Recently a friend of mine mentioned her pet was really slowing down and it was starting to go gray in the coat.
It comes to us all this inevitable aging process. This brings me to this month’s topic: senior pets. Which begs the first question: when are pets considered senior?
Aging is the natural series of life stages that all we all journey through. Cats are considered to be entering their senior years when they reach age seven, and entering the geriatric period at age 11. Most dogs are considered senior at age seven, although because of the vast differences in breed sizes, this may not be the case for all.
Small breeds, especially some terriers, tend to be very long lived, and may not need to switch to a senior diet until age 10, while the giant breed sizes, such as Great Danes, may start to be considered senior as early as age five.
Some signs of aging are obvious, such as graying of the face and muzzle. You may also notice your pet slowing down – not running as fast and perhaps acting a bit ‘stiff’ when he needs to get up the stairs. In very senior pets, you may notice your pet not adjusting to changes in their routine as well as they might have in the past. Cognitive decline is also common.
So is there anything you can do?
Similar to the way we make changes as we age, there are some things you can tackle to make sure your pet’s senior years are as healthy as they can be.
The first thing you can do is to keep your pet in a healthy body condition.
In fact, the only dietary factor that has been shown to help enhance longevity is making sure your pet doesn’t become overweight.
So be sure to follow the feeding guidelines on the package as a starting point, and adjust if you are noticing your pet is putting on a little extra weight. Make sure you exercise him regularly, and make sure he maintains a healthy body condition score.
The information is easy to find online at www.purinaveterinarydiets.com
You may also consider switching to a diet formulated for senior pets.
Most will benefit from a high protein, moderate-fat diet that is rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Many years ago it was thought senior pets should be fed a diet low in protein, as too much protein might strain the kidneys. However, research has shown this is not the case and older pets with healthy kidneys actually do much better on a diet rich in protein.
Cats and dogs tend to lose body muscle as they age. A protein-rich diet helps to preserve lean body mass, and also helps to support the immune function.
Joint health can also be supported by feeding a diet rich in the omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids, especially eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), can help to reduce inflammation in joints when fed in sufficient amounts over time.
If you notice your pet is moving more slowly or seems to have joint pain you should speak to your veterinarian about treatment options. Sometimes veterinarians also will recommend glucosamine, or diets containing glucosamine to help support the joints.
Antioxidants such as vitamin E and C can help support immune function in older pets, especially cats.
It is well established that the aging process is associated with an increase in the amount of free radicals in many body systems, and antioxidants can support cell function.
Look after your old friend, feed them well and enjoy their golden years as actively as you can.
Fiona Wallace, PhD, is Nestle Purina’s in-house pet nutrition expert and technical communications manager for Canada. Fiona is a member of the American Association of Veterinary Nutritionists has been working as an industry nutritionist for more than a decade. She owns three dogs and one cat and is the nutrition expert at Pawsway.ca