Depending on the dog, age-related changes become more noticeable at between seven and 12 years old. Generally, a dog is thought to be in his ‘senior’ years when he enters into the last third of the life expectancy for his breed.
Your beloved pet may slow down a bit; his personality may change a little. Health problems are more likely. Some of these changes are unavoidable, while others can be mitigated with proper care, with a particular emphasis on diet. Here are just a few important considerations for optimizing the health of your senior dog through nutrition.
There are three main objectives when it comes to nutrition for your older dog. They include maintaining overall health and a healthy body weight, prevent or slow the development of chronic diseases, and address symptoms of conditions that your dog may already have.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Like people, dogs are more prone to weight gain as they age, even if they eat less. Keeping a dog from gaining too much weight is easier than trying to get an already heavy dog to slim down, so do your best to prevent weight gain if your dog is currently in the normal range. You want to feed him food with a lower caloric density but that still provides adequate protein. It was once believed that senior dogs needed less protein to prevent kidney problems, but research suggests this is not the case, so it is not necessary to buy foods with reduced protein. Adequate amounts are necessary to maintain lean muscle mass.
While gaining weight is a common problem in senior dogs, some have the exact opposite issue. For a number of reasons, a dog may develop a lack of interest in food or poor appetite, and get too thin. If you notice this happening, the first thing you must do is bring him to the vet for an exam to rule out any underlying conditions that may be causing the weight loss.
There are a few things you can do to increase his caloric intake. If he normally eats dry food, try moistening it —older dogs sometimes have trouble chewing really crunchy food. You could also try adding wet food or broth. If the kibble is in larger pieces, try smaller pieces to see if that makes a difference. If your dog can tolerate it, adding a bit of milk or eggs can help up the calories; you can also try making homemade food with meat, rice, etc but talk to a vet first for recommendations on the recipe. It is important it contain the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Senior dogs may sometimes suffer from constipation so you want to make sure their diet has sufficient fiber. The fiber should make up between three and five percent of the composition of the food. Like humans, dogs rely on the ‘friendly’ bacteria in the intestines to promote gastrointestinal health, and the aging process can reduce the amount produced. Dog food for seniors should have FOS (fructooligosaccharides) to trigger the growth of this ‘good’ bacteria.
There are certain supplements you might consider adding to his diet to optimize health and minimize symptoms of any problems your dog is experiencing. It is important you opt for high quality pet supplements that contain therapeutic doses of the ingredients and are free of contaminants.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is necessary for a healthy skin and coat—dogs normally produce it in the liver but levels dip as he ages. An antioxidant supplement can help ward off tissue damage that serves as the foundation for disease and hastens the aging process—you should also look for foods that are fortified with antioxidants. If constipation is still a problem, even with sufficient fiber in the food, adding some wheat bran may help. For joint support, a supplement with chondroitin and glucosamine may help.