According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats and small dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of 7 years old. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately 6 years old. When a pet gets older, there are physical side effects as well as behavioral. However, owners can take an active approach in aiding their furry family members by researching what to expect and how certain products can be beneficial.
Thanks to recent innovations and technology, today’s pet product manufacturers are playing an increased role in the healthy aging of senior pets. The pet health care category has expanded in recent years; An April 2022 Precedence Research analysis projected that the pet health care segment of the industry will reach approximately $76.82 billion, a massive increase over the actual 2021 numbers of $53.15 billion.
Brands are offering senior-specific products to help cats and dogs flourish in their old age and retailers should be stocking their shelves. Senior pets require increased attention, including more frequent visits to the veterinarian, possible changes in diet and in some cases alterations to their home environment. As pets age, their needs evolve, but this doesn’t mean they can’t continue to enjoy the same activities they did as younger pets. Relying on a veterinarian visit can be expensive and time consuming. Pet owners are now turning to their local pet retailers to provide information and helpful products for senior animal care.
Retailers can benefit from not only carrying senior pet care products, but also dedicating a section of the store to these items. Retailers should also work with companies to learn the science behind what makes a product senior specific. Having knowledge about why customers’ pets can benefit from a product creates trust and loyalty. Rather than telling a customer that their pet needs a product, it is more productive to explain why.
“At the retailer level, education is a key focus to help pet parents understand that this transition is simply a proactive step in keeping their pet healthy for a lifetime of wellbeing with customized nutrition that supports their aging needs,” explained Dr. Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Company. “For retailers specifically, we work closely with helping support their staff with specific education soundbites that they can talk with pet parents about.”
The changes pets go through as they age can be visible signs, such as increased osteoarthritis seen with reduced mobility or a reluctance to be active, changes to their body condition, graying of their coat, changed digestion and increased digestive upsets or even just sleeping longer during the day. There are also changes occurring on the inside that pet parents may not see, such as a greater predisposition to health ailments like kidney problems, reduced digestibility and a declining immune system.
Senior-specific products to aid in these health changes include food, supplements and vitamins and have transformed the way senior pets feel in their old age. Dog ailments typically involve hip and joint, skin and gastrointestinal (GI) issues, while GI and urinary tract infections are common ailments for cats. Pet food companies offer softer food options that can be easier for an older pet to eat as well as food formulated to be easier on a pet’s digestive tract and food meant to aid in joint health. Vitamins and supplements provide extra nutrients senior pet’s bodies need to remain healthy and active.
A premium natural pet food company, who for almost 100 years has been crafting nutrition based on scientific expertise, Wellness Pet Company has leveraged its animal nutritionists and veterinarians to ensure that its formulas and diets are meeting every pet’s needs.
The company continues to see pet parents interested in a more holistic approach to pet health. “We see the value of offering scientifically-proven health outcomes to support a long-lasting shared life of wellbeing,” said Bernal. “When it comes to seniors, this means crafting the very best nutrition that meets all their aging needs so that they can truly enjoy their golden years in optimal health and happiness for a lifetime of wellbeing.”
The company created its Wellness pet food line and has recently expanded its portfolio with Wellness CORE Digestive Health Age Advantage for dogs and Wellness Cat wet recipes Age Advantage. Designed specifically for the needs of senior dogs, Wellness CORE Digestive Health Age Advantage is a highly digestible, probiotic-coated kibble crafted with a unique blend of prebiotic fibers to support digestive health. This recipe is made with guaranteed levels of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and calcium to support healthy joints and bones.
Wellness Complete Health Age Advantage features two new wet recipes, specifically made for cats aged seven and older to support signs of wellbeing that pet parents can see. This includes supporting healthy aging with the right balance of protein and fat plus natural glucosamine and chondroitin from chicken as the first ingredient.
Because pets have different nutritional needs at different stages of life, Molly Keveney, spokesperson for ORIJEN and ACANA pet food, explains that it’s imperative for retailers to be well-versed in senior-specific diets to make the appropriate recommendation.
“They should know how to read the guaranteed analysis and ingredient panels on pet foods, which provide important information pet parents need to know when feeding an older animal,” said Keveney. “Details like the amount and type of protein and fat contained within the diet are especially important indicators of whether the food is appropriate for senior pets.”
ORIJEN was created with geriatric pets specifically in mind. Much like its other diets, ORIJEN Senior is full of premium, WholePrey animal ingredients, and the first five ingredients always come from fresh or raw animal sources.
“What differentiates ORIJEN Senior from other ORIJEN recipes is the amount of fat it contains. As metabolism naturally slows down, older dogs often require a high protein diet with lower fat content to support lean muscle mass and weight maintenance,” said Keveney. “ORIJEN Senior features 15 percent crude fat, which is comparably lower than the 18 percent contained in ORIJEN Original which is meant for adult dogs.”
