How do a cat's nutritional needs change as they age?

Their nutrition changes quite a bit as they age, especially because they tend to slow down, which puts them at a higher risk for obesity. You want to have them on a lower fat with a higher protein food to lower the risk of them getting obese in the end. Also, you do want them to have food that has different nutrients to help their joints, some of them have glucosamine in them, and then they'll also have different antioxidants in them to help boost their immune system and help keep them as healthy as they can be.

Heather Bilek
Lombard Veterinary Hospital

What are some signs and symptoms that your cat may be slowing down?

A big sign of that is they might be eating less, sleeping more, not wanting to drink water, having a harder time going up and down the stairs, or aren't doing normal things like jumping off a bed like they used to.

What are some health complications or diseases that are commonly experienced by senior cats?

With senior cats, a really big health complication they tend to have is renal disease or renal failure. It is usually seen by doing blood work, and that's a big one that they often face. Another problem they tend to have is loss of muscle mass. They may also get thyroid problems, dental disease, or heart disease.

What kinds of preventative care can help extend the life and health of my cat?

Anything like a wellness checkup and getting blood work done helps. You can get them some supplements and nutrients at an early age to help their joints. Keeping their weight as minimal as possible can extend their life because if they're heavier, their joints will experience more arthritis, making it harder for them to walk. You also want to add more wet canned food to their diet just because cats tend not to drink as much water, so you want to keep their water level higher to help preserve their kidneys and other organs.

Why are wellness exams and regular checkups important for senior cats?

They're important because that's when you'll catch the early start of diseases. Every wellness exam in a senior checkup should include some blood work. As I was saying, their kidneys are a big thing, and by doing a CBC or Chemistry, you can see what their kidneys look like and see if you have to start them on a kidney diet, which would consist of a lower protein and low phosphorus, or if they're going to need fluid therapy. Another thing is it'll check for thyroid problems, which cats commonly develop, or even urinalysis to check their urine for diabetes to see if there's any protein from their kidneys or glucose in the urine. Along with that, you want to get them checked out for some dental disease because dental disease is another big thing with cats, and if you don't get it fixed when it's starting, they can get things called a tooth root abscess, which then leads to an abscess on their face, and then they'll need an emergency dental surgery.

What is the most important thing to know about caring for a senior cat?

They tend to rely on you more when they get older. I know many people think they're cats and pretty self-sufficient, but as they get older, they tend to rely more on you. So help them up the stairs, don't let them jump off of any high beds, make sure they have the right water content, and make sure the litter boxes constantly change because they are very sensitive animals. So any little change, like having too much pee in their litter box, can upset them and cause them to be a little bit stressed out. You want to keep their stress at the lowest level, so no new changes in the house because that can lead to many different problems. You also want to pay attention to their behavior and changes. If you start noticing anything changing with their behavior, whether it's eating less, urinating outside of the box, or not doing their normal everyday activity, then I would contact your veterinarian because there could be something going on with them.

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