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It’s hard not to think of your cat as the feisty little kitten they were when you first brought them home. Pets don’t age as visibly as humans do, but just because they look young on the outside doesn’t mean they feel young on the inside. Aging cats have different needs and nutritional requirements than young cats. You can help them out by feeding them specially formulated food for senior cats.
Read on to learn more about how cat nutritional needs change as our cats get older. We’ll also provide tips for shopping for senior cat food and share our top picks.
How Cat Nutritional Needs Change with Age
When it comes to cat food, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Kittens generally have a higher need for protein, fat, and calories than adult cats because they’re growing and developing. But once they reach maturity, maintaining a healthy body weight becomes the focus.
So what happens when your cat starts to mature?
According to the Feline Nutrition Foundation, a cat’s energy requirements decrease in middle age (between 4 and 9 years). With declining energy, your cat has a higher risk of weight gain. But once your cat hits 10 to 12 years of age, their calorie requirements may actually increase. Without enough calories and protein, your cat could lose muscle mass and become too skinny.
While scientific data on this phenomenon is limited, one thing is certain—adequate protein intake is essential for all cats, regardless of age. And the best thing you can do is choose a healthy, protein-rich diet to make sure your cat is getting the calories they need to maintain a healthy body weight. As always, check in with your vet when monitoring your cat’s weight and modifying their diet.
What To Look For in Senior Cat Food
All cats are obligate carnivores, which means the majority of their diet should come from animal protein. Here are some things to look for in senior cat food:
- Highly digestible food. Digestibility is the key to proper nutrient absorption—keep in mind that cats are designed to digest protein, not carbohydrates. (If your cat is throwing up food, talk with your vet to find out why—and get their recommendations for other food options.)
- Plenty of protein. Research suggests that older cats may need a higher percentage of protein in their diets than younger cats do.
- Taurine. Taurine is an essential amino acid critical for heart health and important for aging cats. It can be found in animal-based proteins like chicken, lamb, and fish—you’ll see it listed as an ingredient in any good cat food.
- Moisture. Many older cats develop dental problems that make chewing kibble difficult. Wet food is easier for many senior cats to manage, and the increased moisture content is important for digestion and kidney health as well. If your cat insists on dry food, try using moisture-rich wet food as a topper.
- Sufficient calories. While some cats gain weight as they slow down with age, many senior cats have the opposite problem—they have trouble keeping weight on. Work with your vet to determine the ideal weight for your cat. Then find the right food and feeding schedule to help them achieve and maintain that weight.
The Best Cat Food for Senior Cats
Choosing a recipe formulated for older cats is one of the easiest ways to make sure your senior cat’s nutritional needs are being met, but it isn’t the only way. As long as your cat food provides the right balance of protein, fat, calories, and essential nutrients, and your cat is maintaining a healthy weight, you’re already on the right track.
If you are looking for food specially formulated for older cats, there are several excellent options. We’ve listed the crude protein content for each of these foods. Keep in mind that the percentage of protein is calculated differently for dry foods and wet foods—since wet foods include so much water. Just make sure to compare dry food to dry food and wet food to wet food when choosing food for your senior cat.
Formulated to support your senior cat’s immunity, heart, and digestion, this recipe features Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Crude protein: 32%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
This grain-free recipe is made with balanced protein and fat content to support healthy weight management. Added prebiotics and probiotics can help with healthy and regular digestion. Crude protein: 30%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon
This nutrient-packed cat food from IAMS delivers everything your aging kitty needs: calcium and phosphorus for strong bones, antioxidants and Vitamin E for a robust immune system, and L-carnitine to help maintain a healthy weight. It’s healthy, delicious, and bonus—the texture helps remove built-up plaque. Crude protein: 34%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
Crafted with natural ingredients, this senior cat food (designed for cats 7 years and older) provides ample vitamins, minerals, and amino acids for optimal immune system and organ function. Crude protein: 27%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
This kibble features ingredients including farm-raised chicken, pumpkin, chickpeas, and salmon to help your kitty enjoy a long and healthy life. Crude protein: 34%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
Chicken is the first ingredient in this dry food specially designed to help adult and senior cats maintain a healthy weight. The recipe contains no wheat, corn, or soy. Crude protein: 34%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon
Uniquely designed to support the health of senior cats, this food features protein from lean chicken along with easily digestible carbohydrates, including brown rice and oatmeal. Crude protein: 36%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
A protein-rich recipe packed with salmon and tuna, this wet food is designed to appeal to senior cats age 11 and older. It offers 25 essential vitamins and minerals, plus taurine to help support your cat’s overall health. Crude protein: 10%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon
If you’re looking for a softer food option for your senior cat, consider this pâté recipe. It offers chicken as the main protein ingredient to support lean mass and healthy body weight. Crude protein: 7%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon Shop on Petco
If your cat is a staunch Fancy Feast fan and you’d like to shift them to a senior-friendly food, check out the protein-rich line for cats age 7 and up. It includes recipes like this minced tuna in gravy. Crude protein: 12%.Shop on Chewy Shop on Amazon
How to Transition Your Senior Cat to New Food
Making adjustments to the food your senior cat eats is important for their health and wellness, but try not to make the change too quickly. Sudden dietary changes can upset your cat’s stomach. Instead, transition your cat to the new food slowly over the course of a week. You can start by mixing 25% of the new food with your cat’s current diet and slowly increase the ratio as your kitty adjusts.