Senior Dog Nutrition: How to Make the Golden Years Better for Dogs
Challenging Pet Food Industry Myths with Biological Facts
© 2018 By Anthony Bennie, Founder & Chief Nutrition Officer
INTRO: The History of Senior Pet Nutrition: After almost thirty years of the “natural pet revolution,” one might think that there is broad agreement as to the basics. Until the 1970s, the term “senior dog food” was virtually non-existent, and it wasn’t until late 80s and early 90s that it became a mainstream phenomenon. Not so coincidentally, this corresponds closely with the emergence of the aforementioned natural pet nutrition movement.
But instead of reaching a scientifically and biologically sound consensus, the pet food industry has fallen back on clichés and assumptions, driven more by marketing than nutritional science based on the evolutionary biology of canines.
The critical question is, what is the right way to feed, treat, and care for the dental health of older dogs? How can we best maintain their health, well-being, and vitality? If we get this wrong, our older dogs will age prematurely and lose strength and energy long before their time. So it’s our job as advocates for the health of dogs to reexamine and correct the mistakes about senior nutrition that have been accepted as “conventional wisdom.”
In surveying the landscape of products for senior dogs, we find a vast disconnect between marketing trends and the biological needs of older dogs. The pet nutrition business is too often selling and recommending products for senior dogs that serve the corporate bottom line rather than the nutritional needs of aging dogs.
This false narrative has hurt older dogs, in my opinion based on 26 years as an animal nutritionist and pet food industry insider. Here at Clear Conscience Pet, we have come to reject the current “conventional wisdom” in regard to most aspects of nutrition for older dogs. This includes current trends in food, treats, and dental chews for older dogs. The following analysis represents our opinion, informed by biological science and decades of direct experience feeding dogs as well as advising consumers, retailers, and manufacturers.
Prevailing Trends in Senior Dog Nutrition: Is Less Really More?
Food and Treats for Senior Dogs- What’s Wrong?
The dominant model in senior dog nutrition is to make senior food and treats with less protein, less fat, and fewer calories while increasing carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Sometimes, extra supplements such as synthetic vitamins, minerals, or joint care nutrients such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are added. For treats, there is not as much differentiation between life stages. But treats labeled for seniors tend to follow the same trends as senior foods- LESS real nutrition, more synthetic supplements.
Dental Chews for Senior Dogs- Crucial to Long Term Health
In the dental chews category, older dogs often get left out completely. There is a false belief that older dogs have weak mouths and can’t handle rugged chewing. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if we don’t give dogs rugged chewing options throughout life, they will develop dental problems and their gums and palate muscles will weaken. And too often, our older dogs (and all dogs, for that matter) are given plasticky laboratory engineered “green” chews made predominantly from glutens, gelatin, and grain derivatives.
What’s Wrong with these Senior Feeding Concepts?
The trouble is that these senior feeding “rules” are not supported by canine biology. Protein and fat are the core life-sustaining nutrients for dogs, which is why the Guaranteed Analysis must declare the minimum percentage for both. Older dogs do not need less nutrients than younger adults, and “replacing” essential nutrients with synthetic supplements is a recipe for poor nutrition.
Mother Nature is our best teacher, if we pay attention to her lessons. One need only study wolves, our dogs’ closest wild relatives, to see proof that these canines eat the same basic diet throughout life. They need and want the same prey game as their younger pack mates. They most certainly do not switch to “low protein and low fat prey” as they age. Prey is rich in protein, fat, and numerous trace nutrients essential for vibrant good health. As it turns out, by eating what comes naturally, wolves in captivity outlive the vast majority of domestic dogs. In fact, wolves fed their natural diet or a close analogue have been documented to live well over 20 years. Note that we’ve never seen a zoo, wolf rescue, or wolf rehab feed “kibble,” certainly not as a core diet for wild canines without abundant fresh meat added.
The fact is, older dogs need digestible animal-based protein as the core of their diets, just like younger dogs. Older dogs also need healthy sources of essential fatty acids, which can only come from optimum levels of biologically suitable fats and oils. Most senior dog foods reduce fat content significantly; this leads to decreased energy, dull and appropriate amounts of. Attentive and conscientious dog parents don’t need to automatically change foods when their dogs reach a certain age. Continue to feed a high quality meat-based “adult” diet as dogs age, while paying close attention to your dog’s weight, coat health, and energy levels as indicators of overall health.
