Just like humans, as dogs and cats age their metabolism changes, as do their nutritional needs. Unfortunately, a look at ingredients, calories, and the lists of vitamins and minerals in dog and cat food can become overwhelming. Not to mention, every pet’s needs are different, especially if you throw in medical conditions.

So how does one go about finding the best balance for an aging pet? Your best bet is to discuss dietary needs with your veterinarian based on the age, health, and breed of your pet. With regular exams, your vet will be able to advise when and if your pet needs a dietary change or vitamin supplements. Meanwhile, here are a few common questions about feeding older pets.

Should senior pets eat senior food?

Not necessarily. If your aging pet is otherwise healthy and eating food that is designated complete and balanced, you may be best off leaving things as is.

That being said, you may be noticing that your older dog or cat seems to be putting on some weight. As pets enter their senior years (around 9 or 10 for dogs depending on size and 11 for cats) their metabolism slows. To maintain a healthy weight, you may need to reduce calorie consumption, but there are different ways to accomplish this. You may want to talk to your vet about a lower-fat diet or portion control, depending on your pet’s energy level and habits.

I’ve heard older dogs and cats should eat less protein.

While there had been concern that protein would damage the kidneys of older dogs and cats, research today shows that our furry companions actually benefit from more protein. Older pets can lose muscle mass, thereby reducing their protein reserves and negatively impacting their immune systems. Unless your pet has been diagnosed with a kidney or liver issue, maintaining protein in his or her diet is recommended.

Your vet can help you determine a protein and calorie level that will best maintain the weight and health of your older dog or cat.

What about reducing sodium and adding supplements?

Like humans, dogs and cats can develop health issues as they age that might require some adjustments to vitamin and mineral intake. However, your pet becoming a senior does not necessarily mean that he or she needs a reduced-sodium diet or any vitamin or mineral supplements. If you have been feeding your pet a healthy and balanced diet, he probably doesn’t need anything different as a senior.

Is wet food better than dry for older pets?

Older pets can become more prone to dehydration, especially cats, as they already are predisposed to avoid drinking, making them especially vulnerable to urinary tract issues. Aging increases this predisposition. As a result, some pet owners turn to canned food for its water content, as well as its soft nature, which may be easier for our older pets to chew and digest. Introducing canned food to your pet as he or she ages isn’t a bad idea, but it certainly isn’t a requirement. It is still a good idea to set up a system by which you can be sure your pet is getting enough to drink, especially if he is on a strictly dry diet.

Your best resource when it comes to feeding your dog or cat at any age is your veterinarian. Breed, size, and activity level will all play a role in how your pet ages, so regular check-ups, weight checks, and conversation with your vet will best prepare you for any changes that may be needed.

If you have questions about feeding your dog or cat, contact our office. It is always best to discuss your plans with a professional before making changes to your pet’s diet.