SENIOR FOOD? There actually isn’t a scientific basis for “senior” diets. The goal of feeding an older animal is to ensure there is plenty of highly digestible protein, sufficient fiber, proper fat levels, and supplements that reduce inflammation and increase immunity.
This is one of the most common problems in older pets, and one of the most preventable. As animals age their metabolism slows down, so they require fewer calories, more fiber, and lower fat. Obesity puts pets at greater risk for increased joint pain, back problems, diabetes, pancreatitis, hypo- and hyper-thyroidism, cancer, and more. If you have trouble keeping your pet at a healthy weight you should get them checked out by your vet for hidden medical causes (hypothyroidism is now common in dogs, for example, and can explain difficulty in reducing weight).
DON’T SKIMP ON PROTEIN
Unless your pet is dealing with severe kidney disease you should not reduce the amount of protein in their food. Reducing protein unnecessarily can result in increased appetite (as the body tries to provide the fuel it needs), muscle wasting (reduced ability to absorb nutrition), and inflammation (low protein usually means more grains).
You should feed the highest quality protein, which will be more digestible for their aging system. Digestible protein for a healthy senior pet means meat. Freshly cooked or raw are the most digestible, followed by dehydrated and canned. Dry food is the least digestible protein source. If you use dry food please add fresh or canned meat to the diet. Enzymes added to food make the protein even easier for them to assimilate.
ENZYMES ARE ESSENTIAL
Enzymes are one of the most important supplements you can give senior animals. As animals age their ability to produce enough on their own diminishes. Enzymes help break down the proteins, fats, and carbs in their diet, which means more nutrition will get to their body. Enzymes improve the assimilation of essential fatty acids in fish oil by 71%, and themselves provide some anti-inflammatory properties.
MIND THE FAT
Because senior pets have less ability to utilize fat, be sure that the fat you do include is the most important kind – Omega 3 fatty acids (as found in fish oil). Fish oil provides important elements that reduce inflammation and improve brain function.
Older pets benefit from healthy fiber in their diets because their slower metabolism can mean slower digestion. If your pet loves salad, by all means top the meal with some raw or steamed veggies (usually best to put them in the blender first). If your pet REALLY loves salad be sure the rest of the meal is high in protein so you can be sure they’re getting enough. You can also mix in pet supplements that contain fiber like ground flax seed, psyillium husk powder, or ground pumpkin seed.
Check back for Feeding Senior Pets: Part Two where we’ll cover age-related health concerns and the supplements to help them.