That said, digestive efficiency can diminish with age, and metabolism may slow down in older dogs if they don’t stay active. The most common dietary issue that we hear from those with “middle aged,” and especially advanced geriatric dogs, is that they start to lose interest in the food we’re giving them. If a dog is otherwise healthy but still starts to show diminished appetite, the “diagnosis” is often quite simple: your dog has developed taste fatigue from eating the same food for years, which leads to picky eating, increased begging for people foods, and stress for pet parents.
SuperGravy®: A Senior Dogs Best Friend
At Clear Conscience Pet, we decided seven years ago to focus on solving the challenges of senior dog taste fatigue as well as picky eating at all lifestages. Whether caused by aging, illness, medications, stress, or anxiety, diminished appetites are dangerous to a dog’s long-term health and happiness. Knowing that humans are busy and may experience “money fatigue” just as dogs get taste fatigue, we were determined to craft a new solution that would be very simple to use and inexpensive to add to any feeding program. So we invented the first holistic instant gravy mix for dogs, which we named SuperGravy. The name was a reflection of our commitment to using only ingredients derived from whole superfoods, with nothing synthetic whatsoever. In fact, the invention of SuperGravy inspired us to adopt our CleanLabel Pledge which promises that ALL Clear Conscience Pet products are made according to a strict philosophy of using only Pure, Pronounceable, and Purposeful ingredients.
Since then, we have been humbled by receiving 10 nutrition awards for SuperGravy, most recently the 2018 Family Choice Award. The testimonials and reviews that we have received along the way from those with senior and advanced geriatric dogs have been powerful and heartwarming.
We recently completed a major expansion and reimagining of the SuperGravy line from the original “Au Jus” brown beef gravy to a line of three artisan crafted holistic gravies. Each is made with a single protein to provide options for dogs with allergies, and all now include live probiotics and digestive enzymes to address the aforementioned concerns about digestive efficiency decreasing as dogs age.
To capture the joyful spirit of gravy as “comfort food” we gave the new recipes fun and memorable names: Au Jus brown with beef liver is now PAW JUS savory brown; BARKINARA is a zesty red with chicken liver and air dried tomato, and ARFREDO creamy white is made with Greek yogurt and three Italian-style dried cheeses.
In the “WHO IS IT FOR” advice on the package, we declare that SuperGravy “boosts appetites impacted by aging.” Keeping older dogs eating consistently and joyfully was a key goal for the SuperGravy line. Our thousands of customers with older dogs and advanced geriatric dogs agree that this simple and pure product has a major positive impact on the quality of life for older dogs. It’s a rare product that is actually life-changing for dogs and for the humans who care for them.
Neuroplasticity and Nutrition: Can Providing Variety in Taste and Aromas Stimulate the Brain?
Good quality, biologically appropriate food with a proper nutritional balance is essential for the optimum physical health and wellness of senior dogs. But what about brain health and cognitive ability? Neuroscientific research offers evidence that variety and novelty in the diet presents new combinations of aromas and tastes which stimulate the olfactory system to form new neural connections in dogs throughout life. Simply put, new smells and tastes keep the brain active and stimulated.
The three SuperGravy formulas are all designed to have very different tastes and smells, unlike some dog products that are differentiated more by marketing than substance. Typically, the “multiple flavors” in a dog food or treat line are all remarkably similar, with only one or two different ingredients to justify the additional product SKUs. This marketing strategy is about occupying more shelf space, not creating truly differentiated TASTE for the benefit of dogs as SuperGravy does.
Why is taste variety so important? As it turns out, there is evidence from Neuroscience proving that introducing new smells causes the olfactory system to create new neural connections in the brain throughout life. This phenomenon is called “neuroplasticity.” This exciting research shows that by continually providing variety in the form of intriguing new smells, we may be able to actually improve cognitive response in advanced geriatric dogs as part of an overall healthy diet. SuperGravy is the first and only appetite stimulating pet food topper with REAL variety, and that’s why the three formulas offer such an effective total solution to prevent taste fatigue while stimulating the canine brain.
