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The Art of Aging Gracefully #2:

The importance of nutrition for seniors


In this edition of our Art of aging Gracefully newsletters we’ll be exploring the importance of nutrition in the lives of our senior companion animals. In order to ease the process of aging and keep our older family members in tip top shape, a solid, individualized nutrition plan is key. Even in the past decade research into this sector of health has grown immensely and we’ve come to realize that nutrition affects every aspect of a pet’s overall health. This is especially important for seniors because as we age the body becomes less regenerative and depend more and more on proper nutrition intake to stay healthy.


What qualifies as good nutrition?


In a general sense, good nutrition is defined as food intake that is sufficient and balanced to meet the body’s energy and biochemical requirements. Every organ and function in the body requires energy and the proper balance of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes in order to perform. Hands down the easiest way to ensure a diet is balanced is to select a high quality, well-tested kibble. Unfortunately, in our pet food industry there are minimal regulations and therefore anyone could potentially bag some kibble and sell it with almost whatever labels they’d like. As referenced in our “It’s not just kibble” article one thing to look for is an “AFFCO” statement which means that the food in the bag has undergone at least the bare minimum of quality assurance and testing. Although we won’t go in depth on this during this newsletter it is the very basic first step into ensuring good all-around nutrition for your pet. Species and life-stage are also important to consider when choosing a kibble as nutritional requirements for cats vs dogs can differ (for example cats require taurine in their diets whereas dogs do not) and because life-stage requirements can change from being young and growing, middle-aged or geriatrics.


What makes a senior different?


In terms of nutrition there are several additional considerations when it comes to feeding. These can be broken into the following categories: 1) Caloric Intake 2) Joint support 3) Organ Health. Ensuring your senior pet is receiving proper nutrition in all 3 of these categories is essential to having them age gracefully.


When it comes to caloric intake, senior pets can be tricky! Although obesity is the major player in most life stages, seniors can often find themselves in the underweight category instead. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as decreased appetite/food intake, dental disease, cognitive changes and underlying illness. Dental health and cognition in seniors will be tackled in future articles but all of these reasons put together make it important that our senior pets are receiving adequate calories, even if their appetite is not what it used to be. One of the best ways to do this is with condensed nutrition. Choosing a senior kibble that is condensed means that your pet can eat less while still consuming adequate calories that are also easily digestible so the body doesn’t have to work as hard to break the food down. One common myth is that wet food is higher in calories than kibble because we often see it as a treat. In reality though, while wet food is a great source of added water (especially for those kitties that don’t like to drink!) it’s actually lower in calories per bite because of all that added water, meaning that your pet would need to consume much more of it in order to reach their caloric requirements. Therefore, speaking with your veterinarian or registered technician to come up with a good balance to maintain body weight is essential. It should also be noted that if your senior is losing weight even while eating a full amount that you should contact your veterinarian immediately to ensure there isn’t an underlying/internal reason for the unexplained weight loss.


The next major player in senior nutrition is joint support. Just like humans, older dogs and cats can often suffer from age-related changes to their joints. As we age the cartilage and lubrication that make up joints can become worn leading to increased friction and bone-on-bone contact. This leads to pain, inflammation and decreased movement which in turn decreases the body’s ability to push lubricant through joints. Therefore choosing a diet or dietary supplement with components to help keep joints healthy is important. Some of the main players we look for (in cats and dogs) are glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin and our omega fatty acids. Depending on your pet’s specific needs and preferences these can either be incorporated into a senior diet itself, or a joint supplement can be given separate to the base kibble. There are many options out there however we again would recommend speaking to your veterinarian or registered technician in order to determine which products are well tested

and proven to help with joint health.


The final big player in senior nutrition is organ health. As bodies age certain organs such as the kidney, brain and liver can begin to function sub-optimally, thus requiring support in order to complete their daily functions. Many veterinary “prescription” diets exist that are specifically designed to do this. For example, with chronic kidney disease we want a lower protein diet to reduce the risk of protein loss in the urine that can lead to acid-base imbalances in the body. However, when reducing protein intake we have to be careful in order to ensure that their nutrition needs are still met which is why a science-backed veterinary diet is recommended. Similar diets exist for brain health, heart health, liver health and more! Many of the diets also come as combo diets where more than one area is focused on (for example joint+ kidney health). Therefore talking with your veterinary team as to which diet might be best for your pet is essential!


Conclusion


As you can see there are many additional considerations to take into account when it comes to ensuring your senior pet’s nutritional needs are met. Keeping our seniors thriving throughout their golden years is the best way to make sure everyone is happy. By ensuring good nutrition we can keep our older pets happier and healthier for longer.


Written by Dr. Emily Zakrajsek


Don’t hesitate to contact us today to book a senior nutrition consult!

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