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Does Your Senior Cat Need to Lose Weight?

Food for Your Overweight Senior Cat

By Mary Kearl. November 12, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Does Your Senior Cat Need to Lose Weight?

Carrying extra pounds could put your senior cat at risk of certain diseases. So what food and nutrition strategies can be implemented to help aging felines slim down and get healthy?

Obesity is not just a concern for humans—it’s the top disease related to nutrition for cats, and a real problem for our senior cats who, as they age, often have issues with their metabolism and experience loss of muscle mass. Carrying extra pounds could put your loved one at risk of heart disease, urinary tract infections, diabetes, arthritis, and even early death.

So what food and nutrition strategies can be implemented to help aging felines slim down and get healthy?

The Senior Diet for Obese Cats

To start, seek the guidance of a veterinarian or board certified veterinary nutritionist about creating a weight-loss plan. There’s no one plan that’s right for every cat; in fact, the makeup of your animal’s meals—consisting of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water—will vary based on a number of factors, such as age, breed, sex, or level of activity.

As a general rule, store-bought pet foods make it easier to achieve complete nutrition. If you’re planning to prepare homemade food, please do so under the consultation of a vet or a certified veterinary nutritionist. Use the chart below as a guideline for what nutrition to look for on store-bought items or include in your homemade food.

Stay away from products with the label “all-purpose,” meaning the food item is designed to meet the needs of pets in the most demanding life stages (growing kitties, for instance) and likely to contain more energy than aging, overweight cats need. Avoid high-fat food items, which could lead to further weight gain.

Do look for one of the following claims on the cat food label: “complete and balanced nutrition,” “meets the nutritional requirements of cats established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO),” or “complete and balanced nutrition for cats based on AAFCO feeding trials.” You'll know you're getting a diet that's been approved according to AAFCO guidelines.

The Numbers Guide for the Senior Diet for Obese Cats

  Dry Food Wet Food
Protein 28% or more 7% or more
Fat less than 14% less than 4%

Practice portion control with pets at mealtimes. Determine the right serving size and leave only that amount out. You can use the instructions that are usually included on store-bought food as a guide—these feeding instructions are generally on the high end, so start with the smaller portion size provided in those feeding directions. Don’t let your cat graze as they please! And of course, you may need to reduce or eliminate their treats.

More Feeding Guidelines for Seniors

It may be time to adjust your feeding schedule. Serving smaller meals more frequently throughout the day may be better for your cat’s digestive system than offering bigger meals just once or twice a day.

Older cats with kidney disease face a special problem: In addition to having a harder time absorbing essential nutrients, these cats are more likely to experience a depletion of these important nutrients through their kidneys and urinary tract. As a result, discussing supplements with your vet is recommended.

Special commercial pet food is available for cats that fall into the categories of “senior” and “geriatric,” and for those living with specific conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, obesity, digestion issues, food allergies, and more. If you're thinking of switching your special pal to one of these types of food, ask your vet if it'll meet your cat's nutritional needs.

Supplements

One way to boost your animal’s antibodies—or their innate defense against infection—to that of a younger cat? Antioxidants like vitamin E and beta carotene have been shown to improve immune system response in cats, and there is plenty of evidence that certain probiotics can help your cat fight off common feline viral infections.

Warning: One common mistake pet parents make is over-supplementing a pet’s diet with too many vitamins and minerals, which could result in serious effects on pet health. So always follow dosage guidelines, and check with you vet to see if any supplements or vitamins for cats may be doubling up on a certain function.

Watch Out for Other Health Concerns

In addition to obesity and the other health risks related to excess weight mentioned above, many senior cats begin to have issues with their immune system—or ability to protect against disease.

Now that your pet is a senior, be sure to have a vet checkup every six months. If you've noticed any of the following signs: vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, weakness, drooling, bad breath, and changes in weight, appetite, water intake, or frequency of urination, consult your vet right away.

More on Diet Health for Cats:

6 Ingredients That Burn Fat in Pet Food
Kitty Tummy Troubles: Vomiting and Gastritis

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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