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How to choose the right ingredients for senior pet nutrition

July 06 2021 - News

Many countries around the world have an aging human population – and this is also the case for pets. The life expectancy of cats and dogs has been increasing in recent years due to higher-quality food and better veterinary care. But there’s more to growing old than just reaching a high age. Pet parents want their cats and dogs to stay in good health, remain active, and live comfortably. Achieving this requires care and attention in selecting the right ingredients for senior pet nutrition. So, to what do you need to pay attention?

While cats reach the senior stage at 11-14 years old, for dogs it depends more on the breed. Smaller breeds generally reach the senior stage at 8-10 years old, while a large dog like a Bernese Mountain Dog is already senior at 5-8 years old. As cats and dogs reach the senior stage, they may experience different physical, physiological, metabolic, and behavioral changes. This can result in many issues, such as declining skin, coat, or teeth condition, deterioration in joint health and functionality, decreasing vitality, greater vulnerability to allergies and disease, or reduced stress tolerance. Specific ingredients, such as high-quality, highly digestible protein, omega-3, or taurine, can be used to control or mitigate these issues.

Compensating for decreasing digestibility

A prime concern for senior pets is that they require less energy, while pets who have just reached the senior stage will still have the same appetite as before. If their diets are not changed accordingly, the amount of body fat will increase, even to the point of obesity. As senior pets get older, their appetite will decrease and they will also have a reduced ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Cats older than 13 years, for example, run a serious risk of becoming underweight by losing up to one third of lean body mass (LBM). Both senior cats and dogs require sufficient intake of high-quality, highly digestible protein to prevent LBM loss, highly digestible nutrients to help support the aging digestive system, and enhanced levels of antioxidants to support the declining immune system.

Sources of highly digestible protein

Fresh meat or animal protein processed using low temperature drying is among the most digestible. Chicken liver hydrolysate (CLH), for example, has a protein content of typically 67% and is very palatable to both cats and dogs. The use of enzymatic hydrolysis and low-temperature spray drying ensures that all protein and nutrients are preserved. Chicken protein also has the highest acceptance in the market. Another good example is spray-dried plasma (SDP) of chicken origin, which has a protein content of 70% and is also rich in immunoglobulin G (IgG). IgG helps support the immune system, has a favorable impact on gut health, reduces allergic reactions that cause itching and scratching, and reduces joint inflammation to keep older pets active.

Omega-3 for senior pets

As I explained in my previous blog, the intake of adequate levels of the long-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also offers a number of benefits to the health and well-being of senior cats and dogs. EPA and DHA support aging brains, improve skin/coat condition, and help in the prevention and treatment of heart and bladder diseases. The intake of EPA and DHA also helps to manage inflammatory problems related to joint health and functioning, which improves clinical symptoms in cats and dogs with osteoarthritis and reduces the severity of cachexia in cats and dogs. The most efficient way to achieve these benefits is by supplying EPA and DHA – which are mostly found in marine oils, such as krill oil (or full-fat krill meal), fish oil, or algae DHA – directly via pet food.

The need for high-quality fats

Marine oils are not only an important source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but also of high-quality fats. Senior pets require high-quality fats with good digestibility and a low percentage of free fatty acids (FFA), which are not oxidized, have a good fatty acid profile, and an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 4 to 1. Senior pets can also benefit from slightly increased fiber levels in pet food. A healthy gut and a good digestive system help to dilute food energy density and prevent weight gain, which is particularly important for senior pets. A healthy diet for cats and dogs contains a mix of both soluble and insoluble, fermentable and non-fermentable dietary fibers.

Taurine to strengthen the heart

Attention to senior pet nutrition not only prolongs their quality of life, it also helps to delay the onset of senior or geriatric dysfunction and chronic diseases. Because of old age, for example, dogs can suffer from taurine deficiency, which may lead to the heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Although dogs are normally able to synthesize sufficient amounts of taurine from their diet, in some cases they may require taurine supplementation to strengthen the heart, while cats always require taurine supplementation through their diet. Taurine has also been found to have an antioxidant effect that supports healthy aging.

White paper on senior pet nutrition

Careful consideration of these and other issues helps ensure that pets can enjoy good health in their senior stage of life. Are you interested in learning more about choosing the right ingredients for senior pet nutrition? Stay tuned for our new white paper on this specialized subject!

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the various nutrients mentioned in this blog, take a look at our existing white papers:

Download our white papers

Microalgae as a clean source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid for pet food

The benefits of chicken plasma powder in pet food applications

Seaweeds as a rich source of prebiotic dietary fibers and important nutrients for pet food

Full-fat krill meal: excellent natural source of nutrients for pet food

The benefits of fish oil as a source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid for pet food


About Geert van der Velden

Geert van der Velden is IQI Trusted Petfood Ingredients’ Innovation Manager responsible for Business Development, generating new products and concepts that meet the needs of existing and new customers. Geert has more than 25 years’ experience in the international pet food industry and has gained knowledge and experience in many sections of IQI’s business.

Geert van der Velden

View all white papers