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Nutrition for Kittens to Adults to Senior Cats

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Is it nine lives or four stages? When it comes to a cat’s diet, there are really four stages, and what you feed your cat in each stage matters.

The four stages are:
• Kitten (up to age 1)
• Adult (ages 1-6)
• Mature (ages 7-11)
• Senior (ages 11+)

“In all stages, a cat needs protein and fat in their diets,” says Dr. Dennis Jewell, ACAN (American College of Animal Nutrition) and Fellow Nutrition Scientist at Hill’s, manufacturers of Science Diet. “Protein and fat are needed throughout their lives, but the amounts change as they transition from kitten to adult to mature to senior cat.”

Carnivore Cats
The one rule that never changes is that cats need meat in their diets. They are obligate carnivores, which means that they must eat meat. Obligate carnivores can eat other foods such as vegetables, grains, or fruits; meat, however, needs to be an essential part of their diets. Vegetables are a good source of nutrients. Just make sure your cat’s main food is meat.

Other Dietary Needs
Cats also need an essential amino acid called taurine. Prolonged deficiencies of taurine can cause central retinal degeneration, which results in blindness. It can also result in heart failure.

Another essential is fresh water. If you are feeding your cat dry food, make sure she has plenty of water. Water should be served with both dry and wet (canned) foods.

Changing Diets
“The best thing you can do for your cat is give him a well balanced diet designed for his age,” says Dr. Dennis. “Kittens need more protein and fat in their diets than older cats. And as your cat ages, you should transition from one type of food to another. Gradually introduce the new food when your cat matures from one stage to the next. I would do this over a period of five days. Mix some of the new food into the old, and then gradually add more of the new food. Over the period of five days, your cat should adjust to his new diet. He will be a lot healthier.”

Two Cat Households
Most people have two or more cats. The one problem is that most cats share a food bowl—even if you put out more than one. So, there may be a fat cat and a thin cat in your home. If that is the case, cut down on the quantities, and you can also put the thinner cat in a room with her food bowl and close the door while she eats. Yes, cats do graze, but this beats having one overweight kitty.

Cat and Dog
If you have a cat and a dog, chances are high that your dog will eat from both bowls. So, you can put your cat and her food in another room with the door closed or put your cat’s food up high on a counter where she can easily get to it.

“As your cat ages, his metabolism changes,” says Dr. Dennis. “So changing the diet as your cat ages is one of the best things you can do for your cat.”

Important Note About y/d Diet and Hyperthyroidism
Last week, I posted a story on hyperthyroidism and cats, and I mentioned that Earl Gray, my cat, is eating Hill’s Prescription Diet y/d Feline Thyroid Health cat food. The folks at Hill’s read the story and the comments. They were concerned that a few of us are mixing other foods in with y/d. Here is what my Hill’s contact says:

“I want to chat with you about the taste concerns some people are having with their cats on y/d. I certainly understand it’s hard for cats to switch foods and they don’t always take to new food very easily. I consulted with our Veterinary Consultation Service to see what they recommend for helping with taste and I was told that we do not recommend adding anything at all to y/d. This is extremely important because the food has controlled levels of iodine and even adding gravy could increase the iodine level therefore defeating the goal. We don’t want to risk that.”

”If your readers are concerned about taste and want to add something, it is best that they discuss this with their veterinarian. Something we’ve found that helps is to warm the wet food in the microwave—no longer than 10 seconds. Be sure to stir to avoid hot spots. Sometimes adding warm water to the wet food helps with the taste and helps restore texture. Or, make the transition time longer—mix the current food with the y/d over 7 days or even longer (10 or more days).”

It’s nice to know that they are reading, and more importantly, that they care about our pets’ health.

19 comments to Nutrition for Kittens to Adults to Senior Cats

  • Cleo

    Thanks Michele. Goood to know. Our kitten is turning 5 this month. I call her a kitten because she still displays those adorable kittenish behaviors.

  • Lee

    Thanks, and thanks for letting us know about the y/d update.

  • P Elizabeth

    Very helpful information as usual. I enjoyed learning about cat’s diet, and I don’t even have a cat. 🙂 I also learned a new term: “Obligate carnivore.” Your blogs always provide essential information.

    Great update from the Hills people about the Thyroid food. Important enough to repost as a separate blog!

    Keep up the good work, Michele.

  • Gina

    Thanks for letting us know about the y/d and adding food. It’s hard when we are eating a yummy meal and our cats look at us with those big eyes! We want to give them whatever they want, and that may not be good for them. One of my cats is on the diet, and he gets treats once in a blue moon.

  • I follow a prescription diet for my allergies. I sometimes make it really difficult on my parents when I ask them for extra morsels of food. It is important to follow the advice of our veterinarians to maintain our health. ~sigh~

  • I totally get it Gracey! And as parents we want to give in, but we shouldn’t.–Michele

  • chelsea

    We just got two kittens. They were found nearby my home. I’m going to hold onto this article for future reference. Thanks Michele!

  • Forrest D. Poston

    Note that you indicate the need for meat and protein in a cat’s diet. This need increases with hyperthyroidism, and yet the dry version of y/d has little to no meat-based protein. Instead, it’s a very high-carb diet and almost the opposite of what any cat needs, especially older cats and cats with hyperthyroidsim.

    Hills has not done anything close to enough testing with this food, and besides being simply poor nutrition, there are serious questions about the long term effects of an iodine deficient diet. Among other things, such deficiency can actually cause an enlarged thyroid.

    I suggest reading blogs by Dr. Mark Peterson, one of the leaders in the research and treatment regarding hyperthyroidism. This link will take you to several of his related entries, which include links to more:

    For those who can’t get the iodine treatment, methimazole remains a much better option than y/d. Personally, I much prefer the transdermal gel over any oral forms of the medicine based on two years treatment with Lancelot (now 17).

    Forrest D. Poston

  • Renee

    Great post Michele. You should have a FB like here. And we have 3 cats that have gone from kitten to adult food, and one cat on senior food. It really does matter.

  • Milena

    We are just in the process of changing our kitten’s diet to an adult food. Thanks for the info.

  • Linda

    It is so important finding the right food for your pets. I use an all natural brand, and will consider Hill’s Prescription if we need it. Thankfully our cats are in great health.

  • Sara

    I have cats, and prefer when you post about cats. This is quite helpful. I will share with my FB friends.

  • Michelle

    I’ve heard conflicting info on y/d. Thanks for clarifying. We have one cat on meds. He takes them without any problems. So we are sticking with it. But it is always good to know about other options.

  • Christine

    Thanks Michele! It’s always good to learn about nutrition.

  • lara

    My cat’s on y/d and is doing well. Thanks for this great article.

  • Betsy

    good to know about mixing food from kitten to adult, etc. Thanks!

  • Manfred Gehri

    Thanks! We have and always adopt older cats. We usually feed them senior formulas.

  • Catherine

    We just got a kitten, and a friend passed this post along to me. It’s very helpful. Thanks!

  • Howard

    I have bookmarked this article and will share. Our kitten is going to turn 12 months in January. Thanks for this helpful article.