How Many Calories Should A Senior Cat Eat? The answer to this question is going to vary from cat to cat because they all have different metabolisms. The rule of thumb is that if your kitty is overweight she should eat less, but if she isn’t overweight you should give how much she should eat based on your vet’s recommendation.
Many cat lovers have found themselves obsessing over their senior cat’s weight. After all, it seems inevitable that our little friends with fur will get chubby as they get older. This can be a scary and overwhelming condition to see in your elderly feline.
When is a cat considered to be senior or geriatric?
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) consider cats between 11-14 years of age to be senior while geriatric cats are 15 years and older.
“Before you consider switching to a senior cat food formula, it is important to first consult with your cat’s veterinarian for a thorough physical and metabolic evaluation.”
At an approximate mid-life point, when a cat is considered mature (7-10 years old), it is common for cats to gain some weight and exhibit age-related physical and behavior changes. But before you consider switching to a senior cat food formula, it is important to first consult with your cat’s veterinarian for a thorough physical and metabolic evaluation. Since many of the diseases commonly found in older cats can be detected early on, your cat’s veterinarian may recommend a nutrient profile to deal specifically with any current medical concerns.
Why do mature, senior, and geriatric cats need to be fed differently?
Similar to humans, energy or calorie requirements in cats initially decrease in their senior years but unlike humans, energy requirements start to increase around 11 years of age. This is because, as cats age, they have difficulty digesting fats, proteins, and energy.
What to Feed Senior Cats
Depending on your veterinarian’s individual recommendations, you might want to consider a diet especially designed for senior cats. This specialized senior cat food tends to be energy dense and highly digestible to compensate for an older cat’s slower metabolism.
Look for increased levels of antioxidants to slow down aging. Some senior cat food will also include supplements to help with worn-out joints and to combat arthritis.
While cats can use carbohydrates, a senior cat food with a high level of protein is important. That protein must be of high quality with all the necessary amino acids present. Meat protein is generally the best cat food for older cats.
Health problems such as feline kidney disease and feline diabetes are partially managed by diet. Your senior kitty may need prescription food for older cats to help manage their illness.
Always do diet changes gradually. Mix in the new food at a ratio of 25 percent new to 75 percent old at first. After a few days shift to 50/50. Then go to 75 percent new and 25 percent old before making the final switch.
How Much to Feed a Senior Cat
Most senior cats will have about the same caloric needs as an adult cat—roughly 280 to 360 daily calories depending on the normal lean weight—as long as they are healthy. Some older cats will actually have an increase in energy requirements. That increase may be due to a decrease in the ability to digest and utilize calories or it may be due to health problems that are commonly seen in senior cats.
Use your cat’s food label to calculate how much you need to feed your senior cat to meet their caloric requirement. Most cat food has calorie counts on the packaging. Initially, it’s best if you weigh out the daily meals. That will help you feed precise amounts.
Problems with an Older Cat Losing Weight
Certainly, senior cats who are overweight need to diet a bit, but feline obesity is seen more commonly in adult cats. Weight loss is a much bigger problem for most seniors. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate your senior cat’s body and muscle condition at home at least monthly, if not twice monthly. This is especially important for long-haired cats whose luxurious coats may hide significant weight loss.
Assuming you have the calorie count correct for your cat’s normal weight, what are problems that might contribute to an older cat losing weight? Dental problems are high on the list of minor-but-potentially-serious health issues that may lead to a loss of appetite in your cat. Just think about how much a toothache hurts you—one will hurt your cat just as much! Broken teeth, cavities and severe gingivitis are all dental problems that can stop a cat from eating the nutrients they need. Be sure to have your cat’s mouth thoroughly evaluated on their twice-annual checkups. They may need a full veterinary dental workup and cleaning.
Yes, I did say twice annual. Once your cat reaches senior status, it is important to have regular checkups. Just as a kitten can go from healthy to in trouble quickly, so can a senior cat. They also have fewer reserves and often have underlying health problems that contribute to weight loss. Regular blood work can often detect problems early on.
