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As a cat owner, you want to give your furry friend the best life possible.
Most people know that when a cat ages it is more difficult to maintain health and happiness with proper nutrition.
There are many options for senior cats food on the market today, but most of them don’t have all of the nutrients that your senior cat needs. It’s hard to know which ones will provide enough protein, vitamins, minerals without being too high in carbohydrates.
The goal of this website is to help cat owners learn more about taking care of their cats. I am not a veterinarian and I recommend seeking the advice of a vet for any further questions.
The advice in this article is not intended as medical advice.
Let’s get into the article.
What wet food is best for older cats?
Feline Natural chicken and lamb feast is our top wet food choice for senior cats. It is high in easy-to-digest protein to keep your senior cat strong. There are also beneficial micronutrients for joint health.
The key benefits of this product are:
- No grains or fillers: Feline Natural chicken and lamb feast is grain and gluten free. Senior cats have impaired protein and fat digestion. Unfortunately, grain ingredients may reduce the digestibility of protein. Cooked mashed corn also impairs fat and protein digestion.
- Low carbohydrate content: Feline Natural chicken and lamb is 2.1% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis. Researchers suggest a diet with less than 15% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis for a diabetic cat. Senior and obese cats are at higher risk of diabetes. Even if your senior cat doesn’t have diabetes, it’s a good idea to be proactive with prevention.
- High calcium to phosphate ratio: Feline Natural chicken and lamb has a 1.3 ratio of calcium to phosphate. A food with at least a 1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphate helps reduces the absorption of phosphate and lowers the level of parathyroid hormone. This may help reduce calcium deposits in the kidneys. Senior cats are at increased risk of kidney disease with over 31% of cats over 15 years affected.
- High calorie content: Feline Natural lamb and chicken calorie content is 4.6kcal/g. It’s recommended that older cats have an energy-dense diet containing 4-4.5 kcal/g dry matter. Senior cats need a higher-calorie diet to combat weight and muscle loss.
- Nutrients for joint health: Chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega 3 fatty acids may help improve joint health. Feline Natural chicken and lamb is packed with green mussels, a food source of these nutrients. Older cats are at increased risk of arthritis, especially if obese.
- High protein content: Feline Natural chicken and lamb is 51% protein on a dry matter basis. At least 20% of cats over the age of 12 have impaired fat digestion, whilst 30% of cats at this age have impaired protein digestion. This can cause muscle loss (called sarcopenia) as cats age. It’s recommended senior cat food is at least 40% protein on a dry matter basis. Most protein should be from animal based sources (Feline Natural uses only animal sources of protein). Corn protein increases the risk of constipation and urinary tract disorders which isn’t good news given senior cats have a higher risk of constipation.
- High fat content: Feline Natural chicken and lamb is 36.1% fat on a dry matter basis. According to research, cats prefer food with about 25% fat on a dry matter basis. Fat also increases calories, to help with weight loss. Senior cats have reduced sense of smell and taste with ageing. This can affect taste and food intake, so a high fat choice is the best option.
- Added Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may have a role in increasing your cat’s lifespan. This vitamin reduces the level of inflammation in the cells which lead to disease formation. Fish is high in polyunsaturated fats, which can deplete Vitamin E levels and may be worth avoiding. Feline Natural chicken and lamb contains no added fish.
Is wet cat food good for older cats?
Yes. Wet food is high in moisture which is beneficial for hydration and keeping an older cats kidneys healthy. These foods are also higher in protein, which helps with weight and muscle loss in senior cats.
Researchers recommend focusing on the following for senior cats:
- Dietary ingredient quality
- Caloric content (at least 4.5kcal/g for weight gain)
- Protein (at least 40% on a dry matter basis to combat sarcopenia)
- Digestion (easy-to-digest ingredients)
Wet canned cat foods are excellent choices to meet all these criterion.
Dry food is also fine to use, however take care to ensure you pick a product higher in animal protein. This will ensure your senior cat can maintain muscle strength.
What do underweight senior cats eat?
Give an underweight senior a wet canned cat food high in protein and fat. This will help with weight loss. Look for a product that is AAFCO approved for all life stages.
