Increase Cat Life Expectancy With #HillsPet

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Seren is allowed to drink from my glass, too. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s Science Diet for Cats, but I only shares information I feel is relevant to my readers. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is not responsible for the content of this article.

For an old fogey 16-year-old kitty, Seren-Kitty is remarkably well preserved. Siamese as a breed tend to have a longer cat life expectancy, and the average age of cats has increased to mid-teens. But it’s not unusual for cat longevity to reach the early twenties and beyond. With the exception of a recent URI, she’s never been sick and enjoys clean teeth, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps.

Seren now has a few white hairs surrounding her eyelids, made visible by the dark mask. And she’s got some arthritis so she doesn’t leap as high any more. A couple of her claws have thickened and require more frequent trims since she has trouble pulling them in (she “clicks” when she walks on hard surfaces). But keeping the dog in line seems to keep her very happy and engaged in life! I figured in “human years” she’d be around 75-80. You can find out your pet’s age with this neato cat age calculator.


What is considered “old” for a cat? Those who follow this blog know I spent a couple of years researching and writing about aging pets (including Complete Care for Your Aging Cat) and wanted to share with you some of what I learned from talking with over a hundred veterinary experts. The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.

“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and still living at the age of 37 in 2004.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM, a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.


Old cats benefit from more frequent veterinary visits and exams. Image courtesy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition

Longevity of unknown heritage cats are much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.

Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human. You can check out human aging stats here.


I have to be honest here. While many dogs truly could be considered “mature” at age 7, healthy cats tend to age much more gracefully. Aging and longevity is so individualized, your cat may not be ready for a diet change until she’s 9 or 10. But since no pet food company has a crystal ball to pinpoint the EXACT time for a change, most recommend using the 7-year benchmark to transition cats and dogs to a mature formulation that helps reduce age related health challenges, like potential kidney issues (a BIG problem in aging felines). Today cats aged 7-10 are considered “mature adults” while 10+ are considered “seniors.”

What kinds of aging changes can you expect? Some are more obvious–like Seren’s white hairs, thickened claws and loss of hearing. But what about her “innards?” While it’s clear a kitten shouldn’t eat the same food as an adult, what’s the big deal with lifestage food choices once the cat’s a senior? Here’s the deal–age changes the way cats perceive–and use–nutrition. Responsible pet food companies research these changes and seek to provide formulations that address changing needs.

Changes in flavor perception are thought to reflect those experienced by aging humans, says Nancy E. Rawson, Ph.D., of the Monel Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia dedicated to research in the fields of taste, smell, chemical irritation and nutrition. “But as a carnivore, the feline’s senses of taste and smell are quite distinct from those of the human, and responses to age-associated changes may differ,” says Dr. Rawson.

Cats aren’t able to detect carbohydrate sweeteners (dogs do! so beware the Halloween candy dangers to come!) Cats instead taste and seem to prefer meaty flavors described by people as “sweet.” Detection of meaty, salty and sour flavors doesn’t seem to be affected by age. Bitter tastes are more sensitive to aging changes.

Chemical irritations and “mouth feel” influence how well the cat likes or dislikes a flavor. Pet food companies have whole groups of scientists studying exactly what makes kitty belly up to the bowl, or snub it. Mouth feel can be influenced by changes in saliva content, for example, caused by dehydration that commonly develops in aged cats.

Disease or medication can reduce or increase the sensitivity of the mouth and tongue, and alterations in taste (and smell) can remain even after the disease is cured and the medicine is stopped. Dental disease creates a hypersensitive mouth, interferes with chewing ability, and produces unpleasant tastes and odors that prompt the cat to refuse certain foods. Warming foods increases the volatility of tastes and scents to make them more intense and appealing to the aging cat’s palate.

