Just like people, aging pets struggle with mental decline, loss of eyesight, joint pain, and weight gain. So what should you feed your aging dog or cat to help keep him in ideal health?
"If you want your pet to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible, the most important decision you make every day is what you choose to feed it," says Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
For Ward, that's pet food a few days a week and fresh "people" food on other days. Commercial pet food, Ward says, ensures pets get all the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients they need. Fresh, whole foods give them the benefits of an unprocessed, nutrient-dense diet.
"So you don't have to worry, 'Did my dog get enough arginine?' Because you got that from the kibble, you can feel good about giving them some fresh salmon and some spinach or chopped-up kale."
Vegetables and some fruits, particularly blueberries, help maintain brain health as we age, studies show. Animals can potentially reap the same benefits, says Ward, who gathers this from studies that show the benefits of fruits and vegetables in humans and mice.
You can alternate commercial dog treats with bite-sized fruits and veggies. Many dogs love raw blueberries, carrots, broccoli, and watermelon. Many cats like veggies, too, including cooked carrots, broccoli, squash, and green beans.
Yes, carrots are good for the eyes. And while dogs and cats can snack on carrots, they aren't the best source of nutrients for eye health. "Spinach, kale, collard greens, green peas, and squash are far better sources of the carotenoids that improve eye health than carrots," Ward says. Just make sure you mince or chop leafy greens well before you feed them to pets.
Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can help relieve arthritic pain and other joint aches in aging cats and dogs, studies show. Vets have recommended these nutrients to pet owners for a couple decades, since many pet foods don't contain them. Talk to your vet about which supplements might be best.