What should I feed my older cat/dog to keep them in tip top condition?
Food is a really important part of an maintaining or pets' health. The food that we feed or pets is pretty much their sole source of nutrition, so it is important that we get it correct. There are many aspects of the food that we give our pets which have to be got just right to satisfy their requirements. This is true at all stages of life, for all pets, but in this article, we are going to concentrate on senior cats and dogs.
Senior pets are pets that have reached half of their expected life span. At this age, they start to have a higher risk of getting certain age-related problems and diseases and there are some changes in their nutrition that we can make to reduce the risk of that happening:
Energy (calories) : Many of us will notice that as our pets get older, they start to slow down a little bit. They do less activity, so expend less energy. This means that, if they continue to consume the same amount of calories, they are more prone to putting on body mass (weight). Therefore, we often need to reduce the energy (calories) that we give to them in their food As they get very old, some pets will start to lose body mass at an increased rate and may become thin, requiring a higher amount of energy (calories) once again.
Omega-3 fatty acids : An important addition to the food of older pets, omega-3 fatty acids help to maintain the health of many body systems. We think that they are extremely helpful in maintaining joint health, skin and coat health and brain/cognitive function. We also think that they help animals with kidney disease even more, to help keep the kidneys functioning. Because kidney disease is quite common in older pets, this is a really important benefit.
Protein: Protein is really important to maintain lean body mass (e.g. muscle) and a well functioning immune system, however, senior food often contains a low amount of protein. The need for high protein has to be balanced against the disadvantages that high protein diets can cause in pets that have kidney problems. Therefore, a good senior diet has a moderate amount of very high quality protein, most of which is used by the body. This creates less protein waste products for the kidneys to have to deal with.
Fibre: As pets get older, they become more prone to constipation and a reduction in their natural intestinal movements. An increase in insoluble fibre helps with these problems, as well as helping to fill older pets up and reduce obesity. It can also help reduce furballs in older cats.
Large dogs over about 5-6 years old and small dogs and cats over 7 years old should be transitioned to a senior diet. Regarding specific diets, there are many great foods on the market, but equally, there are some pretty bad ones too. At The Finchley Vet, we stock the Hills Vet Essentials range, as this provides really precise and consistent nutrition to pets, targeted to their stage of life. If you want to try an alternative, let us know and we can give you some further advice.
Remember, feeding a great food is important, but it is not a cure-all. Appropriate exercise, mental stimulation and prompt diagnosis/treatment of any illnesses that arise are also vital to keep older pets 'feeling young'. In older pets (aged over half of their expected life span) we recommend 6 monthly medical check ups (about equivalent to a check up every 2-3 years for a senior person) to ensure that any problems are identified and treated early, making sure that our pet patients stay as happy as possible for as long as possible.