An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Changes in the Eating Behaviour of Senior Cats

 The first installment of a series I plan to write about the behavioural needs of senior cats.

September is back-to-school time for many humans and Herself is no exception. She has now enrolled for cognitive enrichment course called Brain Fitness. I favour cognitive enrichment for humans because they need all the help they can get. Compared to we felines - the superior species - they have a way to go.

"Now what has this to do with cats?" you might ask.

Simply this: Like Herself, I, too, am getting on in years.  I am now in the 11+ category that marks me as senior. Indeed Herself and I are about the same age in human years, except I have a trimmer figure and am more agile. In these ways I have become her role model, though I doubt she'll resort to eating cat food and balancing on railings anytime soon.

If you are curious about how old you are in human years, consult an Age Chart . If your purrsons have being using the canine rule of 7 years human to 1 year dog and applying it to you, they are in for a big surprise!

And now for the next surprise. There can be a difference between your chronological age (how many numbers you are) and your 'real' age, roughly meaning how hale and hearty you actually are. We've all encountered feline colleagues who look and behave much younger than their years - and the reverse.

As a senior cat with a great deal of experience, I have thought deeply about the aging process. Even if I do say so myself, I'm in great shape and I can prove it, having just taken the Defy Age Quiz offered by the Hill's Pet Food Company. According to the results, I'm between 1 to 3 years younger than my chronological age. Not bad, considering a few stiff joints that require daily doses of glucosamine; but what the heck, Herself has arthritis so why not moi

Like our human counterparts, we encounter many changes as we age. You can look at The Special Needs of the Senior Cat, an article from the Cornell Veterinary Medical School, to get an idea of what may be in store for you. However, I'm going to focus on those changes in our behaviour during our sunset years.

Behavioural Changes Related to Eating, in Cats of a "Certain" Age - Barring Medical Issues

Again I issue the warning that I am going to deal solely with non-medical, behavioural issues - not changes in behaviour that are the result of an underlying medical condition - like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease and the like.

Changes in Eating Patterns

Some of us gain weight.

We may be less active because of mobility issues. And the more weight we put on, the harder it is for us to groom those hard-to-reach places and to move about. Our fur may mat (oh, painful!) and so we may move around less because it hurts. Unfortunately if we are disposed to arthritis, that extra weight can make moving about that much more difficult.

And let's face it, some of us our bored. In these cases, eating becomes a form of entertainment.

Barring medical issues, the keys for those of us who are gaining in girth are similar for cat in such a predicament at any age. They are as follows:

1. Consider a 'diet' (that is, calorie-restricted) food so that you still get that sense of volume in your tummy but with fewer calories. Sometimes just a switch to the diet version of whatever you currently eat will do the trick.

2. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine (more about that later). Probably as it is with humans, exercise is not the key to weight loss but rather the key to keeping it off because it revs up the metabolism - something that slows down as we age

3.As for boredom, get yourself a food puzzle or two to make you work for your kibble. My previous entry, Cat Food Matters: Eating Too Fast, has several puzzle suggestions.

Some of us lose weight.

Again there are several reasons that can be behind this change.

1. We can no longer absorb all the nutrients we used to. So a more nutritionally-dense diet is in order (again barring medical issues that may preclude this). If you are used to eating budget-brand food and are ready for or in need of a change, do talk with your vet so you can select a food that will be good for you purrsonally. There are several companies have diets specially formulated for our senior years.

For example, check out
Hill's Age-Defying Diet,
Iams Premium Protection Senior,
Innova Senior,
Royal Canin's Mature Fit 28
These are only examples. I encourage you to find one that suits you.

Some of you may prefurr a whole-life-stage food (meaning one largely meant for adult cats regardless of age) from another company. This is most especially fine if it is made with high-quality ingredients.

Whatever you do, make sure you grade your new food in, that is, start by mixing a small portion of the new food, like 25%, with the majority of your current food, say 75% - and then over the course of 4 to 7 days, increase the proportion of new.  This helps you accept the change and wards off the chance of any tummy upset due to a different diet.

2. But some of us lose weight (again barring medical issues) because it is too painful for us to eat. The latter often happens when we have dental disease and are on a kibble diet. But it can also happen with advanced dental disease and wet food. In such cases, get thee to a vet, pronto!

problems with access. Some of us can no longer reach our food bowl because it is in a place that is too high for us (like a counter top). Either we need a new, lower feeding area or we need  pet stairs or a ramp to help us reach our destination.