Here is a list of guidelines for feeding your underweight senior cat to help with weight gain:
|Senior Cat Nutrition Check||What?||Why?|
|High calorie content||>4.5kcal/g||Help maintain weight|
|High protein content||>40% on a dry matter basis||Help maintain strength and muscle mass|
|High in animal based protein||–||Easier to digest and higher quality protein|
|Low in carbohydrate||<25% on a dry matter basis||Lower risk of diabetes|
|High calcium: phosphate ratio||>1:1 calcium: phosphate ratio||Lower risk of kidney disease|
|AAFCO approved for all life stages||–||Provide nutrients needed to maintain health|
What is the healthiest wet food for senior cats?
Feline Natural chicken and lamb feast is our top wet food choice for senior cats. It is high in easy-to-digest protein to keep your senior cat strong. There are also beneficial micronutrients for joint health. This food will help your senior cat stay healthy.
This food is a little pricey and some cats may not enjoy the taste. If you want to shop around and check out some other options I’ve got a link to some dry food options below.
Is Fancy Feast good for senior cats?
Fancy Feast have food options for seniors 7+ years of age including their chicken feast product. This product is high in protein and low in carbohydrates without added grains.
The main downside I found with this product is it’s unclear what the calcium content is. A high calcium: phosphate ratio can help with kidney health with ageing cats.
Should I feed my senior cat senior food?
This is not necessary. There is no criteria for nutrition attached to the word ‘senior’ on a cat food label. According to professional:
“There is no AAFCO designation for a ‘senior’ diet, nor is there a nutrient profile for a senior cat,” he says. “Therefore, ‘senior’ diets are essentially slightly modified adult foods.”Joseph Bartges, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, DACVN
Senior wet cat foods may contain lower levels of protein and fat with more fiber. This isn’t the best choice for most senior cats, as they need more protein and calories to maintain strength.
There is nothing special about senior wet cat food sold on the market – and usually, if anything a worse choice.
Oddly enough, kitten food may be a better choice for senior cats. This is because kitten food is higher in protein and fat, with added calcium for growth. Senior cats may benefit from the added calcium for kidney health.
What age is a senior cat?
Cats are seniors at the age of 12 years of old. At this age, a cat experiences a range of changes to its health which influence dietary needs. This includes:
- Loss of smell
- Loss of taste
- Reduced mobility
- Kidney disease
Unlike dogs, senior cats are prone to losing weight as they aren’t able to digest protein and fat as well. Between the ages of 10-15 years, a senior cat may lose one-third of its muscle mass.
How much should I feed an Old Cat Eat?
Most senior cats need a high-calorie diet to combat age related weight and muscle loss. They will need about 20 to 33 calories per pound to maintain a healthy weight. An online calculator is a quick way to find out how much to feed your senior cat.
Most commercial wet cat food labels give recommendations on feeding amounts based on the weight of your cat. However, you need to increase the amount if your senior cat is losing weight.
Calorie needs also depend on:
- Activity level (outdoor cats need a higher calorie diet)
- Existing health conditions (e.g. kidney disease, diabetes, obesity)
Research finds older cats have worse digestion of fat and protein which can decrease weight. It’s best to choose an energy-dense diet (4-4.5 kcal/g on a dry matter basis) that is lower in fiber. Grain and plant-based ingredients increase fiber content which can reduce the digestibility of protein.
How much wet food should a senior cat eat per day?
A senior cat may need 4-6 ounces of wet food per day to maintain strength. Use a calorie calculator to find out how much is best for your cats needs.
Another way to find out how much to feed your cat is to check the feeding guidelines. You can find this on the back of a cat food label.
How much wet food you feed your senior cat also depends on whether you feed any dry food. This will reduce the amount of wet food to meet their calorie needs.
Should senior cats eat wet food?
Yes. Wet food is the best source of nutrition for cats, in my opinion. It contains the most protein and is easy to digest for senior cats. This type of food is great to help with muscle loss and kidney health.
As cats move into their senior years they have a reduced ability to digest fat and protein. At least 20% of cats over the age of 12 have impaired fat digestion. 30% of cats at this age have impaired protein digestion.