Scent is very important for cats, but few studies have documented exactly what happens to its acuity in relation to age. Cats do lose smelling sense the older they get, but nobody knows the amount due to changes of aging compared to lifetime damage, says Lawrence Myers, DVM, PhD, associate professor of animal behavior, physiology and medicine at Auburn University. “We’re just starting to get a handle on how much the vomeronasal organ contributes to the total scent picture for dogs and cats,” he says. The vomeronasal, or Jacobson’s, organ is in the roof of the mouth between the soft palate and nasal passages and is thought to be important in the detection of pheromones, chemicals primarily involved in prompting sexual behaviors.

Age-related losses in the sense of smell result from changes in the anatomy—scent cells aren’t replaced as often—and at the molecular level when existing nerve cells and “messenger” molecules in the nose become less sensitive. Reduce salivation or altered nasal mucus composition also impact the way odor chemicals are dissolved and detected.

“We did a study a number of years ago and published it in the annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that dealt with the lack of the sense of smell in the cat, and the influence of food intake,” says Dr. Myers. “A complete loss of vomeronasal as well as olfactory nerve caused the cats not to eat at all. It seems as if the sense of smell gives them some sort of cue that it’s edible,” he says.

The digestive system includes the mouth, teeth, stomach, intestines, pancreas and liver. It processes nutrition and eliminates waste. One of the greatest digestion-related problems of aging cats is obesity, or “over-nutrition.” Older cats don’t exercise as much, and their metabolism slows down, so they gain more weight.

However, because cats are true carnivores and use protein as a source for energy, if they don’t eat enough, they’ll lose weight as they age. Cats may gain weight up to age ten, but then lose as they have less ability to digest protein and fat. In fact, weight loss particularly of lean muscle, tends to occur in cats at about two to two-and-a-half years prior to their death from age-related diseases, says Joe Wakshlag, DVM, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University. He says studies in otherwise normal adult cats indicate that increasing dietary protein by 35 percent (dry matter basis) enhanced lean muscle mass in these cats.
“The gastrointestinal tract in cats is relatively well protected from the ravages of time,” says Dr. Colin Burrows, an internist and professor of medicine at the University of Florida. “In older cats, just as in older people, the ability to digest diminishes somewhat but it’s not frightfully significant.” Smaller but more frequent meals often help the cat’s body absorb more nutrition.



MAINTAIN health while aging with Science Diet® Active Longevity™ foods. Image courtesy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition


DEFY the visible signs of aging with Science Diet® Science Diet Senior 11+ Age Defying. Image courtesy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition









Hill’s Pet Nutrition offers a range of cat foods designed to meet the needs of your aging cat–whether she just celebrated her 7th birthday or 17th. For example, Science Diet® Age Defying™ cat food contains precisely balanced nutrition for senior cats as they age. In fact, Hill’s says you’ll notice a visible change for the better in your cat after just 30 days on this food, including increased play, interaction, and agility, and less potty accidents–and more awake time.

Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age. “I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at North Carolina State University. “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”

Your turn! How old is YOUR cat? What kinds of aging changes have you noticed? Have food changes benefited your furry wonder? Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!


Increase Cat Life Expectancy With #HillsPet — 14 Comments

  1. Great article. Many people know to transition from kitten to adult but mature/senior is just as important. Also it’s very common for cat’s over 10 to develop kidney and thyroid problems so if your cat is loosing weight it’s important to take them to the vet for blood work.

    • Thanks a bunch, Dr. Anna! I strongly recommend folks have their cat get some baseline blood work done at age 7 or thereabouts, just so they have a “normal” to compare down the road.

  2. Anubis is now eating kitten food (he is shunning all his other food for it… argh that figures) and is finally back at a normal weight. High-protein seems to be the magic cure for his weight loss issues as he gets older, so I guess we’ll just have to run with it… we found out he needed a higher protein content before when we started giving him chicken as a regular meal every day. Guess we just have to bump that up again… seems so weird since a while back I tried Simba on a higher-protein food and it turned out to give her the runs even after what should have been a reasonable adjustment period. Goes to show you every fuzzball is different…

    Of course… I think you’ve already been told about our suspicions about him having a somewhat more “interesting” heritage.

