Expert Tips for Feeding Your Senior Pet

Feeding Senior Dog
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As your pet gets older, it's important to feed him a balanced diet to keep him at the correct body weight for his age.

While you can't turn back the clock as your pet ages, you can make sure he's getting the very best care to help make his senior years healthy and happy. One of the most important aspects of good care is proper nutrition, and your pet's needs may change as he gets older. Talk to your veterinarian and follow these tips for feeding your senior dog or cat.

Be Prepared for Changes

Pets experience many of the same physical and mental changes that we do as they age, such as feeling less active than in our youth. For starters, don't assume all these changes are due to old age, since some illnesses can cause the same changes. Make sure you tell your vet about any changes you're noticing in your pet, so that medical problems can be ruled out. And, if the problem is determined to just be old age, your vet can advise you about how to vary your feeding and exercise routines to accommodate your pet's new lifestyle.

Watch What They Eat

Keeping your pet on the lean side doesn’t only make him feel better, it may help him live longer, too. In one study, Labrador retrievers that were fed a diet restricted in calories lived nearly two years longer than those fed free choice. Although this research hasn't yet been repeated in other dog breeds or in cats, it's possible that preventing your pet from becoming too pudgy is more important than ever before.

If he’s already overweight, talk to your veterinarian about how to safely begin a gradual program of weight reduction. Some of the changes might be simple adjustments, like not leaving your pet’s food out all the time, opting instead for feeding him at a few regular times during the day. Eliminating table scraps and avoiding too many treats may also help. With a cat, be careful not to limit the amount fed too severely. Cats that eat too little food can develop serious liver problems.

Before beginning any weight loss program, talk with your veterinarian, who can check for medical problems that could have caused the weight gain. In addition, your veterinarian can help you determine which diet and exercise program will work best for your pet, offer tips on how to switch diets, if needed, and help you keep an eye out for signs of trouble.

Choosing the Right Pet Food

Feeding your pet the right balanced diet to maintain the correct body weight for his age will help shepherd him through his golden years. Older animals are more susceptible to chronic conditions, like arthritis, as well as kidney and heart problems, to name a few. Fortunately, researchers have made great strides in veterinary nutrition and have developed special therapeutic diets that can help manage a variety of disorders in dogs and cats. Talk to your veterinarian about what dog or cat food would be the best for your aging animal.

Keep Them Hydrated

Monitoring how much water your pet drinks each day is important, as well. Be sure to keep plenty of fresh water available at all times for your pet. Certain problems, like arthritis, can make it more difficult for pets to get to the water bowl, while others, like diabetes and kidney disease, cause pets to drink more. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian if you suspect a problem.

Add Exercise

Besides eating and drinking right, your senior pet needs to have some exercise every day to help keep him physically and mentally active. Your veterinarian can help you decide what is appropriate for your pet.

Cats can exercise, too. A variety of interactive cat toys are available that can help give your senior cat a mini-workout. And it doesn't have to be a lot — setting a timer for just 5 to 10 minutes, three times a day, is enough exercise for some cats.

Besides love and regular visits to your veterinarian, the best thing you can do for your elder pet is to keep him eating properly and moving in the right direction. This will hopefully keep you and your furry companion together for years to come.

Taking Shape: Is Your Senior Underweight, Overweight or Just Right?

  • Underweight pets have minimal fat covering their ribs, and other bony prominences, like the spine and shoulder blades, may be visible.
  • Overweight or obese pets have lost their waistline and there is such a heavy layer of fat covering their ribs that you cannot feel them.
  • Just right weight enables you to feel your pet’s ribs, but not see them. There is a gradual definition between the abdomen and the hindquarters.

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