Along with weight issues, older dogs may also experience painful arthritis. Nutraceuticals are commonly used to relieve common pain associated with arthritis in older canines. Handcrafted in small batches in its family-owned kitchens, ZIWI uses New Zealand Green Mussels, which has natural anti-inflammatory properties and is rich with two nutraceuticals: glucosamine and chondroitin. There are three percent of these mussels in all of ZIWI’s air-dried and canned recipes. EPA and DHA are Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in New Zealand Green Mussels and are known to aid in the symptoms of old age in canines.
“New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels are the only species of mussel to contain a bioactive protein that acts as anti-inflammatory and helps repair muscle and increase joint function,” explained Jessica Krueger, marketing manager for ZIWI. “These delicacies are also a great source of iron and protein, and the fresh meat is plump and sweet. That means they won’t only boost the palatability of your pet’s bowl, but they’ll provide natural ingredients that will contribute to the health of your pets’ joints, skin and coat.
While dogs need a certain diet after reaching their golden years, cats also need a change in their food. Fromm Family Food created a senior cat diet that recognizes the diet changes that felines require. Since 1904, the company has maintained a tradition of innovation dedicated to the health and nutrition of animals. In the 1930s, the company developed the first canine distemper vaccine and by 1949, it had introduced the concept of premium pet food to the world.
The fifth-generation family-owned-and-operated pet food company, based in Wisconsin, carries less calorically dense foods like its Healthy Weight Gold to keep the volume of food fed relatively consistent yet overall caloric intake at reduced levels compared to standard adult foods.
“Fromm Healthy Weight Gold for Cats provides an excellent and balanced option for less active adult cats and senior cats trying to achieve and maintain an ideal body weight – something critical for cats as they age,” explained Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Food.
Prepared in controlled batches at the company’s family facility, this recipe is prepared with select proteins and wholesome ingredients. Enhanced with probiotics, the product helps to support intestinal health by regulating and balancing gut microbiota, supports immune system function and enhances nutrient metabolism The added l-carnitine aids in the utilization of fatty acids for energy and helps to normalize blood sugar levels while salmon oil aids in a healthy coat and the variety and inclusion of grains provides several vitamins, minerals and high-quality complex carbohydrates for energy and fiber.
Although the changes pets require may be intimidating to some, Joe Toscano, Purina’s vice president of trade and industry development, says that retailers should be aware that almost half (46 percent) of premium cat buyers and three-fourths (75 percent) of owners think it’s important to feed food that is formulated for their cat or dog’s life stage.
“There is an opportunity for retailers to help consumers with senior pets find the right food that will help their pet thrive,” he added.
Toscano advises that retailers utilize signage to educate consumers, shelve senior dog and cat formulas with their parent brand and ensure an optimal assortment of SKUS and cross promote other dog and cat supplies including treats and litter.
Scientists at Purina have been studying aging in pets for more than a decade and discovered that nutrition can positively impact feline longevity. Older cats can benefit from diets with antioxidants to support a healthy immune system that could be declining, glucosamine to support healthy joints and ingredients that are easy to digest.
“They can experience impaired sensitivity to thirst, often accompanied by kidney problems that increase water loss through urine. Wet cat food, like Fancy Feast Senior Cat Pate, or wet cat complements, like Friskies Lil’ Soups, can also provide a good source of water for cats as well,” said Toscano.
The company also offers Purina Pro Plan PRIME PLUS Adult 7+, a breakthrough cat food formula that contains a proprietary blend proven to improve and extend the life of cats seven and older. Toscano says the findings are based on a nine-year study on cats exclusively fed a complete diet with the proprietary blend versus cats fed a complete and balanced diet alone.
Aside from changes in diet, pet parents should also be aware of the benefits of supplements.
The supplements market is booming and retailers that offer these products should “take the time to explain how a new product is unique, how it may deliver more noticeable benefits or comfort or contribute towards a healthier lifestyle and quality of life as a pet ages,” said Heather Acuff, Ph.D. director of research and development at Nulo Pet Food.
Based in Austin, Texas, Nulo Pet Food has expanded its portfolio past cat and dog food. The brand offers senior cat and dog food formulas but has recently focused its innovation on formulating the best in dog wellness supplements, developing a supplement line in collaboration with veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and companion animal dermatology specialists. The result of this focus is the Functional Mobility Soft Chews for dogs. The chews are scientifically formulated with a variety of bioactive ingredients featuring collagen, MSM and organic turmeric.
“In addition, these cold-pressed soft chews also contain New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel, wild Alaskan salmon oil and vitamins C and E. Together, these advanced ingredients help promote the mobility, flexibility and comfort your senior pet deserves,” said Acuff
These supplements are manufactured in the United States in an FDA-registered facility following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and utilizing advanced 3rd party testing to all to ensure strict quality standards are being met.
