HOW DIET AND EXERCISE CAN MAKE YOUR SENIOR PET LIVE LONGER
The connection between diet, exercise and weight has long been understood for pets. Just as important, however, is the role those three factors play in the health of our pets as they age. Let’s take a look at how to keep each properly in check and targeted towards the needs of your senior pet.
SPECIAL PET FOOD FOR SENIOR PETS?
As pets age, they may become less active. Less exercise often leads to an increase in weight, which requires changes in the diet to compensate and avoid issues with obesity. A diet formulated for pets that are less active might be appropriate in these situations. This may be a food with a lower calorie content that still contains adequate levels of nutrients to meet all of your senior pet’s nutritional needs and keep your pet healthy.
In some cases, the opposite may happen and your senior pet may actually start to lose weight to the point where it’s unhealthy. In such cases a diet with an increased calorie count and a highly palatable and highly digestible protein source may be useful but the choice of diet may depend on the cause of the weight loss as well.
Older pets may also have ailments that can be manipulated and/or controlled, at least partly, through diet. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your senior pet based on his or her individual nutritional requirements.
HOW IS EXERCISE A FACTOR?
“There’s an entire nation of pet owners who are loving their pets to death with too many calories and not enough exercise,” says, Dr. Joe Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and Small Animal Clinical Sciences department head at University of Tennessee Knoxville’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The solution is providing an environment full of both physical and mental stimulation that will help keep your senior pet feeling youthful and active.
Dr. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC and spokesperson for the International Veterinary Senior Care Society recommends a two-pronged approach – indoor and outdoor physical activities.
Bringing home a few treat toys that will dispense their meals in smaller doses to improve both physical and mental function and promote weight loss in heavier pets. If they’re able to go up and down the stairs, have them move around your home and go up and down stairs slowly to keep their joints moving and muscles loose. Should climbing stairs be out of the picture, invest in some ramps to help your pet keep moving around the house without causing them too much pain.
Outdoor activities may include such things as walking or jogging, though ultimately it will depend on the current health condition of your pet. Dr. Lobprise recommends talking with your vet to make sure you know how much your pet is capable of and what a comfortable distance will be for them to walk each day. As a senior your pet should still be getting regular walks throughout the week, but keep them short and try not to overdo it if your pet is experiencing any kind of condition. Swimming is another excellent activity to help exercise the muscles without hurting joints.
CONSIDER A PET FITNESS TRACKER
Fitness trackers (aka activity monitors) began as a somewhat niche market — catering to people who wanted to track their every step while exercising and easily sling the data to their mobile phones and computers. Since then sales of these devices have been on a surge. In fact by 2018 Juniper Research estimates 57 million fitness trackers will be used worldwide. A small but growing subset of this market is the pet fitness tracker.
Many differ in the type of features offered, but at its simplest pet fitness trackers (once secured on your pet, often on the collar) help monitor your pet’s daily activities so that you can use this data to more accurately discuss changes in their health and behavior with your veterinarian. When used in concert with a healthy diet and exercise regimen, a pet fitness tracker can also be used as a tool to achieve weight loss. Ask your veterinarian if a fitness tracker could benefit your pet.