Our dogs are living longer than ever before. While advancements in vet practices play a part, the bigger factor is better nutrition. Because our dogs are spending more years as “seniors,” we need to be prepared to care for them in their old age. Often, this means changing their diet as they age.
When is your dog “old”?
Dogs are considered “old” when they have reached the last third of their life expectancy. If your dog is expected to live about 12 years, then they are considered “senior” at eight. Small dogs with longer life expectancies will be considered senior after 10, while large breed dogs may be “old” at six or seven.
Overweight dogs will also age faster than those who are slender and fit.
Changes as a result of aging.
Just because your dog has reached the “senior” milestone doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be switched to a new diet. Many vets recommend waiting until you see signs of aging to consider a diet swap. Watch for lower energy levels, weight gain, and a possible decrease in appetite. This could mean your dog’s metabolism is slowing down. It could also indicate dental issues, which makes it harder for your dog to eat. A reluctance to play or exercise could also indicate joint pain. Any of these symptoms might mean it’s time to adjust your dog’s diet.
Why feed a senior dog food?
There are three main components that set senior dog food apart from a regular diet: lower calories and fat, higher fiber, and better protein sources. Older dogs have a slower metabolism and are less active, so they need fewer calories than a younger dog. Constipation can be a problem in older dogs, which is why an increase in fiber is important. You can even add wheat bran to their food to increase fiber intake. Third, better protein sources are easier to digest, and can also take a load off the kidneys, which may start to function less efficiently in senior dogs.
Older dogs may also need to increase their water intake. Being well-hydrated makes it easier for older organs to function and flush toxins from the body. If your senior dog isn’t drinking as much as usual, you may consider feeding some canned food or adding water to the dry food to increase water intake.
How to transition to senior food.
Some senior dogs may be able to stay on their current food, fed in smaller amounts. This is a good option for pets who are otherwise healthy with no known joint or organ issues. If you decide to switch to a new food, consult with your vet to decide the best option. If your dog still has a healthy appetite, you can mix old food in with new food gradually until your dog has transitioned to the new food. This strategy can reduce digestive upset by switching too quickly, especially with that fiber increase!
Many senior dogs start to show a decrease in appetite. There are a number of strategies you can employ to make the food more enticing to your pet. Start by adding water to the dry food, or feeding some wet food. Many times, dental issues may be preventing dogs from eating even if they are hungry. If you know it’s not a dental issue, you can add items to make the food more palatable. Adding a raw egg or some cooked chicken or veggies may entice your dog to eat. If your dog is incredibly picky, you may also switch to an all-people-food diet, but make sure to check with your vet to ensure proper nutrition.
What about supplements?
Many dog owners give their dogs supplements to help with joint health. The two most popular are chondroitin and glucosamine. Vets recommend using the veterinary formulas rather than the human ones. While these supplements can help a great deal with joint pain, vets are also quick to point out that weight control is just as important to joint health. An overweight animal will put undue stress on joints, aging them faster than the supplements can help.