Part of mobility loss can also include lack of energy. Wapiti Labs, Inc. knows it’s hard to see a family pet struggling and recognizes that owners are seeking out solutions. The company makes a Senior Mobility supplement for dogs and Revitalize, a cat supplement, which Precious Hight, marketing director, says is aimed “to give senior pets the best quality of life they can in their last stage of life.”
A service-disabled veteran-owned business, Wapiti Labs raises its own elk and has combined science-based research with the healing properties of nature to create its Elk Velvet Antler (EVA) Supplements.
With added ginseng, Senior Mobility and Revitalize give senior pets a boost of energy, along with EVA that supports joint and muscle health. EVA is especially helpful for an older pet’s health because it offers joint pain relief, decreases inflammation, increases strength and endurance, improves mobility and stamina, reduces oxidative stress, boosts immune health, increases cartilage and muscle repair and improves blood circulation and alertness.
Besides changes in food and the addition of regular supplements, cats can benefit from senior litter. Because cats can be hard to read, Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products, suggests that retailers ask detailed questions about the behavior of their customers’ cats.
“Kidney failure is the number one cause of death in senior cats. Senior cats have several conditions that lower their natural resistance to urinary infections. Kidney failure, diabetes and hyperthyroidism all lead to more dilute urine,” explained Zaro. “Dr. Elsey’s Senior Litter addresses the medical and urinary tract problems that this specific group of cat’s experience with a solution to help prevent kidney failure and urinary tract infections that can cause non-use of the litter box.”
This senior litter is an amorphous silica gel litter infused with hydrolyzed herbs to draw the cats to the litter box. It helps keep a cat’s genital area clean to help prevent urinary tract infection. The fine silica gel litter can be kept shallow, about one inch, in the litter box thus preventing a cat from getting litter and feces on their genital area and soiling themselves.
“Senior cats may also have a difficult time getting in and out of the box so having boxes with low sides can be helpful along with having a litter box on each level of the house,” said Zaro.
Besides benefiting from litter that helps prevent urinary tract infection, senior litter should also be gentle on paws. ökocat Super Soft Litter is tough on odors, but safe for geriatric cats with sensitive paws. “ökocat recognized the need for a pillowy soft litter for cats with special needs, including senior pets, which resulted in both our Super Soft and Featherweight variations,” said Leslie Ellis, consumer communications manager for Healthy Pet, maker of ökocat.
ökocat Super Soft and Featherweight litters are premium, natural lightweight litters that are 99 percent dust free and stop odor before it starts without using any synthetic chemicals, toxic dyes or artificial fragrances. Multiple benefits include a cleaner and healthier litter that is better for the home and the planet. The soft texture of the litter is similar to clay, which makes transitioning to a new litter much easier, especially for senior pets who are accustomed to a specific litter.
While diets and litter are important to senior cats and dogs, certain harnesses and accessories can also help a pet’s quality of life. Mobility loss is a heartbreaking yet common issue associated with aging. A cats’ agility becomes lessened as they age even though they still enjoy furniture and vertical spaces. “They don’t understand that they can’t jump like they used to. By offering them a solution to climb in a gentle way, you are preventing them from overestimating their aging body’s capabilities,” said Mandie Sweetnam, PetSafe’s category manager of travel, mobility, toys and behavior.
The brand offers pet mobility products for both cats and dogs such as steps, ramps, harnesses and dog bicycle trailers. Troubling walking up steps, getting onto the bed or couch is hard to watch, but can be helped with the addition of ramps. Retailers should pay close attention to their customers’ concerns and ask questions to ensure they are offering the correct solution.
“Some cats may still be able to use the steps option, but some cats may not even be able to step up very well, making the ramp option more suitable for them. The height is also adjustable, so the steps and ramp combo can be used throughout the house,” said Sweetnam.
Founded in 2001, Walkin’ Pets emphasizes the fact that mobility loss does not have to be an end-of-life decision. With the support of a dog wheelchair or a lifting harness, a paralyzed pet can still live an active life. A rear support harness, like the Walkin’ Warrior Rear Harness, is an easy way to support a dog’s back legs.
“The harness slips up your dog’s back legs and attaches over their lower back, when you lift up on the adjustable handles, you can easily support and lift your dog’s hind end,” explained Jennifer Pratt, director of marketing and sales for Walkin’ Pets.
For a dog that may need more help with mobility, the company also offers the Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair, which is also compatible with the rear harness.
Pratt recommends retailers focus on how a product can help a pet and the real-life benefits the product can offer.
“At the buying stage, most pet parents have a problem that they need your help solving. Listen to what the pet parent is saying, most of the time, they’re struggling with simple, solvable issues like helping their dog up the stairs or how to help them outside to go potty,” said Pratt.
If the pet industry continues to recognize the importance of life stage-specific products, retailers and consumers should be sure to keep up with the latest innovations. The more scientific evidence is unearthed, the more companies can expand on their current portfolios. Retailers need to work with brands to understand the science behind the products to educate their customers. Overall, it’s a win, win; retailers expand their store, while pets are given some relief in old age.