Senior pets. As our pets age, they do require extra attention, just like we do. Extra attention to activities, extra attention to where they sleep, extra attention to what we feed them.
Many people think that once a dog hits a certain age, they need to switch the food to a “senior diet”. Many dogs do benefit from a move to a lower fat diet *if* they are tending to gain weight through becoming less active, but not all “senior diet” foods just reduce fat. Many reduce fat and protein, and that can be very bad if your pet needs the protein. I hate to think how many times I have seen an elderly pet that is severely underweight, many times because the owner has chosen a “senior” food based only on the dog’s age.
I would never suggest someone can just find a label that says “senior” and be assured that is the appropriate food for their aging pet. When looking at a senior pet’s diet, we have to look at the pet first. Do we need a diet change, or is the pet happy and healthy on the diet it is on? Most of the time, that is the case, and no change is needed.
If the pet is experiencing changes due to age, like weight loss or gain, or joint/mobility issues, digestive issues, or other health problems, then we can address those, either with diet or supplements.
Fat/protein levels are important considerations, but a senior pet does not always need the fat/protein levels available in senior foods. Some senior pets, like some of us as we age, actually require higher levels of fat and protein to maintain our weights. In those cases, we sometimes need to put older pets back onto puppy food, either because they can’t manage to eat enough, or metabolize enough from what they eat.
Or, we can supplement a normal food with a higher energy supplement, like us taking Boost. Raw goat’s milk, eggs (raw or cooked) or other fresh foods can be added in moderation, care being taken to not unbalance the diet.
If the pet does require fewer calories due to weight gain from reduced activity, here are both senior and weight reduction formulas available, as well as the option of just reducing portion size. I always get concerned when both fat and protein drop, so be aware of that consideration. If your pet has a need for lower protein as well (some vets recommend lower protein if there are renal issues) there should be a food out there that meets your needs, you just need to read some labels.
Now, supplements can be another story. As we age, we may need for help to support our heart, our other organs, our digestion and our joints. Many of there can be addressed by moving to cleaner, fresher foods, ones that don’t cause inflammation and are easier to digest. If that is not an option, there are supplements like glucosamine that can help with joints, and turmeric that reduces inflammation, and Omega 3’s like salmon or seal oils, that help heart, joints, and inflammation. Green Lipped Mussel is another natural supplement that has a lot of benefit for all dogs, especially senior ones.
There are too many to list, but all are worth a try if you pet is having new issues that come with age. With all supplements, though, make sure what you are getting. I’ve seen “joint health treats” that contain barely any glucosamine, hardy as much as most pet foods would. But reading the front, you’d think it was packed with it.
The most important thing to remember is feed the pet in front of you. Don’t base decisions on simply on age, base them on the pet’s body condition, activity, coat, etc. These will tell you if you need to make a change. Once you figure out what the issues are, you are half way to fixing them.