Cats and dogs usually begin to show visible signs of aging at around 7 to 12 years of age. Pets age according to their genetics, diet and environmental conditions. As they get older, they become susceptible to conditions such as kidney and heart disease and obesity.
An aging pet changes physically making it necessary to be aware of changing dietary needs. If a senior pet is healthy, a veterinarian should examine it at least once annually. Detecting problems at the earliest stages will help ensure a quicker recovery. Health problems related to obesity, heart or kidney disease can often be minimized with changes in the diet. It’s cheaper to help prevent these diseases with good diets than to treat the disease after it has progressed. Also, if you can help save a pet from the pain and suffering associated with these diseases, why wouldn’t you?
• The objective is to maintain good health, prevent or slow the progression of disease, improve symptoms of a disease, and to maintain optimal body weight.
• If a cat is 7 years old or older, start it on a senior diet.
• Typically, small dogs live longer than large dogs and they don’t suffer age-related changes as early. Use size to determine when to feed a dog a senior diet. With small to medium breeds (less than 20 to 50 pounds) begin at 7 years; for large breeds (51 to 90 pounds), 6 years; and for giant breeds (over 91 pounds) at 5 years.
• Health concerns related to diet, are skin and coat deterioration, loss of muscle mass, intestinal issues, arthritis, dental problems, and the lowered ability to fight off infection.
• Older pets usually put on body fat even when consuming fewer calories. Feeding an older pet a diet fewer in calories but with normal protein levels can help avoid weight gain and preserve muscle mass.
• Avoid diets that have lower protein levels. The protein requirement for older dogs does not decrease with age. The senior dog diet should contain optimum levels of digestible protein to help sustain muscle mass.
• As cats age, their antibody response decreases. For cats older than 7, supplementing your cat with vitamin E can increase their antibody level. Gammalinolenic acid (GLA), an omega 6 fatty acid, helps to maintain healthy skin and coat. Look for this in your senior dog food diet.
• Aging can cause symptoms of gastrointestinal disease; therefore, senior dog diets should also include FOS (fructooligosaccharides) to help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
• Vitamin E and beta carotene help eradicate free radical particles that can contribute to body tissue damage and aging. Senior diets should contain higher levels of these antioxidants, which can also boost the immune system.
• Geriatric pets need daily routine care, exercise and regular veterinary examinations. Avoid abrupt changes and stressful situations. Be sensitive to the needs of an older pet so that it will live a longer and happier life.