Senior Feeding for your Dog or Cat

Did you know,a recent survey conducted by Tufts University uncovered the fact that most pet owners hold certain beliefs about dog food marketed for ‘senior’ pets that may not be true!

The majority of people surveyed (over 84 percent) believe older dogs should eat differently than adult dogs, but only about half of them feed a senior diet. The reality is nutritional requirements should be tailored to the individual dog/breed -- not based simply on the age of the animal.

Neither AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) nor the National Research Council (NRC) provides guidelines for senior dog formulas. There is no distinction made between the nutritional requirements for adult dogs and those for senior dogs. As a result, the ingredients used in pet food marketed for ‘seniors’ is determined by the manufacturer and varies widely.

In fact, studies point to an increase of protein as your pet ages. Unfortunately most veterinarians have little to zero knowledge of canine or feline nutrition. When they recommend feeding a reduced calorie/protein diet to our older dogs they are /can be very mistaken.

The reason senior dog food formulas have reduced protein content is, simply based on flawed logic. This statement is so much more prevalent especially if the dog/cat is fed an exceptionally poor quality protein used in most commercial pet foods. Trying to digest these poor quality foods is difficult for young and even “dog’s in their prime” healthy pets to process. Rendered protein sources put chronic strain on your dog’s kidneys and liver as their body tries to digest and assimilate food that is not biologically suitable. Another point to ponder is that if the dog(s) were fed years of  these poor digestible dog foods ( a diet based on their consistent history of providing terrible quality) their rendered protein(s) compromises kidney and liver function, which is why commercial ‘senior’ dog foods contain less protein than adult maintenance and “all life stage” formulas.Once your pet’s organs start to fail from years of a diet of low-grade protein, if you to continue to feed the same quality diet, you should questionably select a ‘senior’ formula with reduced protein content.It’s an unfortunate situation, because your dog actually needs more protein as he/she ages – not less -- in order to maintain healthy lean muscle mass and good organ and immune function. But the type of protein most dogs thrive on is whole, unprocessed, and preferably raw!

Also please realize a senior formula with increased fiber ( which is usually always the case) may make your dog poop more, but this will also block absorption of healthy nutrients. Too much fiber can create a barrier in your dog’s small intestine which prevents antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from being assimilated.

 So what should you do? Please consider:

  • Feeding a balanced, species appropriate diet ( Raw perhaps???)
  • Supplement with digestive enzymes and probiotics if possible
  • Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise if possible.

Finally, dog/cat food formulas marketed for ‘seniors’ aren’t based on much science or even a solid set of guidelines outlining the general nutritional requirements for all aging dogs. Based on the recent Tufts survey, it seems the majority of ‘senior’ formulas on the market seem to get it more wrong than right. I encourage you to discuss your older dog’s dietary requirements with a holistic vet or animal nutritionist who understands the importance of species-appropriate nutrition and the individual needs of your best senior friend (s).

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