Your bouncing, bounding bundle of furry joy is now getting on in years. Fortunately, due to better healthcare practices and improved nutrition, our furry friends are living far longer (and happier!) than they were just a few decades ago. Senior pet food that has been specifically developed may help alleviate some age-related problems. However, a one-size-fits-all approach may not work for all.
At what age is my pet considered senior?
This varies according to size and breed. On average, animals over the age of seven are considered senior. In giant dog breeds, this number is lower, coming in at about five years old, and in very small dogs, it can go up to 9 or 10 years old.
So what changes in diet are necessary?
Prevent weight gain. As many of us are well aware, activity levels drop and metabolic rates decrease as we age. So the tendency to pick up weight is greater. Even a little bit of extra weight on a dog or cat can take years off their life and increase heart, liver and joint problems, to name but a few. So lowering the calorie intake is important. Most senior pet food contains lower levels of fat (around 8 to 12%).
Prevent weight-loss. You may find that your older pet no longer has an appetite. This could be due to a deterioration in his sense of smell or perhaps chewing kibble hurts his teeth or gums. Make sure you have his teeth examined on a regular basis and also rule out any other underlying diseases, like cancer, that may influence his appetite.
You can change his food to something softer like tinned food or simply soak kibble in a little bit of gravy (like chicken broth) or warm water to increase the aroma and stimulate his sense of smell again.
Note: Putting a dog with this problem on a senior diet that has a lowered calorie count can be detrimental to their health.
Prevent constipation. Some older pets struggle more with constipation and so increasing the fiber content of the food helps their gastrointestinal health. Senior pet food increase fiber content to about 3-5%.
Prevent joint pain. To help with early onset arthritis, many senior pet foods contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which assists with joint pain. There are different opinions as to whether these supplements actually work. However, the most important joint pain solution is weight management.
So which senior pet food do I pick?
There are a few issues to consider if you decide to switch to senior pet food. Firstly, make sure the pet food distributor’s definition of ‘senior’ is the same as your own. As we discussed, different animals become seniors at different stages. Then, as for the additions like joint support or omega-3 fatty acids, the amounts added are not always enough to provide therapeutic support and there is no way to assess the quality of the ingredients. Purchasing a trusted, well-reputed food will go a long way to ensuring the ingredients are of proper quality.
Another option is to make the food yourself. But it is imperative that you consult a veterinary nutritionist to make sure that you get the correct balance of vitamins and minerals, protein, starch and vegetables.
Special diets for senior pets
As with humans, if your senior pet has a specific medical problems like diabetes or kidney failure, you need to be in touch with your veterinary nutritionist to make sure your pet is getting the exact nutrition he or she needs.
Dog Food Advisor can also help you find quality senior pet food, including food for different needs.
There are easy ways to add to your pet’s diet and prevent weight gain. Vegetables make great treats for dogs. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, apples – there is such a variety and dogs love them. A few minutes in the microwave and voila, they are a healthier alternative to conventional treats and contain antioxidants and other nutrients that can prevent many diseases.
High quality protein sources like liver, sardines and eggs are also a great addition to any diet, as I’m sure your pet will reassure you. Liver is packed full of vitamins and trace minerals that are excellent for your pet. Some people believe that you should reduce the amount of protein your pet consumes as they get older, however this is simply not true. A high quality source of protein will help maintain healthy muscle mass and improve organ immune function. However, make sure that you research the correct quantity for your breed and size of pet.
You can also add some fiber to your pet’s diet in the form of oatmeal. It contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and will help with digestive issues.
Water is essential to life, no matter the age, however, as our pets get older, their ability to maintain water balance in their body decreases. This reduces the efficacy of the kidneys to clean out the body. It’s vital to make sure your pet always has easy access to clean water at all times.
However, if your pet is still active, not overweight or struggling with her joints, you can keep her on the same food. If she does look like she is picking up a bit of weight, you can just reduce the amount of food she is getting.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nutrition. If your pet is happy and healthy on her current food, then there is no reason to change it. You can simply add to her diet, like giving her joint supplements if you want to be extra careful. But make sure you talk this over with your vet first.