Despite our best efforts to freeze time, the years steadily pass and our dogs and cats continue to age. It might be evident by arthritic stiffness, cloudy eyes, fatty lumps just beneath the skin or even anxiety and unpredictable grumpiness.
The term “geriatric” signifies the point at which 75 percent of one’s anticipated lifespan has gone by. Thanks to the help of advances in nutrition, supplements and medical care, dogs and cats are remaining healthier for much longer, even as they reach significantly older ages. The results are that companion animals can lead active, fulfilling lives as they continue the usual activities that they enjoyed during their younger years.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Aging brings many changes to a dog or cat’s body and needs, and taking care of them becomes more difficult. These beloved companion animals will tire more easily, have trouble getting out of bed and/or struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position. Owners of aging companion animals often face major grapple with their pets’ degenerative issues, like dementia and incontinence, which ultimately necessitate lifestyle changes.
However, a pet’s old age should not be viewed as a disease. Instead, a better description is that it is a stage of life for pets and their owners to navigate. Wiki Wags is one of the few brands to tackle the issue of incontinence in senior male dogs. The brand makes male dog wraps that are made to be worn around the waist, where it efficiently wicks the urine away from the body of the dog. Acting like a dog diaper, the wraps are made for extra absorbency with its advanced “Lock-In” technology that keeps the dog’s body dry and comfortable. This feature also enables the dog’s hair to remain dry and odor free.
Walkin’ Pets has its own line of pet diapers called Peepers disposable diapers and male wraps for dogs, but it is better known for specializing in pet mobility by providing products that include wheelchairs, harnesses and slings. Created by Mark C. Robinson in 2001, Walkin’ Pets is driven by its mission that elderly, disabled and handicapped pets deserve a happy, healthy life. The company’s wheelchairs enable pets who can’t walk due to old age, injury or illness to continue to run, play, explore and get their much-needed exercise.
No longer do we view “pet years” being calculated by “1 human year = X cat/dog years” but rather it is now generally considered that small dogs enter their geriatric years at the age of 7. Meanwhile, larger dog breeds have shorter life spans and reach their geriatric years by the age of 6. Cats, on the other hand, are generally seniors at 11 and reach their geriatric years by age 15.
As Laurie Hess, owner and medical director at the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York, explained in “Senior Pets,” a November 2018 article: “A larger, 6-year-old dog might be more aged than a small, 6-year-old dog. From the [exotic] species I treat, it’s so much harder because a canary might live five or six year and a macaw might live 50 [years].”
There are plenty of symptoms of aging in a pet, which is why it’s important to note even insignificant changes. These symptoms range from changes in sleep patterns, energy levels, mental awareness, bumps and thirst/appetite. According to experts like Hess, it can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot symptoms of aging or illness, so keeping frequent vet appointments is recommended for the pet’s well-being, especially considering senior pets are more apt to develop ailments that include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, senility, urinary incontinence and muscle, joint or bone issues.
Like people, older pets are typically more sensitive to extreme temperature changes because of changes in their metabolism. And it’s vital that an aging pet’s oral health be maintained to prevent diseases of the mouth and for its overall well-being.
According to Ark Naturals CEO Michael Stoeckle, the company’s Gray Muzzle line of soft chews designed specifically for senior dogs gets more consumer engagement than any other segment in the company’s portfolio.
The best seller in the lineup is the Brushless Toothpaste, which features a light, crispy texture for older dogs that are missing teeth or have gums that are more delicate. These chews include an active ingredient toothpaste mixed throughout to clean teeth just as effectively as the original formula found in the Ark Naturals product.
For mental awareness, Ark Naturals makes Brain’s Best Friend, designed to support cognition, recognition, memory and learned skills with the help of the supplement’s all-natural vitamins and antioxidants, including Omega-3 fish oil, acetyl-L-carnite, L-theanine, resveratrol and ginkgo biloba.
“We work with our advisory council to determine these types of specific details for all of our products,” Stoeckle said. “Most veterinarians will tell you 7 years of age is considered ‘senior’ in the dog world. However, if you begin a regimen of taking the products prior to absolute need, it should help with specific indications or issues that may arise.”
Diet and exercise for older pets should be moderated. With exercise, this is due to the deterioration of their heart and lung function. However, being old does not negate the need for regular exercise as it helps maintain proper weight. Instead, it should be less intense than the exercise that a younger companion animal would be given. Short walks will help an older pet’s joints loose while also allow it to maintain muscle. Interactive toys are also ideal, as they offer mental stimulation in addition to keeping the pet active.
And with geriatric companion animals, extra weight can affect that joint health, especially with dogs, and obesity can lead to diabetes, skin and liver disease. For cats, weight loss is a major concern. In addition, geriatric pets often need foods that are more readily digestible. While many brands offer all-ages diets that offer complete nutrition, several pet food manufacturers promote their senior diets that adjust the ingredients for the specific requirements of an older dog or cat.
With a cat, if daily caloric intake is not raised, progressive weight loss may result due to the loss of muscle mass in the cat. In the short digestive tract of cats, plant proteins are far less digestible than meat proteins. These issues are very important when choosing a diet for the senior cat.
Developed by Dr. Bruce Elsey, cleanprotein features a protein-based diet for all life stages. It takes into account that older cats in the senior and geriatric phase are already developed and require nutrients that address their aging minds and bodies.
What supplements can the pet care community provide for aging pets? CBD and hemp products have shown promise, with studies already proving their impact with arthritis, anxiety and seizures.
Based in Temecula, California, NaturVet has a senior wellness line of more than a dozen SKUs, which are specifically designed for aging dogs. The brand introduced its line of hemp supplements for dogs and cats in 2018, with the company’s team of scientists and veterinarians creating formulas that include the benefits of hemp. In the senior dog line, NaturVet has its Hemp Advanced Joint soft chews, which includes glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen for extra joint support.