Sometimes we can no longer hunker down (because it's too hard on our joints) to put our face in a low food bowl. A raised food bowl is in order, so we don't have to 'go low'.

Sometimes changes in the social structure in the household interfere with our access to the bowl itself. Somebody else (like a rambunctious dog or a younger cat) puts their snout in our dish or keeps us from getting to it. In such cases we need a new, safer feeding area away from such hassles.

Your being fed on a counter will usually keep the dog's nose out of your dish - as long as you can manage getting to that counter top. With a pesky feline colleague, you need to get craftier about a suitable venue and purrhaps may have to resort to a separate room (one which only you can enter, via an electronic cat door).

Some of us become more particular about what we eat.

We become just like human senior citizens who complain that our meals just don't taste the way they used to. Smell and taste are closely related. Chances are our ability to smell the subtle wafts of food has lessened.

If this is the cause, then any of the following measures ought to be considered:

1. If you eat wet food, heat it (very modestly) before you eat it, to release its aroma. By modest heat, I refur to body temperature and the best guide you can give your human is to warm it so it would be suitable to feed a very young human baby. Encourage them either to use the microwave or to set a small bowl with your wet food portion into a larger one with hot water. Just stirring the food over hot water (NOT in it), can warm it nicely.

2.  Restrict yourself to eating fresh.

i ) If you have the misfortune of being in one of those households where the folks put a huge plop of wet glop in your dish and leave it out all day then you well know that it will form a crust. The aroma will have dissipated, leaving you with slop. "Fie," I say. Use your paw to scoop the goop and smear it around every conceivable surface you can think off and then howl, loudly. At least that will get their attention.

Insist on small servings of fresh wet food. Alternatively, request one or two feedings of wet food per day at set times - with the understanding that leftovers are removed promptly into the waste disposal.

ii) If you prefur kibble, make sure it, too, is fresh.

There are two ways to accomplish this. The first is proper storage.  Make sure your supply is stored away from heat or intense warmth in a air-tight bag. Once that bag is opened, it should be kept tightly closed but only AFTER all the excess air is squeezed out of it. The reason? Fats are often sprayed on the outside of kibble to make it more appetizing. Once exposed to air, the fats can become rancid, turning us off the food.

The second is to pay attention to your kibble bowl. In negligent households, the practice is to keep topping the bowl  - pouring new stuff over the old day in and day out as an easy way to refill it. So you go up to the bowl, eat off the top and refuse any more as the older, less-appetizing layer becomes exposed.

If you live in a household with lax kibble bowl hygiene, pounce on the mouse next time your purrson is at the computer. Go to this blog entry. Then meow until said purrson scrolls down to this section. Indicate that reading should begin by purring loudly.

Your food vessels should be washed well in advance of acquiring fat smears on the surface and crumb scum on the bottom. I'm not fussy about the detergent used but insist on thorough rinsing. The thought of blowing bubbles from the residue while I meow, sets my teeth on edge.

Then fresh kibble goes on the bottom, with any leftovers (from the previous meal or day) on the top. And no, this does NOT mean that the bowl is piled so high that you will never get to the fresh kibble in all of your nine lives.

It means your purrson is observant enough to provide suitable amounts on a daily basis, so that only a small amount is leftover (if any) by the end of the day. It is a good system to use to monitor your intake - an early warning system should you get off your feed.

"What," you say. "You are eating from a used container which formerly housed cottage cheese?"

Don't tell me you are restricted to consuming your food from a plastic bowl that is so scratched you can smell last year's food in the cracks!

In such cases, there is only one solution. You MUST learn how to use the Net. Set up an e-account with your local pet supply shop. Then register your prefurrences for feeding implements in a similar manner to the expectant bride or groom. (No I don't mean pregnant, for I would hope you are spayed or neutered; I mean looking forward to enjoying the purchased gifts).

Request a suitable vessel that has a hard, scratch-resistant surface such as stainless or unbreakable china with a stable bottom that won't wander around the floor when you try to eat. The shape is up to you, for those of us with flatter faces often prefurr an extended flat surface so whiskers don't get crushed in the process of eating, while others like a deeper bowl.

As a matter of fact, opt for more than one vessel, so you can have a clean one at all times - regardless of the dishwashing habits of those with whom you live.