Have you noticed your dog wanting to take life a bit easier than usual? Like humans, your dog might feel that way as it inches closer to senior age, noted Purina, a pet food company and an American subsidiary of Nestle.
You will see your dog’s body and digestion change, and you might also need to offer extra support to keep its immune system up. It is advisable to gradually switch your canine’s diet to a complete, balanced “senior” dog food containing quality protein to accommodate changes in its eating habits and nutritional needs.
Research Tackles Opinions About the Nutritional Requirements of Senior Dogs (2011)
In the first part of the study, the mean age of the oldest dog was 8.6 years (range, 1 to 19 years), with 57.7% of all dog owners reporting that they owned a “senior dog,” according to Dana Hutchinson, DVM, and colleagues of JARVM, (Journal of Applied Research In Veterinary Medicine), a peer-reviewed “rapid publication.”
When asked at what age do the owners considered dogs to become a senior, they mentioned 10 years for small breed dogs (27.7%), eight years for medium breed dogs (27.7%), and seven years for large breed dogs (29%). Of 698 respondents who reported owning a senior dog, 42.8% said they fed it with a senior diet and of those, 33.1% fed their dog a senior diet based on their veterinarian’s recommendations. 84.5% of owners strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “Senior dogs have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs.”
Regarding the quality of dog foods available at different locations, they rate pet stores (75.1%) and veterinary hospitals as very high or high quality. For large retailers (85.3%) or grocery stores (86.3%), they rated it as average quality or lower. 62.9% of participants cited ingredients as the most important factor when choosing dog food for senior dogs followed by recommendations by a veterinarian (26.1%), label (8.4%), price (0.8%), and convenience (0.6%). Part one of the study was done by 1,309 adults from 45 US states and six countries.
In the second part of the study, 37 over-the-counter commercial diets were identified to have been marketed for senior dogs, with 25 dry foods containing calories ranging from 246 to 408 calories per cap in 25 dry foods. On the other hand, 10 canned foods had calorie content ranging from 312 to 411 calories per cup. Among the 37 diets, protein (4.8 to 13.1 grams/100 calories), fat (2.4 to 6.3 grams per 100 calories), crude fiber (0.2 to 2.9 grams per 100 calories), sodium (33 to 412 milligrams per 100 calories), and phosphorus (134 to 412 milligrams per 100 calories differed.
Switching to A “Senior” Diet
Most senior dog diets have appropriate nutrient limits and fewer calories per cup/can than those for puppies and young adults, explained Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, and Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM , of VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. As of this writing, there are no established specific nutrient requirements, meaning that the nutrient content in foods can vary.
Therefore, it is recommended to consult your veterinarian when choosing the most appropriate diet for your senior dog. Feeding should involve controlling your canine’s calorie intake to prevent nutrient excess, ensuring proper hydration, and providing a mix of protein, fat, phosphorus, and sodium.
Controlling Calorie Intake
Controlling your dog’s calorie intake usually entails reducing calories by about 20 to 30%. However, it may be more appropriate to increase its calorie intake if you have a very old dog. This helps your dog sustain its physique as their body condition and weight declines with age.
Reducing your pet’s calories also curbs its risk for obesity and other health complications like osteoarthritis, immune-mediated disease, and cancer, at least for the average mature and senior dog. Portion feeding helps control calorie intake and decreases the risk of becoming obese or overweight. It also enables you to identify decreased or appetite, which could mean underlying health issues.
Avoid relying on the feeding chart on the pack of pet food as it can cause you to overestimate the amount of food you should give. As much as possible, you need to consult your veterinarian for a portion recommendation tailored to your dog. Once it is settled, you can set an appointment with your veterinarian to see if your dog gains or loses weight.
Ensuring A Healthy Mix of Protein, Fat, Phosphorus, and Sodium
Protein helps maintain your dog’s physical health. Higher protein content is important for seniors even though there are discussions surrounding the amount of protein to be consumed by elderly dogs. Excess phosphorus and sodium should be avoided. Too much sodium can lead to kidney disease and hypertension. These complications can be present for extended periods before symptoms appear.
Feeding Your Elderly Dog
Chances are, your dog is used to being fed twice a day. However, it may prefer eating smaller portions of food more often as they get older. Serve the food at room temperature to accentuate its taste and smell. Food stored in the fridge should be taken out two hours prior to mealtime to get it at room temperature. It’s okay to microwave wet foods but it should not be hot so as not to burn your pet’s mouth.
Store dry complete foods in a dry, clean environment. Keep food in a re-sealable bag or an airtight container to preserve its smell and taste. Be sure to feed your dog in a quiet place where they can eat without being interrupted by other pets or people. How about for multi-dog households? Feed them at the same time but separately to prevent one dog from bullying or eating another’s food. Senior dogs may have arthritis, preventing them from reaching down so a slightly raised bowl is preferable.
Hydrating Your Senior Dog
Regardless of age, water is the most important nutrient for dogs but seniors are medically more susceptible to dehydration. Hence, it is important to provide your elderly dog with regular access to fresh, clean water. Observe if there are changes in your pet’s water intake. Canned food and ice cubes on the food bowl can increase your pet’s water intake.
Owners should consult their veterinarian to help owners provide a tailored diet to their dog. Every dog has different nutritional needs and the label on pet food packaging may not be a reliable source.