As a cat gets older, its digestive system becomes less efficient and it requires several smaller, easily digested meals a day rather than two main meals. It has been determined that changes to the digestive system begin to take place around 7 years of age and that older cats need food containing easily digested protein.
Most cats enjoy a variety of tinned food, semi-moist pellets, dry food (kibble), and occasional treats of cooked meat/fish. “Complete” cat food provides a balanced diet for your cat while “complementary” food should be fed as a treat only. Most veterinarians will be happy to advise, but don’t let them force you into buying one particular product; some vets get a commission for selling certain brands in vets clinics.
If you use tinned food, always clear away or refrigerate uneaten food otherwise it will become stale or fly-blown and may cause digestive upsets if eaten later.
There are also “life-stage” foods available that are aimed specifically at Older Cats and Less Active Cats. These are formulated to suit an older cat’s digestive system and to reduce the risk of obesity in less active cats. They provide easily digested protein, but they are often expensive and not all cats like them. Unless your cat has problems digesting ordinary cat food, is becoming overweight or is on prescription food, ordinary complete formulation cat food accompanied by fresh drinking water is adequate. Before being fooled by slick advertising for life-stage formulations ask your vet if your cat really needs it. Personally, I give an occasional treat of kitten formulation food to older cats.
Many cats enjoy dry food (kibble) and the crunchy texture may help to keep their teeth healthy. Cats that eat mainly dry food require plentiful fresh drinking water. As cats grow older they may experience dental problems which make it difficult for them to eat crunchy food. It may be useful to accustom an older cat to tinned food as it gets older since a toothless cat may swallow dry food whole; this can cause indigestion and regurgitation or vomiting of undigested kibble.
Most cats manage very well without teeth, but if your cat has problems you can chop tinned food to a manageable consistency. Some of the very firm foods can be mashed with gravy, tomato juice from a sardine can or warm water to give them the consistency your cat prefers. Gravy can also be added to dry food to soften it.
A cat’s sense of smell deteriorates with age and this can lead some cats to become finicky eaters; strong-smelling tinned food may overcome this. Cats are also adept at manipulating owners into serving food that the cat likes, which is not necessarily the food that is best for it. Unless you enjoy preparing balanced gourmet meals for your cat try not to be manipulated as this creates a risk of dietary imbalances.
Any cat which is experiencing difficulty in eating or has lost its appetite should be examined by a vet in case there is an underlying problem. Likewise, a suddenly increased appetite, especially if it is coupled with weight loss or poor condition, needs to be investigated. Signs of poor diet include thin, dull coats, excessive shedding or dandruff, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, yellow teeth, and mouth odor.