If you can’t find a medical reason why your older cat is losing weight, work on ways to encourage them to eat more. Try warming up their food. That will increase the odors that attract cats to eat. An older cat who can’t smell very well anymore is often unlikely to eat. Add “smelly” things like tuna juice to their food, or consider trying a different flavor of their favorite foods. There are also medical appetite stimulants your veterinarian can try, but if you can get your cat to eat on their own, that is even better.
Watch Their Water Intake
While it is important for all cats to have fresh water available at all times, it is especially vital for older cats. Feline kidney disease can be a silent killer that creeps up on an older cat. Drinking and flushing out toxins helps to keep kidney problems at bay.
If your older cat is drinking less than they should there are ways to tempt them. Consider adding the juice from canned tuna to their water bowl. Some cats are attracted to moving water—a slow drip faucet or a pet fountain may be the stimulus for more drinking. Also, your veterinarian may recommend a move from dry to canned food if you have been feeding a strictly dry diet.
Both feline kidney disease and feline diabetes may show up as your cat drinking more water than usual. At the same time, a cat with diabetes may seem ravenous and will eat more than usual while losing weight. The same symptoms can be seen in hyperthyroidism. Both conditions are treatable and respond best if caught early.
Our senior cats are treasures, and every day with them is a gift. They rely on us to keep them happy, healthy and provided with the very best cat food for older cats. So, make sure you are feeding your senior cat the right amount of calories and monitoring their eating habits!
What to Do When Your Senior Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box
When Nicole Donnelly moved into a new home in Apex, North Carolina, last year and welcomed a dog into the family, her 14-year-old cat, Crawl the Warrior King (“Crawl,” for short), started spraying. After a few weeks, it cleared up, so she and her husband had assumed the rogue urination was simply Crawl’s response to the stress of the move and new four-legged brother. But in the fall, the behavior returned—and this time, the senior cat was not using the litter box, either.
They began to see puddles of urine around the house. What most concerned the Donnellys, however, is that the puddles didn’t smell like cat urine.
“I thought maybe it was the dog, but then I caught [Crawl] peeing by the couch and it barely smelled,” Nicole says.
Crawl’s veterinarian ran some tests and found an electrolyte imbalance and what they thought was early kidney failure, which can be a reason for an old cat peeing outside the litter box.
The Donnellys experience is common among owners of senior cats and it can be an incredibly stressful one. But if you know what to look for and how to manage the situation, you can make life more enjoyable for both you and your pet.
Common Reasons Why Your Senior Cat Is Not Using the Litter Box
Jackson Galaxy, a cat behavior and wellness expert, host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” and a New York Times best-selling author, says that a sudden change in behavior—like an elderly cat pooping on the floor—can be a small hint of a larger issue.
“If your cat starts doing things [they] never did before, such as avoiding the litter box, go to the vet. Don’t bother Googling or asking friends—just go to the vet,” Galaxy says.
Litter box aversion is often linked to medical issues that may have gone unnoticed by the cat’s parent, according to Amy Martin, an animal behaviorist as well as owner and chief operator of Conscious Companion in Falls Church, Virginia.
“House soiling behavior is often misattributed to the cat trying to get back at the owner, but this is actually your senior cat’s calling card for help,” Martin says. “Cats may appear well despite underlying disease, compensating for it until they are no longer able to do so.”
A senior cat not using the litter box could be caused by a variety of medical issues, but common ones include:
- Degenerative joint disease (various forms of arthritis)
- Kidney disease
- Muscle atrophy or joint thickening
- Spondylosis deformans, a spinal condition that more commonly occurs in senior pets
- Decreased vision/blindness
- Urinary tract infections
- Lower urinary tract disease
- Thyroid issues
If your vet determines the litter box behavior may be the results of an underlying medical issue, they will work with you on the best course of treatment.
An Aging Body
When your old cat is peeing outside the litter box, it could simply mean that using a litter box is no longer an easy task for your cat.
“When a cat reaches his senior years … the litter box can become the Box of Doom to a senior cat with a stiff, achy body. What was once an easy hop in and out to do their business is now a painful and laborious experience for them,” Martin says.
In addition to medical issues that occur in senior cats, reduced tolerance for stress is also a common reason for a senior cat not using the litter box, Martin says.
