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
||28% or more
||7% or more
||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.
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.
Food To Help Your Senior Dog Lose Weight
Nutrition for Overweight Senior Dogs
Feeding an overweight senior dog means finding the right nutritional balance. Here's what you need to know to find the best food for your senior dog.
Older dogs will need a different dietary routine than they did when they were younger, and this can be especially true for overweight dogs. If you’re starting to notice your dog’s muzzle going a bit gray and more huffing and puffing when your dog runs up the stairs, your buddy may be entering the next stage of their life.
When is a dog a senior?
Dogs hit their senior stage at different ages, depending on the breed. Larger dogs will usually be considered seniors when they reach 7 or 8. Medium breed dogs reach the senior stage usually a few years later, at 9 or 10 years old. Small and toy breed dogs are considered seniors at around 12 years old.
So what will happen when your overweight dog becomes a senior?
You’ll start to notice some changes in your dog’s body. These are natural results of getting older. Your dog will likely experience changes in their mobility, muscle mass, eyesight, cognition, and in gastrointestinal function.
All of these functions rely on nutrition, so here’s how to give your senior dog the best golden years by paying attention to their nutrition.
Muscle Mass Loss and Fat Mass Gain:
All senior dogs will lose some muscle mass over time, a condition which is called Sarcopenia. There’s not much to be done to stop this phenomenon, but higher protein diets have been shown to help diminish the effects of Sarcopenia. It may be more evident in a leaner senior dog, but it is also occurring in your overweight dog.
You’ll need to make sure your dog gets enough protein, and keep them on a lower fat diet. Here are guidelines to use when looking at dry and canned foods:
|Protein in Dry Food
||Fat in Dry Food
||Protein in Wet Food
||Fat in Wet Food
|24% or more
||12% or less
||8% or more
||3% or less
As your dog ages, their gastrointestinal function will become less efficient. Your dog will experience a decrease in intestinal absorptive capacity, or how much nutrients your pet’s intestines can absorb. This can mean diarrhea and other gastrointestinal discomfort. Look for a senior diet that includes highly digestible ingredients, to allow your senior pet to get the most from their food.
Much like humans, dogs can feel the results of aging on their joints, and this is especially true for large and giant breed dogs and overweight dogs. Since most older dogs’ bodies don’t replace cartilage as quickly, they can have thin cartilage in some joints, which causes some of the pain associated with arthritis.
You can use prescription anti-inflammatories to combat the pain, but there are nutritional supplements that will work as well.
- Fish oil added to your overweight senior dog’s diet can combat inflammation. Some dog foods already contain fish oil, but it’s typically not enough to see results. You can add ½ a teaspoon per 10 lbs of your dog’s weight to help them move around better.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are other supplements that may help your dog sustain cartilage and slow its degeneration. Glucosamine and chondroitin can be given alone or together.
Your overweight senior dog’s eye health and cognition will be affected as your dog ages as well. For these issues, the food and nutrition you can provide to your dog to boost their health will be the same that you'd give to a leaner senior dog.
As you can see, feeding your aging dog can be complex and knowing how to handle their weight is important. Though you can’t completely prevent the changes caused by aging, you can help keep your pal happy and healthy for a long time to come by providing the proper nutrients.
More on Dog Food and Nutrition:
What to Feed a Puppy
Feeding Your Active or Working Dog
6 Pet Food Ingredients That Burn Fat
This article was written by PetCareRx Consulting Nutritionist Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine. The information contained, however, is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian.
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.