Antioxidants in Senior Pet Foods

Written by Oxbow

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May 4, 2022🞄

Author: Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD


Small mammal pets are living longer lives in recent years thanks in large part to improved veterinary care and nutrition. This added time with our little loved ones brings a new set of potential health issues with it, however. As any animal ages its physiological systems can become more inefficient leading to increased levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress at the most basic level is an imbalance between free radicals, or molecules with unpaired electrons, and antioxidants. The resulting oxidative damage cause by free radicals can lead to some of the common issues seen in older pets such as heart disease, cancer, and even reduction in cognitive function. There are many factors that can lead to the production of free radicals including stress, low quality diet, environmental factors such as pollution, and even daily functions such as digestion. It can be hard to control some of the factors which contribute to free radical production so often times the addition of antioxidants becomes a focus to reducing oxidative stress. For a more detailed insight to oxidative stress, see our previous blog about antioxidants. 


Antioxidants in the Senior Diet

While antioxidants are beneficial at any age, they should be of particular focus with an animal approaching its golden years. Older bodies are less efficient at repairing oxidative damage so the added boost that dietary antioxidants provide can help keep your pet feeling spritely as they age. Fresh greens and veggies provide a fantastic source of antioxidants and should remain a key dietary staple in a senior animal’s diet (check out our recommendations for the best greens for rabbits and guinea pigs). When looking at senior specific fortified foods, antioxidants can also provide benefit to the daily diet. Ingredients such as oats and barley provide antioxidants in the form of whole grains while other plants such as yucca also contribute valuable antioxidants. Ingredients that contribute omega 3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, can also provide anti-inflammatory and protective effects again oxidative stress. Even ensuring adequate levels of vitamins such as vitamin E and vitamin C can add benefit as these are needed to defend the body against oxidative damage.

Some herbal ingredients can also be added to a fortified food to pack another punch of antioxidants. Herbal ingredients such as ginger root, turmeric, and chamomile contain flavonoids and other natural antioxidants which can benefit senior pets primarily through anti-inflammatory properties.


Turmeric PowderCurcumin, carotenoidsExerts anti-inflammatory properties and helps alleviate chronic pain
Ginger RootGingerolsAnti-inflammatory and antioxidant to reduce inflammation and pain
ChamomileTerpenoids, apigenin, quercetin, luteolinAnti-inflammatory with anti-allergic properties


Consider the Whole Diet

Providing elderly pets with appropriate fiber levels and types is of utmost importance. Though beneficial, antioxidants and their benefits take a back seat to the fiber necessary to stimulate your pet’s digestive tract to keep it functioning properly. With that in mind, there are always ways to add antioxidants to each component of your little one’s diet. For example, herbal ingredients can be added to your pet’s loose grass hay or can be purchased in the form of Botanical Hay. Dark, leafy greens and veggies high in antioxidants, as mentioned before, should be a staple in your small mammal’s diet and can also be added to homemade treats and enrichment items. It is important, however, to remember these antioxidant ingredients should be fed in appropriate amounts and added gradually to the diet.

Over the past decade we’ve seen the life expectancy of many small mammals grow as knowledge of improved veterinary care, diet, and husbandry has been furthered. By educating yourself on the unique needs of older animals, you can keep your pet healthy and help them continue to thrive into these senior years. One area of focus that can be beneficial to older pets is dietary antioxidants which can come via key ingredients in fortified foods, dark leafy greens and veggies, or even herbal additions you can make to your pet’s hay. These antioxidants provide key benefits to mitigate signs and symptoms of aging so those added years are enjoyed by all.

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