SLOW THE CLOCK! HOW TO SLOW AGING
There are three main things you can do to help your pet’s aging process slow down and avoid life changing illnesses. I will list them here as a sort of Cliff Notes and you can skip the rest of the article if you choose.
1. Start antioxidant supplementation early—at around 7 yrs for dogs and 10 yrs for cats.
2. Avoid letting your pet get overweight and increase the protein content of your food by 50%.
3. Exercise your pet daily.
My Cockapoo, Chico, just turned 13 and my cat, Luna, is now 12. Luna seems just like her old self, which is often true with cats since they seem to age more slowly than dogs. Chico, however, is starting to show some early signs of decline, like hearing loss, some mental confusion, and anxiety. A recent article in The Journal of Veterinary Medicine (January 1, 2015) estimates that almost 1/2 of the dog population in the US is over 7 years old. So, I’m guessing that many of you will be interested in what that article says are the key things you can do to slow the clock on your pet’s aging.
Studies show that aging can start to affect the brain function and behavior of dogs as young as 7 years. Again, cats tend to be affected later in life, so the estimate for them is 10 years. The brain is particularly susceptible to the damaging affects of free-radicals and oxidation. All aging is an oxidative process, and antioxidants are our first line of defense in slowing that process down. Antioxidants are present in large quantities in fresh fruits and vegetables, but since our pets do not generally eat many of these foods (especially the cats), we probably want to supplement them. Antioxidants are varied in the way they combat free-radicals, and it is therefore best to supplement with a blended variety of them and not just one type. Examples of antioxidants are: Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Selenium, Grape Seed Extract, CoQ10, Resveratrol, Taurine, Quercitin, and many others. The rub here is that the benefits of antioxidants are more in preventing oxidation than treating it. Thus, it is better to start your 7-year old dog or 10-year old cat on them now - don’t wait until you see a decline!
Nutrition for the older pet is very important. For all of us, as we age, our metabolism slows and weight gain can sneak up on us. This increase in weight is dangerous as it can lead to diabetes and heart disease, and it is very troubling for the already declining mobility of the aging pet. Studies show that older dogs require up to 50% more protein to maintain muscle mass than young dogs do. This is why I do not recommend senior diets - because of their lower protein levels. To keep our dogs lean, we need to adjust portion size, decrease fat, and increase exercise. Frequent weigh-ins can help to evaluate if you have decreased portions enough. At The Healthy Pet, we have a walk-on scale you can use.
And that leads to the third thing you can do to keep your pet aging gracefully: EXERCISE! Get cats to play with toys, boxes, bags, etc., and get the leash out and walk the older dog. There are toys that dole out small treats as pets plays with them. Teach your sedentary pets tricks to get them moving and to stimulate their brain function. Daily moderate exercise is the key, though - no weekend warriors, as that can increase strain on sore joints and cause more inflammation (which causes more oxidative stress, etc). And have fun with them! Exercising them will increase the bond you share, give you great memories, and increase the length of their lives.