  3. Hi Amy! We’ve been an IAMS family for ten years. I’m not saying it’s The Best, but I live in an isolated area and availability of new things is next to nil here. However, A few years ago, IAMS developed a new line “Premium Protection” that is age-specific (1-6, 7-10, 11+). It is in white/orange bags and is more expensive than IAMS regular formulations. This line has NO gluten, and lists chicken as the primary ingredient. At one point, we had all 3 bags going as everyone was a different age.
    I have discussed with our vet and she is happy with this choice. I did a thorough comparison of labels and now that Boo is 11, I wanted to make sure that there was a difference, and not just a marketing ploy. There is…albeit small. The diff between the younger versions and her 11+ version is just 1% protein, but it has added chondroitin and glucosamine for joint health. She’s now an acupuncture patient for suspected arthritis so the addition of these 2 things is welcome. The current youngsters, at just 2, are with the 1-6 bag.
    Food is an ongoing issue, but it makes sense that with age comes different nutritional requirements.I would consider switching from IAMS Premium Protection if another viable alternative proved better…but so far, I haven’t found it. And my vet agrees with me that switching to a raw or all protein diet would wreak havoc on a senior’s kidneys, liver, etc., so that isn’t an option.

    • Hey Lynn,

      Great comments! It’s important to do your own research and figure out what’s best for your individual cats. And follow your vet’s advice. Glad you found a good option that works. A number of the “aging pet” diets now include chondroitin-type supplements, those really do help. Seren’s on a therapeutic diet for her kidney issues (not serious yet, thank goodness!) and I add a Cosequin supplement to that.

      From what I learned, it’s not just the amount of protein but the quality and digestibility that matters. Cats with specific health issues need to have the formulation chosen based on those needs.

  4. Our furry one, age 8, still jumps into windows like a kitten when so inclined but he also sometimes waits until I open the curtain or (if I will) open the window itself before jumping. He’s not quite as endlessly up and down unless motivated. With the very low window that is always supervised (due to being close to the ground where visiting cats & possums can sit on the outside of the screen too) he & I frequently have this conversation — “No, you go into the window first or I won’t open it.”

    I can’t check his parents’ age because he is a rescue & his mother was last seen in the neighborhood when she seemed to be telling his sister to stay in our yard as a good (dogfree & fenced) place.

  5. We want to thank you, Amy, for our furred one being alive now. Your lumps & bumps post motivated me to more quickly ask my husband AND our vet whether the tiny wart-like growth on our cat’s side was a problem. Our vet had us come back the next morning & removed it and what was a tiny wart outside (under all that thick fur) was a MARBLE-sized mast cell tumor inside. The vet was able to get all of it he reported and we are now 5 months out. What all should we be doing now to watch out for recurrences and what types of lab work & blood work should he be getting and when.

    • I’m gonna cry…what a lovely thing to say, Brenda! I’m so glad your vet found and eliminated the tumor. Your vet will have recommendations about appropriate lab work. What you can do is continue to pet your kitty, nose to tail, and search out any other little changes you find. Knowing what feels “normal” is as important, so you can detect even the minor changes.

      You made my day!

  6. This is such a great article and by the way I like the pic of Seren drinking out of your glass. I appreciate all of your research, writing and sharing of info after talking with so many veterinary experts on this subject. I have had vets over many years ever now and then suggest me putting my cats on Hill’s Science Diet and I always had excellent results from what I had always fed them and felt like IF IT WASN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT, so I decided against it also partly due to expense. Well, my 9 year old yellow tabby a few months ago seemed to be in pain so off to the vet she went. After xrays, lab work and several hundred dollars later the diagnosis: CRYSTALS in her kidneys. The vet gave her antibiotics, laser treatments to relax the bladder and the suggestion of putting her on prescription Hill’s Science Diet for bladder health. So I decided we would try it. At first it didn’t go over too well but over a period of a couple of weeks she came around and now loves it. I really didn’t think it would make a difference but I’m here to tell you IT HAS. She has not been in any more pain and has not had another flare-up. All 3 of my indoor cats eat this food now and all seem to like it. So Thank You to Hill’s and Thank You Amy for spreading the word!

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