When welcoming a new puppy or kitten into our homes and hearts, the last thing on our minds is what it will be like when this new family member grows old. But, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to love and nurture your animal companions well into their “golden years”, you’ll need to be prepared for a whole new set of challenges.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to help your pets be more comfortable and increase their quality of life in their later years. Natural health supplements are just one of your anti-aging options.
Citizen Pet & Equine asked Dr. Veronica Devall, a Calgary-based holistic veterinarian with a special interest in animal geriatrics, pain management and rehabilitation, to explain the clinical signs of animal aging, how supplements can help alleviate some of those symptoms, and why supplements may be required, even if you’re already feeding your pet a good quality senior diet.
“First, you must remember that aging is a normal biological and physiological process,” explains Dr. Devall, “But also be aware that the risk of disease increases as an animal ages. The body can weaken or lose some function, affecting the digestive, urinary, cardiovascular, immune, nervous and musculoskeletal systems.”
Below are some of the more common signs of an aging pet:
- Weakening of the senses including smell, sight and hearing
- Weight gain and decreased energy due to decreased metabolism
- Loss of generalized muscle mass and overall reduction in weight
- Degeneration of cartilage surfaces, leading to stiff/slow movement and sore joints
- Decreased cardiovascular fitness presenting as decreased length and intensity of exercise and longer recovery periods
- Diminished bladder and bowel control, leading to more frequent bathroom breaks or accidents
- Dull and dry hair coat, increased shedding and increased sensitivity to changes in weather
- Cognitive challenges that can lead to behavioural changes such as excess vocalization, loss of house training, acting confused at times and unexplained anxiety
Nutraceuticals have been clinically proven to alleviate the pain, inflammation and general discomfort associated with many of these symptoms of aging. That’s great news, but with the huge selection of nutraceuticals lining the shelves of your specialty pet supply store or vet clinic, you’ll need to do your homework in order to select the right supplements for your aging pet.
“The word nutraceutical was coined by Dr. Stephen L. DeFelice, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovative Medicine in 1989. A combination of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”, the term is applied to products ranging from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements, herbal products and even some foods.”
One concern many pet guardians have about giving supplements to their pets is if the ingredients in the particular supplement will react with their pet’s prescription medication. Dr. Devall says that, in most cases, there is no danger with integrating nutraceuticals with pharmaceutical prescriptions. Still, it is always best to consult with your pet’s veterinarian.
When it comes to your pet’s health, don’t self-diagnose and plan a course of treatment based solely on what you may have learned from Dr. Google. “Some supplements may influence drug metabolism and create the possibility of altered pharmaceutical delivery and concentration,” says Dr. Devall. “What that means is that the effects of prescription medications may be diminished. All antioxidants, for example, may decrease the effects of chemotherapy.” (For more information on the benefits of specific supplements, please see Pet nutritional supplements 101)
While many senior pet foods contain anti-aging ingredients, Dr. Devall believes that the addition of some key supportive anti-aging nutraceuticals may still be recommended. This is because it is difficult to give an effective dose for a specific health concern solely through food. To do so may mean dramatically increasing the pet’s calorie intake, which could result in obesity and create a whole new set of health challenges and further complicate the natural aging process.
Caloric intake is not the only consideration when looking at supplement-enriched pet food. Bioavailability is equally important. This refers to the body’s ability to digest and benefit from an ingredient. The bioavailability of supplements, both included in the diet and added separately, is always of concern. Understand that not all supplements are created equal and a good-quality, reputable brand named product is likely the safest choice.
Lisa Wiebe is the owner of Pet-Tek, a Canadian manufacturer and distributor of high-quality pet supplements. Lisa advises that when analyzing supplements in pet food, it is important to note that certain ingredients may have their natural benefits diminished or negated by the manufacturing process.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a listed ingredient,” says Lisa, “It is what remains after the processing that makes a difference. Be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the label. This will tell you what ingredients the manufacturer guarantees are in the food product after it has been processed.” she explains. “Severe symptoms of aging generally require a larger dose than is present in most foods, so adding a supplement will be beneficial.”
Lisa recommends that you also pay attention to where products have been manufactured. If they are made in Canada or the USA there is a better chance that they have followed more “Western” production protocols. She also advises that not all raw ingredients can be manufactured in Canada and it is the quality of imported ingredients (not the country of origin), the formulation, manufacturing process and quality control standards that are most important.
“If you have any questions about a supplement or a dog food, contact the manufacturer,” says Lisa. “Reputable manufacturers will be willing to provide information to prove that they stand by their products and have done the research to back up any health claims.”
Specialty diets and supplements aside, anyone who has ever cared for a geriatric pet will understand that the best “supplement” you can give is your time. Time for gentle exercise, extra grooming and plenty of cuddles. Nutraceuticals cannot replace regular daily exercise to maintain muscle mass and prevent weight gain. And both you and your animal companion will benefit from lots of hugs!
“Our pets are social beings and as they age that need is often intensified,” says Dr. Devall. “Our responsibility in the relationship doesn’t stop when our pets become seniors. In fact, it is more often magnified as they age and require more of our care, but the rewards are priceless.”