Feeding your older pet for optimum health
As our pets get older, their energy level goes down and they may seem to be eating a lot less than they used to. Older pets may develop illnesses that the pet didn’t have when he or she was younger. Their disrupted immune system predisposes them to maladies such as allergies, joint inflammation, infections, skin disorders and even allergies to foods that they have eaten their whole lives without problem. My dog Duke, who is now 13 years old, suddenly developed sensitivity to certain foods and now even a bite of that food gives him diarrhea and makes him lethargic for a day or two. I’ve decided this is a good time to learn more about feeding the older pet.
As they get older dogs have more of a tendency to get obese, especially certain breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Terriers, and German Shepherds. This weight gain is mostly related to a lowered level of exercise and consequent reduced calorie expenditure. Given this combination of potential weight gain and lowered actual food intake, it is very important to feed our older dog or cat the right kind of foods. Some pet foods have way too many carbohydrates and not enough of the protein necessary to keep them in good health. Carbohydrates aren’t bad, per se, but feeding a pet the wrong kind of carbohydrates like simple sugars for example, prevents them from getting the proper nutrition. Pets that continue getting the wrong kind of calories will sometimes try to find the proteins in other places, including items that are not food like cat litter or contents of trash cans.
When the pet’s body struggles to get the proper nutrition, the pet may become weak and may start developing a variety of illnesses that may seem unrelated to diet. Pet owners tell themselves “Oh, he’s just getting old, illness should be expected.” While every pet ages chronologically, he doesn’t have to develop many of these diet-related diseases. The bottom line is that the proper nutrition can ward of illnesses and keep the pet healthy; this has been proven time and time again. Supermarket pet foods often market pet foods as “diet foods” and foods for “senior pets.” However, our aging pets need good nutrition; they do not need “diet” dog food. These foods, for the most part, have fewer calories per serving and contain the wrong kind of carbohydrates. When a pet fills up on the wrong kinds of carbohydrates there is no more room for the right kind of nutrition.
After much trial and error, I discovered that feeding the correct quantity of an all-natural dog food that is made with wholesome ingredients is generally the best approach. Halo Spot’s foods are an example of foods that are formulated to contain optimum amounts of protein and to provide complete nutrition. Another good thing about Halo Spot foods is that when I open up the can it right away feels that it was made at home with some TLC. Halo Spot foods also do not contain corn or wheat gluten, and are without chemicals or preservatives. Although this is one brand that I have used personally, there are many other pet foods that are also natural and free from excess carbohydrates and chemicals. If unsure, it is always a good idea to ask your veterinarian, your pet nutritionist, or your pet’s pharmacist for suggestions.
Many pets have food allergies. Dogs and cats become allergic to food if the immune system recognizes the food as harmful, causing them to react to it. With dog allergies, we will often see inflammation of the legs and ears for example. With cat food allergies, it is common to see redness and itching of the head and neck. Most of the time food allergies are caused by proteins from meat, corn, wheat, soy, and potatoes. One way to reduce the symptoms is to feed a limited ingredient diet, with a protein that the pet has not been exposed to. This also enables isolation of the food that is causing the allergic reaction. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements may be added to the diet, which can also reduce inflammation throughout the body and keep the skin healthy in our older pets.
In addition to obesity and allergies, diabetes mellitus is another illness that is many times associated with food, and the wrong quantity and kind of foods. Diabetes is a deficiency of insulin or resistance to insulin so that sugars in the blood no longer enter cells where they can provide energy. Instead, sugar remains in the blood stream. Female dogs are more likely to become diabetic but both sexes face the risk. Pets with diabetes should be fed at the same time with the same amount of food daily. This helps keep the blood glucose at a constant level and enables for better disease control. Foods with complex carbohydrates are digested slower; vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots are more desirable than foods with simple carbohydrates (simple sugar). Some diabetic pets benefit from diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. The benefits from diets high in fiber include prevention of a surge in blood glucose shortly after eating the meal. Fiber also helps pets produce short-chain fatty acids that are used by the liver to control blood sugar levels.
Besides obesity, allergies, and diabetes, dilated cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) is a condition where the heart is large but the walls are thin. As a result, cardiomyopathy prevents the heart from contracting sufficiently. One of the reasons cats may develop dilated cardiomyopathy is the lack of the amino acid taurine. Most healthy modern pet food diets have been formulated with enough taurine to prevent this disease. In addition to taurine, pets may also benefit from receiving antioxidants in the diet.
There are many other conditions such as joint diseases, arthritis and hip dysplasia, among others, for which your pet could be at increased risk when fed too much of the wrong food. Too much food too soon, while the pet is growing is a major risk factor for many joint diseases and other health problems.
In today’s day and age we are all constantly made aware of the importance of proper diet to maintain health. Proper nutrition in humans has actually been found to be one of the most beneficial things to do for prolonging health and life in general. Proper diet in the correct quantity is just as important for our pets. Over the next few weeks I will discuss specific examples of “healthy” diets including recipes of homemade foods that other pet owners have found beneficial.
As always, if you have any questions about your pet’s health, don’t hesitate to call and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian who is the best person to help you maintain a healthy pet for many years. If you have any medication related questions, your 1800PetMeds pharmacist is also available to answer those for you.