Why is it that pet food manufacturers make a distinction between adult and senior pet food? Nutritionist Marjorie Chandler explains the importance of getting your cat’s diet just right.
As cats grow and get older, many things change – including their activity levels, energy requirements and their state of health. Although your cat’s diet should always be planned to suit her individual needs and wellbeing, adapting the right nutrition for your cat’s life stage can help her live a longer, healthier life.
Cats require 41 essential nutrients to keep them in good shape. These nutritional guidelines are set by European industry experts such as the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation), and are constantly reviewed as new research comes to light. ‘Complete’ and ‘balanced’ cat food formulations contain a combination of protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins, giving your pets all the nutrients they need in the right amounts and proportions. As a cat enters different life stages these requirements change, which is why some recipes are labelled ‘kitten’, ‘adult’ or ‘senior’.
Getting the right balance is also important because cats have very specific requirements when it comes to protein, amino acids and vitamins. They break down protein rapidly and can also quickly become deficient in some amino acids and vitamins – this is why you should never feed your cat a vegetarian diet.
We’re also increasingly seeing new ‘functional foods’, which may improve a pet’s quality of life as they mature. These include ingredients such as vitamins to promote better cognition and memory, and New Zealand green-lipped mussel extract and omega-3 fatty acids, which help to ease arthritis. Fatty acids also help to keep your cat’s skin and fur healthy.
Unlike humans, cats don’t suffer from a ‘furring up’ of the arteries, so diet isn’t as closely linked to prevention of heart disease. But they can be prone to kidney problems – if your cat suffers from a kidney-related condition, a diet with less phosphorus can help. Some older cats will benefit from extra protein, while very thin cats may thrive on a lower-fibre and higher-calorie diet to boost calorie intake. But always check with your vet before you adapt your cat’s diet, and remember to make any dietary changes gradually.
Equally important is to make your cat’s mealtimes enjoyable by serving a nutritionally balanced diet that is palatable and easily digested. Some cats may become a little fussier with age, or may find it harder to eat. But you can make mealtimes satisfying in various ways. Try feeding your cat smaller meals – older cats may be happy to eat small quantities of food up to 10 or 12 times a day if they’re finding digestion more difficult. Serving food at room temperature, or slightly warmer, will also help your cat smell and taste it better. Choose recipes with tasty, high-quality protein sources and switch to smaller pieces of kibble or canned food if your cat is finding it hard to chew. With a little care and attention, you can make sure your cat’s diet helps keep her happy and healthy for a long time.