Golden Retriever: Getty Images
Contrary to popular belief (and plastic surgeons), aging is not a disease. But rather, it’s a process that begins at birth. The good news is that you can impact this process in a positive way for your pet with premium nutrition, exercise and routine veterinary visits. Since I’m a nutritionist, I’m obsessed with feeding my dog Tucker (11 ½ yr old Golden Retriever) the best nutrition possible so he can keep up with my three kids at home and my husband on a golf course.
Pets age about six to seven times faster than humans do and in the case of aging, Benjamin Franklin was right in stating that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” As puppies and kittens mature, positive changes like physical growth and building a stronger immune system occur.
Around age 7, changes begin to go in the other direction. You may see decreasing energy levels or tartar build up on teeth, while other things may be hidden like decreasing muscle tone and immune function. Around age 11, changes become more noticeable and pets may begin to slow down. For larger breed dogs, changes can be apparent at age seven. This may be the first time pet parents think about changing to a new food.
To help slow changes that occur with aging, I recommend starting age-appropriate nutrition before you actually start noticing changes in your pet. Let’s discuss what changes occur with age and how nutrition can help.
- Activity levels in older pets decline as they age due to changes in body composition and natural wear and tear on joints. As pet’s age, their body composition naturally increases in fat and decreases in muscle over time. This will have an impact on their activity levels and playfulness. By choosing the right food to help them maintain an optimal weight and muscle condition, we can keep them fit for longer. The more muscle they retain as they age, the more active and playful they will be. Diets with animal-based proteins and appropriate calorie and fat levels will help maintain an optimal weight. In addition, a vitamin-like nutrient called L-carnitine can help burn fat and maintain muscle. L-carnitine naturally occurs in animal-based proteins and can also be added as an ingredient in senior pet foods. To keep joints healthy, ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are important in pet foods. These are natural building blocks of healthy joints, which can help keep pets active for longer.
- The digestive system can be disrupted as a pet ages via a shift in the balance of the good and bad bacteria in the gut. In addition, older pets may also be compromised in their ability to digest and absorb nutrients. These changes can lead to digestive upsets or predispose them to constipation as they age. In order to help maintain a healthy balance, naturally occurring fibers such as beet pulp and FOS, should be present in the pet’s food. These healthy fibers help support a strong digestive tract and promote a good digestive balance in the gut.
- Another physiological system that declines with age is the immune system. It plays an important role in warding off diseases. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene play an active role in keeping the immune system healthy.
- One change that pet parents often don’t think about is dental health. Eighty-five percent of dogs have dental health issues by age 3, but only 10 percent of pet parents actually brush their dogs teeth. The physical abrasion of dry food is helpful, but only for the chewing teeth. One way to provide an additional dental benefit is to use a naturally occurring mineral such as HMP (sodium hexametaphosphate) which binds the minerals in saliva that form tartar on teeth. This ingredient prevents tartar build up all the teeth not just the chewing ones and the benefit even lasts beyond the meal.
- As pets age, undesirable changes in the skin and coat can occur due to decreased hair growth, low skin oil production and poor grooming habits because of arthritis. This can lead to poor hair coat quality or thinning hair. Pet foods with the optimal omega 6 and 3 fatty acid levels and adequate high quality animal-based protein helps promote healthy skin and coat. Approximately one third of dietary protein intake is required to maintain a healthy hair coat.
Aging begins at birth, but we can help keep our pets active and fit for life with the right nutrition, exercise and veterinary care! Premium pet foods like Iams Proactive Health Mature Adult (7+ years) and Senior Plus (11+ years) formulas have incorporated key nutrients targeted to the nutritional needs of older dogs and cats to keep them healthy for longer. I’m already seeing the benefit of these healthy strategies in my dog Tucker, who hasn’t slowed down yet and he’s 80 in human years!