The Dietary Needs of Senior Pets
By Dr. Al Townshend
Today, dogs and cats are living longer than ever before. That’s due, in part, to improved veterinary care and the much closer relationship Guardians have with their pets than 40 years ago. Guardians are better educated, regarding the welfare of their pets, and they are willing to go the extra mile to assure long and happy lives for their companions.
One of the most important things Guardians can do for their pets is to feed a proper diet, based on the life-stage of the pet. Senior pets require a significantly different diet than a puppy/kitten, or even a young adult. Senior recipes need to address the changes that occur as the pet ages.
As pets age, the changes that occur are the same as the changes humans experience as they age. Proper diet and regular exercise that focuses on slowing the aging process, can be the most significant things a Guardian can do to make the biggest long-term difference.
The first step in slowing the aging process is to begin early. Never wait until a pet is obviously showing signs of aging. Gaining weight, joint stiffness, shortness of breath, increased water consumption and frequent urination, loss of vision, decreased hearing, confusion and disorientation are all signs we want to delay in showing up, so it is essential to begin making changes before these signs, and others start.
As dogs and cats grow older, they tend to become less active, and their body’s metabolism also slows down. Continuing to feed the same food in the same amount can encourage excess weight gain. That can put additional stress on the bones and joints, as well as the heart and lungs.
Senior dogs and cats should have a body conformation slightly on the lean side to reduce stress and discomfort.
Typical diets designed for older pets contain fewer calories than traditional adult and puppy recipes. Look for foods that have good levels of protein but less fat to get lower amounts of calories. In most cases, the level of calories is listed on the packaging.
Exercise has to be a part of any weight control effort. Exercise not only helps manage weight, it tones and strengthens the muscles (which support the joints) and stimulate the respiratory system.
Controlling appetite is often a challenge. Guardians can make every effort to feed the right amount of food, but when the pet looks up with those big and begging eyes, hoping for more food, it’s hard to resist. If that is an issue, finding a recipe with increased levels of fiber can help in satisfying appetite without adding calories.
For years Guardians were told that older pets should be fed lower levels of protein. Today, studies have shown that older pets still need good levels of protein and not lower levels. The secret is to provide high quality, highly digestible protein. Fresh meat and concentrated meat meals are the best sources of better protein for both dogs and cats. Some non-meat protein sources like grains and legumes are fine, however; the bulk of the protein should be from high- quality animal protein.
Many of the nutritional needs of aging pets are best provided as supplements to a senior recipe.
The digestive tract of older dogs and cats can become less efficient as the pet ages. Supplementing with a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement assures the body has these vital nutrients that are essential for every metabolic process in the body.
As pets age, the gastrointestinal tract can become less efficient. High-quality, highly digestible ingredients make it easier for nutrients to be digested and absorbed for use by the body. Supplementing the diet with Probiotics (the “Good Bacteria” essential for good health) helps to improve digestion.
Digestive enzyme added to the diet reduces the demands on the pancreas and improve digestion.
Heart and Kidney Support:
The most common organs of the body to fail, as a result of old age, are the heart and kidneys. Providing added support for these vital organs is essential in extending a pet’s life. Omega 3 fatty acids, most commonly found in fish oils, are a great way to boost heart and kidney health. Ginkgo Biloba has been shown to improve blood flow and heart health.
Making sure your older pet drinks plenty of water is essential for kidney health. Never restrict access to water.
As with many elderly humans, pets too can have mental issues as they age. Alzheimer’s in pets is called Cognitive Dysfunction and can occur in both dogs and cats. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to improve brain function. Coconut oil is an excellent source for pets. Ginkgo Biloba is an herbal supplement that supports proper brain function.
Arthritis is one of the most common ailments affecting middle-aged and senior dogs and cats. It can be a source of chronic pain and negatively affect a pet’s quality of life. Maintaining a slightly lean body condition, and regular exercise are keys to slowing the development of arthritis. Supplements like Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM help to reduce the discomfort caused by arthritis. Omega 3 fats from fish oil help to reduce inflammation caused by the disease.
Older pets often have a depressed immune system, which makes them more vulnerable to infection and inflammation. Vitamins and minerals are vital in supporting the immune system. Vitamins A and C, as well as selenium, are natural antioxidants. Omega 3 fats enhance a pet’s immunity. Adding additional antioxidants to the diet helps to support immune health.
Proper levels of Probiotics in the digestive tract are an essential component of a pet’s immune system. Supplementing the diet every day assures optimum levels at all times, making the pet more resistant to infection and digestive upsets.
One of the most common ways that infection enters the body is through the mouth. Plaque and tartar are great places for bacteria to live and thrive. Damaged gum tissue creates a gateway for the bacteria to enter the body. Regular dental exams by the veterinarian and professional cleaning are important. Adding dental chews to the diet can help keep the teeth clean and delay the necessity of having the teeth cleaned.
Be sure and discuss proper nutrition and the importance of supplements with any of the Ambassadors at your Pet Planet store. They are knowledgeable in providing you with the information you need to make the best decisions for your pets.