Q & A: At what age should I change my cat’s food to a ‘geriatric’ diet?

Q. At what age should I change my cat’s food to a ‘geriatric’ diet?

A. As with most dietary changes, this will depend on the individual cat and most importantly the body condition of the cat. However, food companies generally suggest you transition your cat on to a senior food at around seven years of age and a geriatric food at around 11 years of age. Senior cats are more predisposed to weight gain whereas geriatric cats may lose weight and lean muscle mass.

As your cat enters the senior years of her life, she becomes less active and more prone to weight gain. A senior diet will address these issues as it is lower in fat. A geriatric diet will be higher in fat and protein to address wasting and lean muscle loss. We also need to consider immune, joint and digestive support. Older cats are more predisposed to illness, so a senior food should contain a good blend of antioxidants to support and assist the immune system. These cats may suffer from osteoarthritis (this may not be visible as they do not exhibit the same signs as dogs do). They generally become less active and sleep far more. This means that their senior diet should also provide them with some joint support. A good quality meat-based product will contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate to support cartilage production, joint health and mobility.

As cats get older some develop occasional intestinal upsets (constipation or loose stool) and their senior diet should contain an appropriate moderately fermentable fibre to compensate for these upsets. Magnesium levels in the senior diet should also be controlled to support a healthy urinary tract. Other things to consider would be coat condition and dental health. The appropriate diet will have a good quality fish source to supply the appropriate omega fatty acids and prevent a dry, dull and course coat. Dental care is an added benefit and will help reduce tarter build-up for clean teeth and healthy gums.

If your vet has not prescribed any medication for your cat, your senior cat has not been diagnosed with any illness or condition and your cat is on a good quality senior or geriatric diet, there should be no reason to supplement the diet. Supplementation may be necessary with a poor quality diet, but it does work out to be more cost effective with a better diet.

Shana Ashpole, BSc (Hons) Animal Science

Q. Someone said I should look for flea dirt in my cat’s coat to know if she has fleas, butwhat does it look like and how can I treat my cat for fleas?

A. Flea dirt looks like bits of black pepper when seen on the fur. It is quite hard and brittle, and is made up of dried, digested blood that has passed through the flea. The best way to tell if the little black bits are flea dirt is to wet a piece of white kitchen towel and to sprinkle the dirt onto that. If the dirt bits dissolve into reddish-brown patches, they are most likely flea dirt.

The best place to find flea dirt on a cat is under the chin, as they are very good at grooming themselves.

Understanding the flea lifecycle

In order to understand flea control, it is important to understand the lifecycle of the flea:

* There are four stages in the development of fleas: eggs, larvaepupae and adults.

* The male and female fleas mate on the dog and the female flea starts laying eggs two days later.

* The eggs are often laid on the animal, but because they are not sticky, they fall off into the environment. The flea can lay 30 to 50 eggs in a day, generally in batches of three to 15.

* Two days after the egg is laid, it hatches and the larva, which looks like a small maggot, emerges.

* The larva passes through several phases of development, taking a total of about a week.

* At that time, the larva starts spinning a cocoon and is called a pupa. The cocoon is sticky and can be found deep in carpets or crevices.

* In a week, the pupa develops into an adult and emerges from the cocoon.

The entire lifecycle takes about 15 days, but the pupa can remain dormant in inhospitable conditions, for example cold, and can extend the cycle to over a year.

As you can see, when trying to control fleas it is important to treat the adults on the cat, but also to remember that most of the lifecycle happens in the environment and to treat those stages too.

Treatment options

To treat the cat, there are many spot-on applications that kill the adult phase of the flea within 24 hours and are effective for up to six weeks. Also, there are tablets that can be given which kill the fleas within 20 minutes, but do not last as long as the spot-ons.

To treat the environment it is important to vacuum the area where your cat sleeps daily and to wash bedding regularly. Also use an environment spray, but please note that not all insect sprays work on pupae, so ask your vet specifically for flea products as it is important to kill the larvae and pupae. Most sprays last for about two months.

Dr Adi Graiser, River Valley Veterinary Clinic

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