Nutritional considerations for Senior dogs

If your furry best friend is getting older and slower, weight gain and obesity may be a concern. On the other hand, your dog that once ate with enthusiasm and excitement may now seem to be losing interest in food altogether.

No matter what the situation, it is important to be aware of the fact that as your dog ages, his or her dietary and eating habits may change. Here we look at the nutritional considerations owners need to take into account when feeding and caring for a senior dog.

Senior Dog Nutrition

When dogs are considered "senior" or "geriatric" depends largely on the breed and body weight as well as the individual. Generally large breeds age faster than smaller ones and dogs are considered to be older when they reach half of their life expectancy. Small dog breeds usually have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years while larger breeds average 12 to 15 years. This means that small dogs become older at around eight or nine years of age and larger dogs are considered to be older at six or seven years old.

Special nutritional needs for senior dogs

Senior and geriatric dogs usually require a lower calorie diet to compensate for their declining metabolic rates and exercise routines in order to prevent obesity, which is a major problem in senior dogs. High fiber diets may also be helpful in improving gastrointestinal health in older dogs.

Most dog food manufacturers now offer dog food specifically engineered for senior dogs and it is important for owners to select age appropriate diets for older pets as they do contain lower caloric values.

Obviously not ideal, but if you have more than one dog and prefer to feed a single type of dog food, then buying foods labeled "multi-stage" may be adequate as these cater for puppies, adult and senior dogs. But do bear in mind that you are making a compromise and these shouldn’t be your first choice if it is at all possible to feed age appropriate foods instead.

When it comes to snacks and dog treats, veterinarians also recommend that senior dogs be given low-fat, low-sodium treats as far as possible.

Dogs also require more water as they age because their body's ability to maintain hydration is diminished with age, so always ensure that your senior dog has adequate water available to him or her at all times.

Health problems affecting senior dogs' nutrition

Should your dog develop health issues in later life, seek advice from your veterinarian or a dog nutritionist to assist you in planning a healthy, balanced diet for your senior dog.

Dogs with heart disease may require lower-calorie senior dog foods to help keep weight down as well as lower-sodium formulations, while diabetic dogs will need specially formulated, lower fat, higher fiber diabetic dog foods that delay absorption of food and keep blood sugar levels constant.

If constipation is an issue for your ageing furry friend, high fiber foods will assist keeping them regular.

In comparison to standard dog food in other age categories, many senior dog diets have higher-quality protein sources which assist in maintaining body weight and muscle mass without putting too much strain on the kidneys.

Senior Dog Supplements

Before adding any supplements to your dog's diet, always consult your veterinarian as many supplements can do more harm than good and never use human supplements, but rather veterinary formulations.

That said, many senior dogs suffer from joint pain and arthritis and many senior dog foods contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which aids in relieving joint pain and promotes joint health. Ensuring that your dog is at its optimum weight and not obese will also aid in relieving joint stress.

What to do if your senior dog has lost its appetite

Reduced appetite is common in senior dogs, especially if they suffer from gastrointestinal ailments which may result in nausea.

It is important to have your vet rule out any underlying health issues including diabetes, kidney or dental disease and cancer before proceeding.

Once this has been done and there is no underlying ailment to explain the loss of appetite, then you can slowly entice your dog by adding warm water, chicken broth or a small portion of canned dog food to his or her kibble.

Home cooked meals are another option and you can select ingredients like cooked chicken or lamb with rice or barley. It is however important that you ensure that your dog is getting a fully balanced diet, so chat to your vet or dog nutritionist first.