This is one reason senior cats experience muscle loss (called sarcopenia) as they age. Cats are more likely to lose weight as they age, compared to dogs who tend to gain weight.
Wet food tends to have more protein and a higher quality protein content in the form of animal foods. It reflects a cats natural diet in the wild.
Why is my senior cat so skinny?
Age related sarcopenia and reduced food intake. Many senior cats have worse protein and fat digestion as they age. They also have a harder time sensing smells and tastes, which can reduce food intake.
The key to senior cat nutrition is to help with as much as possible with the right type of food. A high fat and protein food from animal based food sources is a great choice.
According to research, cats prefer food with about 25% fat on a dry matter basis. Not only does fat increase calories for weight gain, it helps improve taste.
Do senior cats need special food?
Some senior cats need particular foods for health conditions, including kidney disease. However, there’s no need for prescription foods as these are usually expensive.
There’s a few things that are important for the health of most senior cats in general.
Here’s a run down of what to look for in terms of nutrients and ingredients for senior cats:
Senior cats need a higher-calorie diet to combat weight and muscle loss. Older cats should have an energy-dense diet containing 4-4.5 kcal/g dry matter.
Calorie needs depend on the age of the cat, activity level, and breed.
The only time a senior cat should eat fewer calories is if they are obese. Be careful, since even obese senior cats may have underlying muscle loss – which means they still need enough protein.
Senior cats need a higher fat diet for two reasons: extra calories, and palatability (taste).
Fat is the most ‘calorically dense’ macronutrient – meaning your cat gets the most energy for keeping their weight up compared to protein and carbohydrates.
Giving your cat a higher fat food will help to maintain weight if they are struggling with weight loss. Remember, that 20% of senior cats have impaired fat digestion.
Fat also improves palatability (taste).
Getting your cat to enjoy their food and eat is important. Low-fat food is less ‘tasty’ than moderate-fat food.
Many senior cats struggle with muscle loss and need a high protein intake to maintain strength. Sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass) reduces mobility, quality of life, and increases mortality risk.
Whilst almost all wet cat food choices have enough protein, the quality of sources varies considerably:
Wet cat food with high-quality animal protein foods such as chicken, whitefish, turkey, lamb, beef, venison, rabbit, and salmon as main ingredients is a top choice for senior cats.
Plant-based proteins may be less preferable (e.g. pea protein, corn gluten meal) as they contain fewer essential amino acids and aren’t as well digested.
Corn protein increases the risk of constipation and urinary tract disorders.
Being carnivores, cats don’t have any requirement for carbohydrates in the diet. In fact, a wild or feral cat will consume a diet of less than 2% carbohydrates.
Here is a comparison of a wild cats diet to a human:
Table 1: Diet Comparison of Cats vs Humans
|Wild prey based diet for cats||1-2||30-68||30-68|
|Commercial cat food diet||15-35||20-50||30-40|
|Human low carb diet||20||50||30|
Cats still need glucose, however, their livers convert amino acids (from protein) into glucose for fuel. This is why cats have higher rates of gluconeogenesis than humans.
Cats also have fewer carbohydrate digesting enzymes and a lack of taste for sweetness.
Whilst a higher carbohydrate doesn’t appear to harm cats, a lower carbohydrate diet may be a better option for diabetic cats.
Laflamme and Gunn-Moore suggest a diet with less than 15% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis for a diabetic cat.
Senior and obese cats are at higher risk of diabetes and prevention starts early – so you may want to get proactive with your senior cat’s diet to prevent disease.
A lower carbohydrate diet (less than 25% dry matter basis) is recommended for weight gain in senior cats.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Senior cats may have better joints and cognitive function if fed enough omega 3 fatty acids.
The improved joint function may allow for more activity (and improve muscle mass) and a better quality of life for your cat.
Salmon and green mussels are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Some cat foods add fish oil to increase omega 3 fatty acids in the food.
Other nutrients such as chondroitin and glucosamine may also help improve joint health.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may have a role in increasing your cat’s lifespan.
Vitamin E reduces the level of inflammation in the cells which is involved in disease formation.
Some wet cat foods may have added vitamin E which helps reduce inflammation.
Cats often fail to drink enough water and develop kidney stones.
