It’s a blessing to be owned by an elderly cat. Even though the many common medical conditions to which aged cats are prone may often require these kitties to require a great deal of extra-special attention and care; nothing rivals the experience of living with a kitty who has reached a ripe old age. Elderly cats speak strongly about the excellent care they have received over the years.
Fortunately, there are many things owners can do to help maintain the best possible health for their older cats such as providing the highest quality species appropriate diet as a priority. As obligate carnivores, cats require meat as their diet mainstay. With the wide variety of cat food available today that is designed to meet the nutritional needs of this elderly feline population, it can be rather confusing to decide on which brands to feed. Unfortunately, there are still some veterinary professionals that suggest elderly cats be fed a low-protein diet.
However, Karen Becker, DVM, an expert in feline nutrition strongly disagrees. In an article about feeding elderly cats, she writes, “For many years, veterinarians recommended reduced protein diets for older cats.” She continues by explaining why veterinarians suggested feeding elderly cats a reduced protein diet because, “After a lifetime of eating commercial pet food containing poor quality protein that is difficult to digest, a cat’s kidney and liver function is compromised. As crazy as it sounds, reduced-protein senior cat formulas came into being because of the terrible quality of cat foods on the market.”
According to Dr. Becker, premature aging in cats, digestion, organ dysfunction and detoxification is created by diets that are hard to digest and assimilate. Fortunately, however, many veterinarians are becoming aware that in fact, elderly cats actually need more protein than younger kitties.
In 1992, Dr. Delmar Finco, a veterinary nutritionist discovered through his research, that as pets age, the requirements for protein really increase. In fact, restricting protein in animals with kidney failure didn’t increase their longevity or enhance their health.
Although low protein diets have been traditionally prescribed for cats with kidney disease, fortunately Dr. Finco’s work uncovered the fact that cats who were fed low protein diets developed hypoproteinemia; a condition where there is an abnormally low level of protein in the blood. These cats also became catabolic (the body basically wasting away) and they lost weight. He discovered that the more protein that was restricted caused these kitties to become even sicker. What Dr. Finco actually discovered that it was the level of phosphorus in foods that worsened kidney disease; basically not the amount of protein. CKD Cats can really feel sick and refuse their food when phosphorus levels escalate.
As a result of Dr. Finco’s work and the researchers who followed, many veterinarians are now recommending diets that contain excellent, highly digestible and assimitable quality protein are appropriate for kitties with kidney and liver issues. Most importantly, many veterinarians now recommend restricting phosphorus levels in the cats’ diets when it becomes necessary.
Dr. Becker cautions that cats who have progressed into later stages of kidney failure, “as defined by the International Interest Society (IRIS)” are recommended to be fed a reduced amount of high quality protein, but offered to them in a kidney-friendly fresh food format.”
According to Dr. Becker, the most important thing in feeding senior cats is to provide them with the highest quality protein. Feeding a highly digestible protein that contains high moisture content makes it so much easier for their aging organs to process.
Raw or “gently cooked” fresh food is an excellent diet for elderly cats. Dr. Becker recommends that if it is impossible to feed raw that dehydrated or freeze-dried balanced food reconstituted with plenty of water is good second choice. However, feeding an all dry-food diet in the long run will cause problems.
Cats must eat in order to prevent serious liver problems. Many cats often become highly addicted to poor quality cat food. If your senior cat happens to be a “junk-food addict”, Dr. Becker recommends “Adding a whole body supplement.” Your veterinarian can prescribe the most appropriate supplements, especially tailored to your special cat’s needs.
Along with excellent nutrition and regular veterinary check-ups, be sure to keep your elderly cat interested in her environment. With moderate exercise utilizing interactive playtime, providing a window box for your cat to gaze at the great outdoors, or a safe enclosed “Catio”, hiding treats in No Bowls Feeding Systems these are all excellent methods to keep your geriatric cat’s mind active and alert. Your elderly cat still is an amazing predator who needs to have her instinctive nature stimulated.
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, RCSW (Ret.)