Nutrition for mature cats and dogs - Veterinary Practice
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Nutrition for mature cats and dogs

in this third in a series of columns from Royal Canin, looks at the different nutritional requirements of cats and dogs as they reach the latter stages of their lives

AGEING is a complex process
which sets in insidiously and
causes irreversible change affecting
all organs of the body. Essentially
it is an accumulation of wear and
tear on the body that occurs
progressively with the passage of
time but there is much we can do
to help maintain vitality in older
cats and dogs using the right

A cat or dog is considered to be
“mature” when it reaches half its
average life
expectancy and so this
represents a
proportion of
Cats are considered to be “senior”
from the age of seven and in the
healthy ageing cat there are several
areas in which nutritional changes can

The age at which a dog is
considered to be “mature” varies
depending on the breed size – eight
years for small dogs (less than 10kg),
seven years for medium dogs (10-
25kg) and five years for large dogs
(over 25kg). At around two-thirds of
its life-expectancy, a dog becomes
classified as “senior”.

Some of the main issues affecting
these older pets include those
affecting: renal health; oral health;
mobility; skin, coat and muscle health;
appetite and weight management; and
cognitive function. Let’s take a closer
look at each key issue…

Renal health

As cats and dogs age, their kidney
function is likely to become less
efficient than it was during their prime
adult years. As a result, reducing the
phosphorus level of the diet is
recommended for mature and senior

A loss of water-soluble vitamins
(due to a reduced ability of the kidney
to concentrate the urine) can also be
seen in ageing animals and so these are often incorporated into these diets too.

Oral health

Tartar deposits on the teeth and
receding and inflamed gums are
common problems in mature pets.
This can also affect appetite and,
eventually, lead to weight loss. Kibble
diets, which limit plaque, coupled with
the inclusion of sodium
tripolyphosphate can be beneficial.

These calcium binders limit
availability of salivary calcium, delaying dental plaque calcification. The kibbles
of most senior diets are formulated to
be softer to offer easier prehension
and chewing of the food.

Mobility issues

Joint issues are much more likely to
occur in geriatric cats and dogs. The
addition of nutrients such as
glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3
fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA)
to the diet can help to support

Skin, coat and muscle health

As pets age, their skin can become
drier because the oil-producing glands
within the skin often decline in
numbers and the coat often becomes
thinner as the hair follicles shrink back.
Ensuring the diet contains optimal
levels of B vitamins, zinc and essential
fatty acids will aid the skin and coat.

Muscle loss due to ageing
(sarcopaenia) is also a common cause
of weakness in older cats and dogs
and so it is important that their diet
includes high quality proteins. A higher
percentage of branched chain amino
acids (such as leucine) helps to
maintain muscle protein mass. Leucine
directly stimulates protein synthesis in
skeletal muscle cells and generates
energy in muscles by increasing ATP

Appetite and weight

As pets mature, metabolism can start
to slow and their energy requirements
decrease, resulting in an increased risk
of obesity in this age group. For
example, the maintenance energy
requirements for an elderly dog are
considered to be 20% lower than those
of a younger adult dog, due to a
decline in the “lean mass: fat mass” ratio.

However, amongst senior cats and dogs, the senses of
smell and taste can begin to
deteriorate, resulting in a
decreased appetite. It is
therefore important to offer a
highly palatable food to senior
pets and one that is relatively
higher in energy, to stimulate
them to eat the food but also
because these pets often have
a decreased ability to digest
the food they are given, so are
more likely to start to lose

A combination of highly
digestible proteins, sugar beet pulp and
fish oil can assist here, in order to
ensure maximum digestive tolerance.

Cognitive function

Phosphatidylserine and L-tryptophan
are useful ingredients in
supporting brain health in
ageing pets.

Phosphatidylserine is a
natural brain structural lipid
found in the neuronal
membrane. It moderates the
fluidity of the cell
membrane, essential to the
brain cells’ ability to send
and receive

L-tryptophan is an amino
acid, metabolic precursor of
serotonin that plays an
essential role in the regulation
of anxiety, sleep and appetite.


In summary, ageing is an
inevitable part of life and
such changes should be seen
as a natural evolution rather than a disease.
It is, however, important to ensure that the more mature pet is
recommended a diet which is
appropriate not only for its size,
lifestyle or breed but also for its age.

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