“Older cats may be more sensitive to changes in the household, since their ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations begins to diminish with age,” she says.
Even with environmental stress, an elderly cat pooping on the floor—or urinating on the floor—is never done out of revenge or spite, Galaxy says. Rather, he adds, it’s more likely that the environmental stress is being manifested as physical distress.
I’ve received a number of inquiries both from veterinarians and cat owners asking about the daily protein requirements for cats. How about protein requirements for clinically normal geriatric or senior cats with a nonthyroidal illness? These are excellent questions, given the fact that all cats will need higher amounts of protein as they age to prevent a loss in lean body mass and associated muscle wasting. The dogma that all older cats be fed reduced energy “senior” diets must be questioned based on what is now known about the increasing energy requirements and nutritional needs of older cats. The higher maintenance energy requirements of geriatric cats, in combination with their impaired ability to digest protein, will lead to loss of muscle mass if their overall energy and protein needs are not met. In addition to an increased caloric intake, older cats also require higher amounts to maintain reserves compared with younger adults. As cats age, they absorb and metabolize it less efficiently. Therefore, it’s extremely important to feed them high-quality protein, i.e. from animal sources rather than grain-based sources, as well as an adequate quantity.
In the United States, the primary sources for minimum nutritional requirements in healthy cats are the National Research Council , the NRC, and the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO. Over the last few years, AAFCO’s nutrition profiles have replaced the NRC recommendations as the official source for nutritional information for commercial pet foods in the United States.⁸ Although AAFCO establishes standards on which States base their feed laws and regulations, it has no direct regulatory authority. As with the recommended dietary allowances for people, AAFCO pet food nutrient profiles are not necessarily optimal, but rather act as guidelines to fulfill the minimal requirements.
More importantly for this discussion, neither AAFCO nor the NRC has ever established nutrient profiles for senior or geriatric “normal” cats.⁹ Therefore, the AAFCO guidelines provide us with little assistance in determining the optimal daily protein needs of older cats.
How Much Protein Do Normal Cats “Want” to Eat?
As obligate carnivores, they need proportionally more protein in their diet compared to other mammals.¹⁰⁻¹² They do not have a dietary requirement for carbohydrates. They are adapted to eat a protein-rich, carbohydrate-poor diet. The composition of a cat’s diet in the wild, as a percentage of calories or metabolizable energy ingested, is approximately 50-60% protein, 30-50% fat and 5-10% carbohydrates. ¹¹ ¹³⁻¹⁵
First, let’s do some calculations about the likely daily intake for cats living in the wild. We know that in the wild, where they can choose what prey they eat, they would normally ingest at least 50% of their daily calorie needs as protein. The daily energy requirements for a typical, inactive adult is about 40-45 kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per day, denoted as kcal/kg/day, whereas the energy requirement for active or underweight cats is up to 80 kcal/kg/day. ¹⁶⁻¹⁷ So, if 50% of a cat’s calories are derived from ingested protein, and it provides 3.5 kcal of energy per gram, denoted as g, that would calculate into 5.7 g/kg/day of protein for a cat consuming 40 kcal/kg/day or up to 11.4 g/kg/day for a cat eating 80 kcal/kg/day.
In support of these calculations is a recent study that examined the diet composition of 42 clinically normal colony cats, aged 2.9 to 9.1 years, that were allowed to voluntarily choose the composition of their diet in order to fulfill their daily caloric need.¹⁸ In other words, this study asked the question: When cats can choose their own proportion of protein, fats and carbohydrates to fulfill their daily energy requirements, what did they actually eat?
In that study, investigators found that the “intake target was close to 26 g/day of protein, 9 g/day of fat and 8 g/day of carbohydrate, yielding a macronutrient energy composition of 52% protein, 36% fat and 12% carbohydrate.” Since the mean body of weight of these 42 cats was 4.9 kg, that would calculate to a daily intake of approximately 5.3 g/kg/day.
That daily value of 5.3 g/kg/day is close to the lower end of my calculated range of 5.7 to 11.4 g/kg/day for cats in the wild. Why the lower end? The likely reason relates to the fact that these research cats were inactive. Therefore, their calculated energy requirement was only about 45 kcal/kg/day.¹⁶⁻¹⁷ Remember that they were allowed to voluntarily choose to eat protein over carbohydrates, but they were not allowed to eat as much as they wanted. The more calories they ingest, of course, the higher their daily protein intake.
