Senior Pet Diet Tips - Help Your Pet Age With Grace
Author: DVM cVMA Dana Hogg
Aging is an inevitable process that all animals experience, albeit at different rates. As animals age, they may experience a decrease in muscle mass and mobility, which can lead to weight gain. Additionally, senses like vision and hearing may start to deteriorate, and the likelihood of developing medical conditions increases. Despite the inevitability of aging, there are ways to support our senior animals. It's worth noting that the age at which an animal is considered "senior" can vary depending on their size and species. Typically, small and medium-sized dogs are considered seniors at 7-8 years old, while larger breeds may be considered seniors at 5-6 years. For cats, the senior status is usually attained between 7-10 years of age.1
Switch to a Senior Formula
As your pet ages, their health needs begin to shift and you should institute a diet change. There are diets specifically designed to accommodate the needs of an aging animal. While senior pets may not have any ailments initially, they do become more likely to develop diseases such as kidney disease as they get older. Senior diets are designed to have a more highly digestible, and lower protein level than adult foods to maintain muscle mass. They are also designed to have lower phosphorous levels. Both factors are considered more kidney friendly. Senior foods are also lower in calories. In the golden years’ weight gain sets in as their metabolism and activity decrease. Lower-calorie food options and feeding proper quantities of food will help prevent unwanted weight gain. You may notice some senior diets are also enriched with extra antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and glucosamine, all of which help support an aging animal.2
Modifying Calorie Intake
We touched on calorie intake when switching to a senior diet, however, being mindful of the
amount of food your pet is eating is very important no matter which life stage they are in.
This especially rings true for our seniors.
Senior pets are very likely to have arthritis present in one or several joints which affects their mobility.As you can imagine extra weight gain puts a lot of extra strain on their joints making mobility even more challenging. Switching to a senior diet which is lower in calories is helpful, and administering treats in moderation is a must.
Be mindful of what types of treats you offered and consider switching to healthy options, such as fresh whole foods like green beans and carrots, to help reduce the calorie load.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplements
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish oils. These fatty acids can provide anti-inflammatory effects in the body and prove to be a great supplement for animals. They are beneficial for heart and skin health and help support joints, kidneys, and even cognitive health. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to know exactly what you are getting in some products as not all fish oil supplements are created equally. Supplements may come in liquid or capsule formulations, and some may require refrigeration. Dosing will depend on what your goal is in their use. For example, the dose for joint health is often higher than the dose for other conditions. When considering a supplement, it is always best to consult with your veterinarian for product recommendations and dosing.
Antioxidants are substances that help protect against cellular damage. When an inflammatory response is initiated in the body, the body produces compounds that include reactive oxygen substances to help with the process. The inability to counteract these substances once their work is complete can cause damage to the normal healthy cells within the body. This especially rings true for animals with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, where they may become deficient in their body’s source of natural antioxidants. Examples of antioxidants are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta carotenes but the term can really include vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals, or even herbals that aid in protecting cells from damage. While some senior diets may be enriched with antioxidants, there are also supplements you can incorporate into the daily routine which may prove beneficial.3
A well-balanced microbiome is essential for the overall health of animals. It plays a
crucial role in regulating the immune system, absorbing nutrients, synthesizing vitamins,
metabolizing food, and developing the nervous system. However, dysbiosis can disrupt the
microbiome due to various factors such as stress, environmental changes, underlying
diseases, and systemic inflammation. Senior pets may be more vulnerable to dysbiosis and
have a weaker immune system than their younger counterparts. To support the microbiome
of aging pets, daily probiotics can be beneficial.
Studies have shown that the use of probiotics can be helpful for patients with chronic kidney disease. It is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine if and what supplements may be suitable for individual pets. Regular exercise and enrichment activities are also vital, in addition to nutrition. Regular wellness exams and health screenings can help detect diseases and other health issues early on, making them easier to manage.
- Caring for senior cats and dogs. (n.d.). American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/senior-pets
- Mature-Pet-Diets-Final.pdf. (n.d.). Google Docs. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xbIVG5JxpfuxAiEkmkGqGdd51nJ8-y7U/view
- Antioxidants | VCA Animal Hospital. (n.d.). Vca. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/antioxidants
Dr. Dana Hogg graduated in 2015 from North Carolina State University. She grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. Growing up with several animals, Dr. Hogg was drawn to the field of veterinary medicine at a young age. She completed her undergraduate degree at NCSU in 2009 and her master's degree in 2011.