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Caring for ‘Senior’ Pets


The Cookes of Oak Park, Ill., run a dog-loving household. They’re never without at least one boxer — their favorite breed — so they’re quite familiar with problems they’ll face as their pets begin to age. Take Rogue and Gypsy, the Cookes’ boxers, who lived to the ripe old ages of 9 and 11, respectively.

“Rogue started really aging around the age of 8,” recalls pet “mom” Sarah Cooke. “He started with loss of hearing, and hip or back dysplasia degeneration. Gypsy lost her hearing, then started basically having dog dementia. She would get caught in corners, and would sometimes turn a corner and hit her head on the wall.”

What the Cookes and other pet owners have discovered is that the same age-related problems that plague the human population put the pet population at risk, too.

Intestinal problems, arthritis and degenerative joint disease, diabetes, cognitive problems, and kidney and liver disease are just some of the health issues common to aging dogs, the New York-based American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports.

And with the population of older pets on the rise (more than 37 percent of dog owners have a dog older than 7 years of age, according to an April 2014 survey conducted by New York market research firm Penn Schoen Berland and issued by Purina), more and more pet owners are looking for ways to make their pets’ senior years more golden.

“Just as the average life expectancy for humans has increased, our pets are now living longer as well,” says Paul Cooke (no relation to the Oak Park family), VP/director of industry development at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina Pet-Care. “This longer life span may be attributed to both advancements in pet nutrition, as well as pet owners making more informed decisions when selecting a food for their pets. Owners have learned how important it is to provide pets with complete and balanced nutrition from the time their pet is a puppy or kitten. And with a large share of pets now considered to be ‘seniors’ — any age above 7 — owners are actively seeking nutritional solutions to keep their pets happy and healthy as they age.”

Consequently, retailers have a chance to boost pet product sales by stocking shelves with the kinds of “senior” products those owners are seeking.

Foods Counter Effects of Aging

According to the ASPCA, many of the metabolic and body composition changes that aging animals undergo are unavoidable. Keeping pets active for as long as possible can help mitigate some effects of aging, since overweight dogs tend to age faster than their lean counterparts, while other conditions can be managed with diet.

Low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium and high-fiber foods, as well as those with high-quality protein sources, are among specially formulated pet foods designed to benefit animals with age-related health issues.

In addition, some vets believe aging dogs benefit from the addition of dietary supplements, also known as nutraceuticals, according to the ASPCA.

The Cookes believe in those benefits, too. Dietary supplements, including glucosamine, help their 8-year-old boxer, Tanner, who has hip problems, Sarah Cooke says.

“Glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta carotene, and extra vitamin C and vitamin E are some of the common nutraceuticals senior food formulas include,” information from the ASPCA notes.

Manufacturers Respond

Many pet food companies are addressing pet owners’ desire for foods that will prolong their aging companions’ health.

“After 30 years of closely studying the effects of aging, we made breakthrough discoveries on weight management, digestive health, eye care, memory and other notable developments designed to help pets live longer, healthier lives,” asserts Nestlé Purina’s Cooke.

Based on that research, the company developed foods formulated for older dogs and cats. Purina One Smartblend Vibrant Maturity 7+ Senior and Purina Dog Chow Active Senior 7+ are made with high-quality protein, plus essential nutrients that support mobility, immunity, and healthy skin and coats in aging dogs. Purina Cat Chow Healthy Weight is an energy-dense kibble to help ensure that cats receive nutrition required to maintain healthy body weight, while Purina One Smartblend Vibrant Maturity 7+ for cats includes high-quality protein from real chicken to help maintain lean muscle mass, vitamins and minerals to help maintain healthy joints, and natural sources of glucosamine, Cooke explains.

The Iams Co., a Procter & Gamble brand based in Mason, Ohio, has also invested in research related to pet health. The findings revealed that dogs and cats fed a diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E, lutein or beta carotene had improved immune responses and vaccine recognition. “This may be especially important in senior dog and cat care, because Iams research has found that as dogs and cats age, immune responses can decrease,” company information says.

The company responded to those findings by creating Iams ProActive Health Mature Adult and Senior Plus foods with antioxidants, available in a variety of formulations for all sizes of dogs and cats.

Loving Pets is also answering the call for specially formulated pet food targeting age-related health issues. “With pets living longer, we are proud to offer a variety of treats that support an aging pet’s changing needs,” says Eric Abbey, president and founder of the Cranbury, N.J.-based company. “We want to keep pets healthy from the inside out, and offer low-fat, lower calorie solutions that are easy on the digestive tract and promote heart and joint health.”

Products from Loving Pets that can help manage age-related problems include low-fat, low-calorie Barksters, containing only 12 calories per treat; soft, affordable Natural Value treats, which are wheat-, soy-and gluten-free; Gourmet Duck Sticks and Gourmet Meat Sticks, featuring glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep dogs’ joints healthy; and the Nature’s Choice 100% Natural Rawhide line, featuring Vita-Hide with Chicken Joint-Healthy Formula, with glucosamine and chondroitin, and Vita-Hide with Chicken Heart Healthy Formula (made with L-carnatine, a natural antioxidant that promotes heart health; taurine, an amino acid found to be helpful in treating heart ailments and high cholesterol; and vitamins C and E, which have health benefits related to heart function).

Additionally, the company’s new TreatFinder ( helps in the selection of treats based on such criteria as age of pet, size of pet, and sourcing.

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