Many readers will be aware that our four-legged friends age at a different rate to humans - while the science isn’t exactly correct most will consider that 1 human year is equivalent to approximately 7 years for dogs and 4 for cats, so when do we consider our pets to be senior citizens, in the Autumn years of their lives? Perhaps more importantly, what can pet food do to help prolong and enrich those lives? From a medical viewpoint, why would we consider a dog or cat older and what are the implications and watch outs?
Owing to better overall standards of nutrition, veterinary care and home lives the average pet is now living considerably longer than their forebears of the 20th century, with many cats reaching their late teens and beyond. Given the disparity of dog breeds there is a a wider spread in terms of average life expectancy - which generally relates inversely to the size of the breed with giant breeds doing well to go far into double figures whilst some of the smaller breeds are now giving cats a run for their money in the age stakes. As such the considerations vary accordingly. Cats are now considered to be Senior once they reach 11 years old, and Super-Senior above the age of 15. For dogs the breed size dictates the timing of considering a pet Senior with Giant breeds over 7, Large breeds over 8, Medium breeds over 10 and Mini breeds over 11 years old falling into this category.
So with the knowledge of when our pets are considered older, what are the health concerns we should be aware of? As we recently wrote about excess weight and its prevalence as a health issue across pet as well as human populations let’s begin there, however, for both dogs and cats the later years of life can present problems of a different kind. Sarcopenia is the medical term for the (generally age-related) loss of lean muscle mass, which has a number of factors but the reduced activity levels of older pets are a key factor. This is not to say that obesity is irrelevant in this age group, and indeed those who retain their appetites and/or have a history of being overweight are likely to continue to suffer in their older years too. Many cats and dogs begin to lose the sensitivity of their olfactory organs, meaning smell and taste become less acute. This in turn can impact on their levels of appetite as they ignore some foods owing to their lack of stimulus. Another factor may be dental problems, with a significant proportion of older pets exhibiting relatively advanced signs of periodontal disease, leading to both loss of teeth and oral pain which may inhibit eating. A third factor is that with age the ability to digest and utilise both fat and protein reduces.
Behaviour is another sign which reflects ageing in our pets (in some similar ways to ourselves), with the DISH signs regarded as signposts of age related cognitive decline: D for Disorientation, I for Interaction, S for Sleep and H for Housetraining (although for cats using litter trays it is worth considering arthritis as a differential diagnosis of inability to use them, owing to discomfort/inability to get over the lip). Many pet parents will notice the change in hours awake as the pet increasingly sleeps during the day time and is awake at night, or that they appear to be wandering the house somewhat aimlessly or failing to recognise familiar faces.
Mobility is one of the key areas in which both dogs and cats can be affected by the ageing process, dogs are generally recognisably impacted with limping, inability to climb stairs or get up into the car being common signs of osteoarthritis which involves the breakdown of cartilage in joints which brings inflammation, pain and limits the ability to move joints normally. Cats can also face the same disease process but may be less obvious in displaying symptoms. In some cases this can present as issues with house training, or inappetence as they deal with pain (sometimes cats exhibit issues with their jaws).
Other diseases of older pets include a range of cancers, immunity loss and issues with skin and coat. Ultimately, many of these can be very traumatic both to pets and their families and in many cases can shorten life expectancy. As such, the question is - “what can we do about it?”
Our approach at whole is two-fold: we strongly believe in setting pets up for their longest, healthiest and happiest lives which means we pack our food across the range with the finest nutritional profiles including high levels of vitamins and essential fatty acids as well as the quality digestible protein sources in grain free recipes. In addition we do have a specialist diet for senior dogs in the form of our Golden Trout product which provides lots of omega 3, prebiotics to support gut health, our joint support package as well as a balanced energy profile and excellent flavour. Our Superfood for Dogs range includes blends of extra special ingredients which are widely believed to offer additional support and potential protection against the development of some of the age-related conditions including visual health and cancers. Our Grain Free Cat range includes excellent levels of essential fatty acids, prebiotics and joint care. Finally, with our Treats range there is the scope to support Dental health (Pearly Whites), Digestion (Happy Tums) and Skin & Coat (Sleek & Glossy). We’re also keen to develop an additional option which will provide behavioural support and promote calmness.
Having worked with veterinary teams for many years, I have seen close at hand the benefits to life expectancy and quality of life provided by top quality nutrition. Of course many age-related conditions require additional measures which may involve medication and/or surgery, but there is no doubt that what you see on the outside springs in many ways from what you put on the inside. Here’s to a long, rich life full of joy and adventure for you and your pets.