Meanwhile, NaturVet’s Senior Advanced Incontinence is formulated for senior dogs to include a synergistic blend of botanicals that help maintain normal muscle tone of the bladder and urinary sphincter muscles. The soft chews, which contain non-GMO ingredients, helps support healthy bladder control and urinary function.
Several of the supplements include glucosamine for added joint health, such as Aches & Comfort, which is recommended for support of joint health and function, as well as VitaPet Senior daily vitamins, which comes in soft chews and chewable tablets for dogs as well as soft chews for cats.
FoodScience Corporation is a woman- and family-owned business that’s been located in Vermont since the company was formed in 1972. FoodScience is responsible for several brands, including Vetriscience, which have been trusted by pet owners for more than 40 years. The brand recently launched its Golden Years line.
When the company designed the Golden Years line, it was in response to “hearing from the pet parents and our retail partners,” explained Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing for FoodScience. “We’re excited about Golden Years. It’s a line of four supplements specifically for senior health challenges. The approach we took was that supplements are an ingredient-driven business. We took these and said ‘what are the issues and challenges that senior pets face that current supplements, including our own, may not address?’ We started with the needs first and then the right formula.”
The result was the creation of Calm & Confident (which promotes calm behavior and enhanced brain health), Clear & Bright (an eye health supplement that promotes optimal vision), Energize & Thrive (a multivitamin with more than 25 vet-recommended nutrients) and Strength & Stability (formulated to maintain muscle tone and support energy production and joint health).
“We’re proud of the product palatability, because having efficacious ingredients is great, but if you can’t get the pets to take it, it doesn’t do much good. In relation to the Golden Years line, as pets get older, they tend to have dental issues, so the chews are a little bit softer than our other chews.”
“We could launch another product, but we want to stay true to the nature of the line,” he continued. “One, is it truly a senior-specific issue? And two, can we provide a solution that is specifi c to them and that’s better than what we already have? We have probiotics and digestive products. We have other supplements out there, and we’re happy with those lines. We want to have something that is diff erent than what we already have and is specifi c for senior pets. And from an ingredient standpoint, three of them have trademark ingredients with research behind them.”
Among the three with trademark ingredients is Calm & Confi dent, which is formulated to help manage age-related behavioral issues and maintain quality of life. Th e Colostrum Calming Complex Biopeptide Blend and L-theanine (Suntheanine brand) work together to promote cognitive function and calm the dog’s behavior, while a patented form Phosphatidylserine (Sharp PS Green) has been clinically proven to improve brain function, memory and learning in aging dogs.
Bayer is a Life Science company with a history that goes back more than 150 years in the areas of human health care and agriculture. Th e company also develops innovative products under the Bayer Animal Health sector, where Synovi G4 Joint Health is one of its most popular dog products based on sales. The soft chew helps maintain joint function and fl exibility while strengthening joint cargilate in dogs as they age. Formulated with a synergistic blend of antioxidants, and containing such powerful ingredients as glucosamine, creatine, turmeric and boswellia serrata, Synovi G4 allows a dog to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Synovi G4 can also be used in coordination with Free Form and/or Alenza Aging Support, which supports multiple systems throughout the body, including a healthy infl ammatory response. And as with all Bayer pet supplements, Synovi G4, Free Form and Alenza Aging Support all carry the National Animal Supplement Council quality seal on their labels.
Founded by Bob Burlingame in 2009, Vetericyn has grown to become a household name due to its all-animal wound and skin care products. After more than three years of research and development in collaboration with scientist-professor Dr. A.S. Narain Naidu, the brand launched its ALL-IN tablets, which come in three formulations, including one for senior dogs.
According to Vetericyn, ALL-IN is the only supplement for dogs on the market that combines age-specific, patented complexes with a delivery system that transports vital ingredients and unlocks a dog’s cells so they get used by the body in the proper amounts. It even helps optimize the absorption of other kinds of foods in a dog’s diet. Th e product technology and ingredients are backed by eight unique patents that have never been seen in the animal health space.
“When Dr. Naidu explained the technology he developed could actively take the nutrients, move them through the body and then deliver them to the right cells, we knew we had something special,” Vetericyn vice president Scott Van Winkle said of Dr. Nadu, who is an established microbiologist/immunologist and of the the pioneers of molecular medicine, in the March 2020 article, “Furry Bundles of Joy.” “Working with Dr. Naidu, we created customized nutritional complexes, which help strengthen bones and tissue, optimize gut health and strengthen the immune system.”
Manufacturers, veterinarians and retailers are all passionate about their roles in their clients, which are both the consumers and their companion animals. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance that they have access to the products that can provide these pets with a long, healthy life. In order for that life to reach old age, education is key, proclaims Vetriscience’s Archambault.
“Education of both the retailer and consumer is really important,” he said, adding that Vetriscience is in the process of providing their partners with access to educational material to support his brand’s products. “We want to provide them with tools to help. We’re launching an educational portal, where retailers and their associates can sign up to watch videos and answer quizzes on our products, including the Golden Years line and our other supplements. It will be geared toward the education of the pet store operator and the science behind our products.”
With manufacturers delivering such background information on their products, it makes the job of the veterinarians and retailers that much easier to offer guidance to pet owners.
As Dr. Hess concluded in “Senior Pets,” communication is of the utmost importance, and pet store owners can work in partnership with her colleagues in the veterinary sector.
“I basically say, you know, if the animal’s alive longer—you’re selling them the products [and] I keep them alive and healthy—we both benefit and so does the animal,” she said. “It’s really just about educating the owner. It’s really important for veterinarians to keep updating the stores about the latest and the greatest information and what the products are that are changing.”