Feeding Your Senior Cat
Some aging cats lose their appetite or become obese. Experts tell WebMD how to feed your senior cat and what nutritional supplements they might need.
Your senior cat may still look and act young, but that doesn’t mean you should fill their food bowl with the same food they have always eaten.
Depending on their health, your aging cat’s diet may need an overhaul.
By the time a cat reaches their twelfth birthday, they are the equivalent of a 64-year-old human. In their senior years, felines start to fall prey to many of the same ailments as we do.
“They’re not as big as us or as dogs, but they undergo all the same aging phenomena,” says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Their activity level changes. They get joint disease, the creaks.”
Should you adjust your cat’s diet once they reach senior status? What dietary changes do you need to make if they are diagnosed with a chronic condition? Here is expert advice.
Feeding Your Senior Cat: The Basics
Although many older cats are put on a lower-protein diet , there really isn’t any research to prove that the nutritional needs of healthy senior cats are any different from those of younger adult cats, says Kathryn Michel, DVM, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
“I don’t doubt that there are some things that may be necessary or different for older animals, but our knowledge of that is limited at this point in time,” Michel tels WebMD..
Senior cat food doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all bag, either.
“There is no perfect food, because every older cat has its set of problems,” Wakshlag says. Feeding a senior cat requires tailoring the diet with the help of your veterinarian to address any specific health problems your pet may have.
Obesity and the Senior Cat
Age alone doesn’t change a cat’s appetite or how much food they eat, but lifestyle does have a big impact.
Cats are natural hunters. They stalk and capture prey, and to eat whatever small meals they catch throughout the day. Today, many cats are kept indoors where there isn’t much room to roam, and the food bowl is readily accessible any time they want to eat.
How to Stop Your Old Cat from Peeing and Pooping Outside the Litter Box
It’s important to visit your vet to determine why your senior cat has stopped using their litter box. But in the meantime, you can make some adjustments around your home to help encourage more consistent litter box use.
Provide Easier Access to the Litter Box
The Donnellys realized Crawl had to go up and down a few stairs in order to get to his litter box in the garage, so they moved it inside to make it easier for him. They also started carrying Crawl to the litter box twice a day.
“Easier access to the litter box can be helpful for senior cats who are starting to have trouble getting up and down the couch or stairs,” Galaxy says. Elderly cats may have difficulty getting in and out of top-entry or high-sided litter boxes, so consider switching to a litter box with low sides, such as the Puppy Pan litter pan.
Galaxy says the amount of litter also can cause problems.
“Senior cats who are having a hard time pooping in the box could be having trouble because there is too much litter,” he says. “If they don’t have anything to grab onto while they’re squatting, it just makes life a little harder, especially if their arthritis is in their wrists or paws.”
Add More Litter Boxes
If you switch to a low-sided litter box and your old cat is still doing their business elsewhere, try placing more litter boxes around your home. Galaxy suggests putting them in places where your cat has recently peed or pooped. You also can try placing one on each floor of your home. For many senior cats, he says, it’s a matter of convenience, and simply adding more litter boxes can help alleviate the problem.
Experiment with Different Types of Litter
Another easy experiment is to try different types of litter. Galaxy’s go-to is unscented, fine litter—“as close to sand as you can get,” he says.
The key is to put the new litter in a new box, while keeping your cat’s current litter brand in his usual box.
“If you see your cat is gravitating to the new litter box, then you can start changing out the rest of the boxes,” Galaxy says.
Pay Attention to Your Cat’s Diet
As your cat ages, your vet may advocate for a different diet, as senior cats have different dietary needs than their younger selves did. Galaxy says adjusting the diet to fit your old cat’s new needs will help them function as they should.
“As cats get older, one of the most important things we can do for them is keep water running through their bodies,” Galaxy says. He suggests adding a few pet fountains, such as the Drinkwell 360 Pet Fountain, around the house to encourage them to drink more, as well as adding a little warm water to your cat’s food.