages: Growth and Reproduction, and Adult Maintenance, but manufacturers are permitted to market a cat food as suitable for “all life stages” as long as it meets the AADCO more stringent guidelines for “growth and reproduction.”

AAFCO is considered to be the authority in setting the guidelines and definitions for all cat food ingredients. For a pet food manufacturer to claim that their food is “nutritionally complete,” it must meet AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines.

Take a stroll, however, through any pet store aisle and you’ll find bag after bag and cans of food marked “senior diet.” These are foods developed to address the specific health challenges of the senior pet, such as:

• Weight. Obesity, as well as underweight, is one of the primary health challenges of the senior cat. Dry cat food should contain a minimum of 28 percent protein and 10 percent fat, while canned food should contain at least 8 percent protein and 4 percent fat–but older cats tend to be less active, so they may require less calories and fat. Alternatively, some cats lose their appetites as they get older, because of diminished senses of smell. They also don’t absorb nutrients as well, and this results in weight loss. If your cat is underweight, choose a premium food that is higher in calories.
• Digestibility: Fats are generally tough to digest, so senior foods tend to have less, as well as more proteins that are better absorbed.
• Increased fiber. It’s common for the older cat to experience constipation and other gastrointestinal challenges.
• Extra vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids.
• Dental disease. Some foods are formulated to reduce plaque and gum disease. The kibble is also in smaller chunks.
• Other supplements. As necessary, this could be glucosamine/chondroitin for joint health, omega 3 fatty acids for skin and coat or others.

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