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Healthy Diets for Senior Pets

Older dog or cat? Along with pet food, here's how to boost their meals.
By Sonya Collins
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by William Draper, DVM

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."

Fruits and Vegetables for Pets

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.

Eyesight

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.

Joint Health

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.

Foods That Are Poisonous to Pets

Cats and dogs should keep their paws off these potentially toxic people foods, the ASPCA says.

Chocolate, alcohol, onions, garlic, and any moldy foods can be toxic for both dogs and cats.

Raw bread dough can seriously harm pets because the live yeast can expand in their stomachs, decreasing blood flow and cutting off breathing.

Avocados can cause upset stomach in dogs and cats.

Hops can poison dogs and cause high fever that damages organs.

Macadamia nuts can poison dogs and cause pain, tremors, fever, and leg weakness.

Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs.

Xylitol, a sugar-free sweetener, can cause dogs to develop disorientation and seizures.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on January 14, 2014

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