Senior Dog Diet – Everything You Need to Know
Just like with humans, dogs experience several different changes as they age, both physically and mentally.
In order to keep your best friend as healthy as possible, it is important to fully understand how to care for senior dog, which includes making the appropriate dietary changes.
WHEN DOES A DOG BECOME A SENIOR?
So, what actually qualifies as a senior dog?
Generally, a dog would be considered a senior once it reaches the age of eight, but this does also depend on your dog’s breed…
Smaller breeds aren’t really seniors until they are about 10 to 12 years old, while giant breeds are often considered a senior at 5 or 6 years old.
Of course, in addition to taking note of your dog’s age, there are other changes that you will notice as it progresses through life…
WHAT TO EXPECT AS YOUR DOG AGES
The experience of living with a senior dog varies greatly, since each dog ages in their own individual way.
Nevertheless, here are some common signs that your dog is getting on in age:
- Loss of vision – dogs that experience vision loss, or any other eye problems, may end up bumping into things around the house.
- Loss of hearing – this usually happens quite gradually. If you suspect your dog may be losing its hearing, it would be a good idea to teach your pooch some sign language before the problem gets worse.
- Oral problems – everything from bad breath to gum inflammation is common in older dogs.
- Skin problems – from fatty lumps to skin lesions, skin problems are common in senior dogs. Fortunately, there is usually an underlying cause that can be treated.
- Weight fluctuations – some dogs gain weight as they age, while others find it difficult to keep the weight on.
- Joint pain – arthritis and hip dysplasia are extremely common in senior dogs, both of which will have your dog walking around uncomfortably and stiffly.
- Behavioural changes – dementia is becoming increasingly common in senior dogs, with symptoms including disorientation, confusion and memory loss. Other personality changes may also be experienced.
This may seem frightening, but take heart knowing there are steps that you can take to significantly reduce the severity of the above symptoms that your dog experiences.
WHAT SHOULD A SENIOR DOG BE EATING?
With all the changes going on in your dog’s body as your buddy ages, dietary adjustments are key.
Your dog’s dietary needs evolve with age, with some of the changes including:
- Higher fibre – this helps with gastrointestinal health
- Less fat and calories – senior dogs don’t require as much energy as younger dogs
- Higher quality protein sources – to help maintain body weight without putting a strain on organs
- Omega fatty acids – these help with everything from the joints to the skin and coat
- Antioxidants – these can help to slow down the overall aging process, making symptoms much milder
So, what should you be feeding your senior dog?
Well, the very best diet for senior dog is one that contains natural, fresh foods.
You may be tempted by some of the commercial dry foods available, that state that they are designed for senior dogs, but, if there is a fresher and more natural alternative around, this is what you should be going for.
For a number of reasons…
What’s Wrong with Commercial Dry Dog Food?
Firstly, older dogs require high quality protein sources, and this is something that you will very rarely find in a commercial dry food. In most countries, dog food is legally allowed to contain 4-D meat, which means that the meat has come from diseased or disabled animals. Of course, this isn’t something that any company would state on their packaging!
Even if a food claims to have been made from a quality protein, it will have been heated and processed to such an extent that the majority of natural nutrients will have been lost, which is why so many additives are needed.
Many commercial dry foods also contain filler ingredients, which can lead to obesity and diabetes – neither of which you want an older dog to be dealing with!
Think that dry food will keep your dog’s teeth cleaner?
This is another huge myth. Not only is this untrue, but the sugars found in many dry food formulas actually contribute towards poor oral health in dogs.
Finally, as your dog begins to lose its sense of smell, dry food will become quite unappealing. Try putting down a bowl of dry food, along with a bowl of fresher food, and see which one your pooch enjoys the most.
A Fresh and Natural Alternative
If you were feeding a senior human, your priority would be to ensure that the person’s diet was filled with fresh and whole foods.
Well, the same should apply to your pooch too…
Ideally, your dog’s meals should feature a variety of quality proteins, that can include beef, duck, chicken and pork. They should be gently cooked, so as not to degrade the nutrients within the meat.
Certain vegetables can also be extremely beneficial, such as:
- Sweet potatoes and carrots – both are high in fibre, low in fat and packed with vitamins
- Spinach – high in vitamins A, B, C and K, as well as minerals and antioxidants
- Bell pepper – a great source of vitamins and antioxidants
- Pumpkin – keeps your dog regular by providing a good source of fibre
The best diet for a senior dog will contain a few of the above, along with high quality proteins and some additional supplements.
ADDING IN SUPPLEMENTS
No matter what you feed your dog, there are still a few supplements that would really benefit your senior pooch.
These are some of the best natural supplements for senior dog to consider:
- Turmeric – this can help with so many health issues and can have a huge impact on improving joint health too.
- Kelp – contains the widest variety of minerals out of any food.
- Coconut or olive oil – these contain omega fatty acids to help with joints, skin, coat and more. Just make sure the oil you use is cold-pressed and extra virgin.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin – these help to repair damaged cartilage in your dog’s joints.
- Probiotics – these will give your dog’s immune system a boost, while keeping your dog’s digestive system running smoothly.
- Wild fish oil – this is another fantastic source of omega fatty acid. Try to find an oil that has been cold-pressed to ensure that it retains the majority of its nutrients.
There are many other natural supplements out there that can help you to care for your senior dog. Keep in mind that some dog foods may already be formulated with a few supplements, so make sure that you check the ingredient list for these before adding in some of your own.
HOW MUCH TO FEED A SENIOR DOG
As mentioned above, senior dogs tend to experience weight fluctuations, meaning that the amount you need to feed varies greatly depending on the dog, as well as the type of food you are feeding.
For many older dogs, metabolism slows down with age, meaning that the dog does not need to consume quite as many calories.
You may think that no harm is done from feeding your senior dog a little more than necessary, but this isn’t true…
Even if your dog is only carrying a couple of extra pounds, this can put so much unnecessary strain on your dog’s joints and organs and can also lead to the loss of muscle tone and strength.
If your dog is significantly overweight, many health issues could arise, from joint and heart problems to respiratory difficulties.
It goes without saying that these are all issues you want to avoid, making weight management so important.
Speak to your vet about putting together a diet plan, making sure that you also combine this with regular, but gentle, exercise.
One more thing to keep in mind is that you need to ensure that your pooch always has a supply of fresh water available. This is important for all dogs, but senior dogs in particular have a harder time maintaining the moisture balance in their body, meaning that they are likely to drink more, as well as more frequently, than younger dogs.
“How best to care for senior dog?”, you might ask. You can start by making dietary adjustments for your pooch if it isn’t already having a fresh and natural diet. It’s one of the best ways forward as this can help minimise the aging-related conditions that your dog experiences, while extending your dog’s lifespan for as long as possible. If you know that your senior dog’s diet could do with some improvement, feel free to get in touch with us to discuss your options.
1. Pet MD: What To Expect With An Older Dog
2. Dogs Naturally Magazine: Dog Food: Ten Scary Truths
3. Senior Tail Waggers: All About Weight Gain In Older Dogs