By: Erica Sandberg, DVM, CHPV 

Erica Sandberg, DVM, CHPV, CAETA Certified

Hospice Service Lead for BluePearl Pet Hospice Houston


Nutrition is an important part of the health of our pets. Just looking at the vast number of pet food companies and types of foods shows us that people care about what they feed their pets. However, the number of choices can be overwhelming. Add into the mix that you have a senior or geriatric pet, and things can feel even more confusing. Let’s talk about what to consider when it comes to feeding your beloved furry companions.  


First of all, dogs and cats have different nutritional needs. Dogs are omnivores so they need a combination of foods, while cats are strict carnivores, so they need high amounts of protein. Dogs and cats have different requirements depending on their life stage. If there are animals in the house in different life stages, it is important to feed each of them a diet appropriate for their age and health status. Older pets will often have different nutritional needs. Do they have kidney disease? Are they having regular gastrointestinal upset? Do they have dental disease? All of these factors will contribute to what is the best diet.  


Soft or hard food? In general, cats should be fed a large quantity of wet food. The reason for this comes down to the processing of the food. Dry food will automatically have a higher amount of carbohydrates and less liquid. Although dry food is more convenient for us as pet owners, it is not in our cats’ best interest. Since cats are carnivores, they need lots of protein which will be higher in canned food. Kidney disease is common in our older kitties. Feeding canned food provides more liquid which benefits their kidneys. Although it can be hard to completely switch over to only canned food, even some canned food is beneficial.  


Why don’t we want high carbohydrate foods for cats? Short answer: obesity, diabetes and arthritis. Carbohydrates will contribute to weight gain which will make cats prone to developing diabetes and arthritis. The good news is, we have the power to change what they eat! Since our pets are receiving food directly from us, rather than hunting for it, we can be in control!  


What about our older dogs? Weight management is also important for the dog population. Osteoarthritis is common in dogs. Overweight dogs will have more pressure and load on their joints which will exacerbate arthritis.  

Many older pets have specific nutritional requirements based on their disease. Many diseases will partly be managed with diet change, which can sometimes decrease the oral medications needed. Prescription diets are diets that require a veterinarian’s approval. These diets are aimed at treating specific disease processes. Many older pets benefit from prescription diets since they often have one or more diseases. Disease processes that have prescription diets tailored to the needs of these patients include kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disease, liver disease, and cognitive dysfunction. 


One thing that is often underestimated is our animals’ powerful sense of smell. Smell is an important part of appetite and enjoyment of food. If your pet is turning up their nose at their food, it is a good idea to schedule a checkup to investigate any new changes indicating illness. Tips for enticing pets that are being picky include using a paper plate to feed the pet (this limits residual smell from their previous meals on their regular food dishes) and warming the food up slightly. If they are nauseous or in pain, they may turn away from their food.  


We all want the best for our pets so many owners will purchase boutique brand pet foods. These can have quality control issues that could contribute to differences between the contents from bag to bag. Ultimately this may lead to gastrointestinal upset such as frequent diarrhea. Not all pet food companies are created equal, so it is recommended to discuss diet options with your veterinarian. You and your veterinarian are both advocates for your pet and can work as a team to determine your pet’s individual needs.