Witnessing your beloved pet transition into their golden years is never easy. No matter how old they get, they will always remain little puppies to us. However, there is a lot that you can do as a pet parent to ensure that your dog has the best chance when it comes to health and longevity. That begins with nutrition.
Keep in mind that taking care of your senior dog starts much before they are considered senior. Good care begins in their youth. However, with proper nutrition, many ailments may be prevented.
When is my dog considered a senior?
Dogs are considered mature when they reach half the age of their life expectancy. The are considered senior when they reach the last 25% of their life expectancy. However, large dog breeds typically have a shorter life expectancy than small breeds. Large breeds are considered senior at ages 5-8, whereas small breeds are considered senior at age 8-10.
At an older age, it is common for ailments and diseases to come about due to an advanced age.
What is a nutrient profile?
A nutrient profile is the combination of macronutrients which include carbohydrates, protein and fats with additional vitamins and minerals. The nutrient profile of a senior dog will be much different than a puppy.
Do senior dogs need a specialized diet?
Senior dogs will typically do well on a low calorie diet, which prevents obesity. Obesity is a one of the most common health concerns in senior dogs. With age, metabolic rate decreases, therefore the need to decrease the caloric intake is important and effective when managing weight.
Don’t restrict protein intake
Senior dogs need to ingest more protein for optimal health. The reason for this is to upkeep and fuel muscle so that they can maintain their ability to function normally. It is common for senior dogs to lose so much of their muscle mass, they become unable to walk on their own without assistance.
Senior dogs on average need about 50% more protein when compared to young dogs.
In many premium dog food brands, the first ingredient is listed as chicken, beef, turkey, lamb or duck. Grains are also considered a protein, although they are not a complete protein and do not contain all of the necessary amino acids your dog needs. Examples of these include rice, wheat, barley and corn. When choosing a dog food, you must take into consideration the amount of protein, especially in accordance to the other ingredients. Adult dogs sustain well on foods that contain 18-26% protein.
Manage caloric intake
In senior dogs, it is important to manage what they eat how much of it. However, sometimes in very old dogs, it is beneficial to increase caloric intake to sustain their weight.
But generally speaking, it is good to manage calories so you can prevent obesity, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and more. Portion control plays a role in this, as well as purchasing high quality food. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can increase their lifespan and quality of life. An individualized approach is best suited to decide if your dog is obesity prone, or actually needs more calories to maintain their lean body mass.
Some senior dogs may not be getting all of their necessary nutrients from their food alone. While it is important to invest into a high quality food, even then it may be falling short of what is needed for your dog. Since many older dogs suffer from joint pain and Arthritis, it is important to consider adding supplements. Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate supplements help protect and maintain cartilage structure which gives support for joints. Although those supplements may help arthritis, weight management is the most effective in prevention.
Another option for supplementation is Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega acids are helpful in combating Arthritis, but also maintaining healthy brain function due to its anti inflammatory properties. EPA and DHA are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that found in fish, and are condensed to what is known as fish oil. It is important to follow proper guidelines for doses and monitor your dog’s behavior when beginning a new supplement.
Vitamin B complex, which includes B1, B2, B6 and B12 is great with encouraging healthy appetite, countering fatigue, support brain function and help with cell formation and repair. Digestive enzymes and pre/probiotics may also be helpful. The more effectively your dog can absorb nutrients from their diet, the better.
What if my senior dog isn’t eating?
Considering many older dogs have dental issues and may not be able to chew and process their food efficiently, it helps to focus on foods that are practical for senior dogs. If your dog cannot chew, treating that problem should be the first step. However, if the problem is not treatable, consider purchasing senior dog food with small kibbles, or feed them soft/wet food. In addition, making sure the position of the bowl is comfortable for your dog is important. Some senior dogs may not be able to bend down, which discourages them from eating. Try serving the food on a raised platform that is easy for your dog to access.
Making your dog food palatable is important. Consider warming up the food, or adding a chicken broth to make it more appetising.
The mentality of “he will eat when he is hungry enough” does not work with seniors because their ability to gauge when they are hungry might be disabled.
What about treats or snacks?
When discussing with your veterinarian, it is important to include treats in your treatment plan for your dog. Most dog treats are not technically healthy. If you are choosing treats, make sure that the nutritional value is high and specifically tailored for senior dogs. Furthermore, consider feeding your dog treats such as lean cuts of meat, or vegetables such as broccoli or green beans.