This commonly affects dry cat food eaters, but your senior may need more moisture in general if they aren’t eating as much in general.
Wet cat food with 70-85% moisture and is the best way to keep your senior cat hydrated. Fortunately, most commercial wet canned cat food has around 78-80% moisture so this makes it an ideal choice compared to dry cat food (which contains around 10% moisture).
A higher moisture cat food choice may be beneficial for a cat with a history of kidney stones and/or urinary tract infections.
An excess intake of phosphorus may lead to early kidney disease.
Phosphate is a micronutrient that is essential for intracellular processes including DNA formation and energy metabolism.
Although there is limited experimental evidence, wet cat food with 0.10-0.14% phosphorus content may prevent kidney disease. However, this is only recommended for cats with kidney disease.
For older cats without kidney disease, a high phosphate diet does not increase the risk of kidney disease. However, this was only after an 18-month diet trial.
In humans, a low phosphate and high phosphate diet increase the risk of mortality.
One thing that may prevent the formation of stones is giving your cat a balanced dietary intake with a 1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphate. Calcium reduces the absorption of phosphate and lowers the level of parathyroid hormone.
Parathyroid hormone leeches calcium from the bones and may deposit them in the kidneys. In young cats, a diet void of calcium (e.g. an all muscle meat diet) may lead to hyperparathyroidism which results in poor mobility, weakened bones, confusion, and at worse euthanasia.
Commercial wet canned cat food is supplemented with a wide range of nutrients which includes calcium.
Looking for cat food with a 1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphate may be a good choice for senior cats without kidney disease to reduce the risk of kidney stones.
Some wet canned foods contain high amounts of fiber from rice, wheat, corn, potato, and legumes.
Since senior cats already have poorer digestion of protein and fat, fiber may further limit the digestibility of their food.
According to a case study report on a vegan cat with recurring urinary tract disorders, plant-based diets may alkalize the urine and increase the risk of painful struvite urolithiasis (kidney stones).
I recommend looking for wet cat food with fewer plant-based ingredients.
Quality over quantity is best.
Should I feed my cat wet food in the morning or at night?
Both. In the wild, cats eat 7-20 times a day consuming small meals in the form of animal prey. They may prefer eating small and frequent meals over one big meal.
You want to make sure you cat has their meals fed at consistent times. If you miss their feeding window, your cat might start hassling you for food.
What should I feed my 15 year old cat?
A 15 year old cat needs a high protein and fat wet canned cat food. Look for a product with a high calcium to phosphate ratio (above 1:1) to help with kidney health.
A 15 year old cat is about 76 in human years (not exact, but a reasonable approximation). Like humans, they tend to have a higher risk of health conditions that include:
- Kidney disease
- Sarcopenia (muscle loss)
Optimizing diet can help to prevent and/or treat these health conditions.
What are the signs of aging in a senior cat?
Signs of ageing include:
- Weight loss
- Reduced mobility
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced grooming
It is important to get frequent vet checkups. Up to two visits per year are recommended for senior cats.
A vet will perform a physical and medication examination which will help to provide your cat specific recommendations for diet. Some senior cats may need special diets depending on the circumstance (e.g. lower phosphorus diet for kidney disease).
How can I encourage my senior cat to eat more food?
An elevated wide and shallow bowl helps a senior cat with limited mobility access food. Warming up wet food to 30 degrees Celsius is also helpful for improving the smell of the food.
Keeping the bowl away from the litter tray also improves smell.
- Best Orthopedic Cat Bowl for Arthritis
- 5 Best Cat Food Bowls for Easy Eating
- Best Wet Cat Food for Picky Eaters
In this article, I talked about the best-wet cat food for senior cats.
Senior cats tend to lose muscle after the age of 12, which reduces strength and mobility. They have a harder time digesting protein and fat.
To combat this, a wet canned food with over 40% protein on a dry matter basis is beneficial to help maintain muscle. A high fat food (over 25% on a dry matter basis) is helpful for improved taste and added calories.
Other special dietary considerations apply if your cat has a health condition. A low carbohydrate diet (<15% on a dry matter basis) is helpful for diabetic cats. Cats with kidney disease benefit from food with a high calcium to phosphate ratio (>1:1).