While pet owners are generally aware that there are diets for senior dogs and specific formulas that address aging issues such as bone and joint care, a survey conducted by Nestlé Purina PetCare in 2016 indicated that there was a gap in knowledge among dog owners on topics related to canine brain health and healthy aging.
Most survey respondents unknowingly had also observed a dimension of canine cognition in their dogs. Eighty-six percent said their dogs stared at them for no apparent reason (a sign of empathy) and 95 percent reported that their dog barked to get their attention (a sign of their communication style). But only 30 percent were aware that as dogs age, the glucose metabolism in their brain changes, potentially leading to changes in behavior.
The work of a team of 400 scientists at Nestlé Purina PetCare led to the introduction of the company’s Bright Mind Adult and Bright Mind 7+ food to support brain health in dogs. There are three Purina Pro Plan BRIGHT MIND 7+ formulas: a standard chicken and rice formula, a large breed formula for dogs over 50 pounds and a small breed formula for dogs under 20 pounds. The formulas feature a proprietary blend of brain-supporting fatty acids derived from botanical oils called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that have shown to promote alertness and mental sharpness in dogs 7 and older. Purina confirmed its studies show there is an improved alertness in dogs in 30 days when fed this diet exclusively.
MCTs are being hailed as the next big thing in senior food formulations. They also feature in Re-juvenate, a new senior formula from Annamaet Petfood. According to Rob Downey, president and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods, this food was reformulated 15 times in the company’s quest for the perfect formula before it was introduced to the marketplace.
“Re-juvenate also contains turmeric, a powerful, natural anti-inflammatory as well as optimum levels of DHA and L-carnitine that have shown to help maintain cognitive function in older dogs,” Downey explained. “The principle ingredient is silver carp, a clean fish that is high in protein and low in fat. It’s considered an invasive species in the Great Lakes region of the U.S., so using this high-quality novel protein actually helps balance our natural resources.
“Also, these fish are filter feeders, not bottom feeders, meaning they are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which further helps to promote healthy cognitive function in aging dogs,” he added.
Senior Health on the Shelf
Last year, Sojos introduced Sojos Complete for Seniors.
“It’s a raw, shelf-stable food specially blended for the whole-body health and vitality of mature dogs,” said Jen Loesch, general manager of Sojos. “It features lean, freeze-dried turkey and Omega-rich salmon, plus a select complement of superfoods like apples, cranberries, kelp and coconut. There is also targeted nutrients for seniors like glucosamine and chondroitin to help support joint health, sodium, calcium and phosphorus to aid in maintaining a healthy heart, Omega-3s and -6s to help promote healthy skin and coat, and DHA/EPP to help maintain cognitive health.
“We like to explain to dog owners to start with our new Sojos Mix-a-Meal Pre-Mix. There’s a choice between the updated Original Recipe that pioneered the shelf-stable raw food movement or our Grain-Free Fruit and Veggie mix. Both are tailor-made bases for home crafters eager to take a more active hand in their dog’s daily diet,” Loesch continued. “Next, we suggest adding Sojos Mix-a-Meal Freeze- Dried Raw Proteins. They’re the perfect protein complement for Mix-a-Meal Pre-Mixes. Today turkey, tomorrow beef. Or lamb. Or chicken. It’s easy to keep the savory flavors coming.
“And for senior pets with minor conditions calling for added dietary support, there are additives such as Allergy Aid, Skin and Coat, Advanced Care Joint Health, Digestive Enzymes, or stress-reducing Calming Aid,” she said. “The bags are re-sealable and come with a scoop and easy-to-follow instructions.”
Being Health Conscious
According to Anthony Bennie, founder and chief nutrition officer of Clear Conscience Pet, senior dogs can be helped greatly by focusing on their appetite, hydration and digestion issues.
“Our years of experience have shown that this triad is key to keeping senior dogs vigorous into their geriatric years,” Bennie said. “Older dogs tend to lose interest in dry food as their sense of taste and smell diminishes, so we need to keep them excited about eating. At the same time, it’s critical to keep seniors hydrated for cell health and to flush toxins from their aging kidneys. And of course, if an older dog isn’t digesting food well, they aren’t getting the nutrients they need.” SuperGravy, an award-winning food topper line crafted in the USA from holistic clean label ingredients, is designed to target Bennie’s triad. While in the treat department, the Lamb Trachey Chewz, which are artisan roasted USA lamb trachea infused with “SDR,” a proprietary SuperFood Dry Rub of flax, spinach, carrot and tomato are ideal for senior dogs.
“The rub adds omegas and phytonutrients for immune health to traches, which is already a source of joint protective nutrients such as collagen and chondroitin. They are breakable so can be adjusted to dogs of any size,” he said. “And, best of all, lamb trachea is perfect for seniors, since it has a delicate texture that provides dental stimulation but is forgiving enough to be chewed by older dogs with sensitive mouths or dental health challenges.”
Earlier this year, Castor & Pollux added PRISTINE Bone Broth for Dogs to its Pristine line of pet food made with responsibly sourced ingredients.
“The first ingredient in each Bone Broth recipe is broth that comes from animals that are responsibly raised with access to fresh air, natural light and space to roam, like free-range chicken and turkey and grass-fed beef,” explained Jilliann Smith, director of communications for Merrick Pet Care, the makers of Castor & Pollux pet food and treats. “It’s ideal for adding to kibble to make it more palatable and digestible for older canines. And further, it’s great as a very nutritious liquid treat.”
According to Russell W. Herman, CEO of PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore, senior pet foods are not as popular as they should be in all four stores under his leadership.
“It should be bigger than what it is,” he confirmed. “Most people don’t consider changing their pet’s diet until it’s too late. Either their senior pet gets a major disease or starts having joint problems. Then they feel the need to make some positive changes to the diet.
“We have trained our employees to engage with customers to discuss their pet’s nutritional needs. And, if they have a senior pet, we’ll do our best to encourage them to get them on a senior diet,” Herman said. “While we don’t have a special senior section in our stores, our associates are trained to know what ancillary items are important such as glucosamine supplements, pain relievers (CBD’s) and other related products for seniors such as orthopedic beds.”
Ultimately, Herman emphasized the importance of communication.
“I believe the most important thing is to talk to customers about their pets and make the appropriate recommendations,” he said. “This is particularly true for senior pets. Ultimately, they will appreciate the advice, and their pets will benefit in their golden years.”