Very importantly, SuperGravy stimulates appetites and brain cells without stomach-disrupting food changes. SuperGravy empowers pet parents to add variety without changing the dog’s core diet. This connection between food and neuroplasticity is an exciting new frontier for older dogs that we will continue to pursue as we develop new products.
Other Clear Conscience Pet® Products for Senior Dogs
Treats that work well for Seniors: Lamb Airy™ Bark low-density crunchy treats
Lamb Airy Bark is an innovative spin on roasted lamb lung. Our tasty Bark is artisan roasted in slabs which makes it very easy to break and crunchy without being hard like a baked cookie. Most importantly, Lamb Airy Bark features our “SDR” Superfood Dry Rub, a proprietary and exclusive enhancement only available from CCP. The SDR process infuses these high-protein, low carb treats with beneficial plant-based phytonutrients from air dried milled flax, spinach, carrot, and tomato. And as a bonus, these infused ingredients provide the added stimulus of new smells to stimulate excitement and contribute to neuroplasticity. Because we believe in the all life stage nutritional philosophy for dogs, these treats are not labeled specifically as “senior dog treats;” they are just plain healthy, digestible, and delicious.
Chews for Older Dogs: Lamb and Beef Trachey™ Chews
Providing chewing options that scrape teeth and stimulate gums is essential to maintaining the dental health of dogs at all lifestages, and senior dogs are no exception. All dogs need continual access to “rugged” chewing options. This deep stimulation from chewing and gnawing is key to long term oral health. Imagine if, starting at age 40, people were told by doctors or dentists to start eating only “soft foods;” we would protest mightily and insist that we not be fed like babies! Yet, because of an arbitrary age number, millions of older dogs are deprived of this intuitive need. Well-meaning but misinformed dog guardians cut off their older dogs from bones and other hard chews because they are now considered “seniors” at ages as young as 7 based on pet food industry misinformation.
The “alternative” created in food science laboratories are typically “engineered” dental bones made from altered processed foods such as gluten meals, wheat and rice flours, glycerin, and gelatin touted as “all natural” and “rawhide-free” dental chews. Sadly, such products have been documented in complaints to the FDA for causing choking incidents in thousands of dogs over the last few decades but deep-pocket companies have the money and lawyers to obfuscate these claims and most often quietly make the complainants go away by paying settlements with non-disclosure agreements.
Clear Conscience Pet Rugged Chew Options: Natural Chews with SDR Infusion
Beef and Lamb Trachey™ Chewz: In the category of “dental chews,” we keep it simple and pure at CCP. We use artisan-roasted Beef Trachea and Lamb Trachea as our all-natural rugged chewing options for dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. We have done older dogs a huge disservice if we stop giving them rugged chewing options at any age as long as they have healthy teeth and gums. And, in fact, frequent chewing with the right chews is exactly what dogs need to prevent dental problems in the first place!
- Beef Trachey Chews are the most rugged option, and it’s a joyful experience for dogs to gnaw and chew on these 100% digestible yet very stimulating chews. These chews stimulate your dog’s teeth and deeply massage their gums to keep them strong. For added efficacy, we employ a “canoe cut” for our Beef Trachey Chewz that opens up the trachea tube to create stimulating edges that dogs grip while they chew, thus providing greater scraping action and a longer-lasting chew. Ozzy, CCP’s current CDO (Chief Dog Officer), is an almost twelve year-old Golden Retriever and he has beautiful teeth and healthy gums with no brushing from chewing 2 or 3 Beef Trachey Chewz per week.
- Lamb Trachey Chews are a gentler chew option that still provides tooth and gum health benefits for older dogs who may have had some dental issues requiring an easier chew to help them strengthen their teeth and gums. Since Lamb Tracheys are thinner in texture and easier to chew, they’re a favorite for puppies and smaller dogs.
© 2018 All rights reserved
Anthony Bennie, Founder and Chief Nutrition Officer
Clear Conscience Pet®- The Most Award-Winning Brand in Pet Nutrition
See other articles by Anthony at https://www.clearconsciencepet.com/foundersarticles