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Every dog has different nutritional needs at each stage of its life. As your dog transitions from an adult to a senior dog, it will lose weight and muscle mass. You should be feeding it a suitable and nutritious senior dog diet that can help prolong its life and health.
In fact, a 14-year landmark study found that dogs fed according to their ideal body condition lived 1.8 years longer than their overweight counterparts.
While there is no medically agreed-upon definition of what is considered a senior dog, large breed dogs have a shorter life expectancy and are considered senior at around 5 or 6 human years old. Smaller breeds live longer and are in their advanced years when they are around age 8 or 9 human years old.
It is better to keep an eye out for signs or symptoms of age-related diseases although the said signs may not be obvious. If you are able to recognize when your pet is starting to feel signs of aging, it will be easier to navigate its final years. You should start by ensuring that you’re feeding your senior dog the right food.
Not all senior dogs will have the signs but the common age-related symptoms you should keep in mind are as follows:
A suitable diet for older dogs should take into account dietary factors that can help manage the physical and medical changes dogs experience as they age. Consult your vet when you want to address these conditions through diet, supplements, and other lifestyle changes.
It also helps to read up on senior dog food to glean general insights. The best recipes for senior dogs in the market would contain above-average protein, moderate fat, below-average calories and no high-risk preservatives, which makes them ideal for dogs of advancing age.
If you would like to find out more on transitioning to senior dog food and nutritional needs of senior dogs with conditions, you can refer to the article Best senior dog food.
Older dogs may require a biologically appropriate diet. This means they usually require more protein, lower calories and specific nutrients in their diets such as DHA for healthy joints and prebiotic fibre to support digestion.
How much protein does an old dog need? This is a question vets are often asked and for good reason. Like humans, dogs start to lose muscle mass as they age. Extra protein supplies amino acids that help make up for that loss, and these keep ageing dogs stronger and more mobile.
To get an accurate picture of the protein-to-calories ratio in your dog's current food, or if you’re unsure of your dog’s ideal weight and body condition, check with your veterinarian.
The best senior dog food is typically enhanced with supplements like MCTs (Medium-chain triglycerides), omega-3s, glucosamine and antioxidants. The results from this dog study confirm the benefits of MCT in managing clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in dogs.
Here are some of the primary food groups that you should pay attention to:
As a major food group, sufficient protein for a dog is the first concern. If muscle mass is the problem, a high-protein diet is critical. Be sure the food you’re currently feeding your senior dog contains an above-average amount of meat-based protein and moderate calories.
If your dog is losing weight unexplainably, you may feed a diet higher in fat. Just be sure to run it by your vet first. On the other hand, a diet with reduced fat may be in order for an old dog struggling with obesity.
There are two categories of fibre: soluble, which serves as food for bacteria to ferment, and insoluble, which adds bulk to the stool that bacteria cannot break down.
Mixed fibres, like psyllium, combine both and appear in some older dog foods to help provide general gastrointestinal support. For elder dogs with constipation troubles, it may help if you switch to a higher fibre diet to help them pass regular stools.
As it is not yet clear which fibre modification (more or less), if any, is best for senior pets, large breed dogs often have a poorer stool quality as compared to smaller breeds. For this reason, too much soluble fibre can worsen the effect, and some insoluble fibre, like those in vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, can be beneficial. Your vet may suggest adding a portion of greens with extra insoluble fibre into your senior pet’s existing diet.
Lower-calorie foods are often the way to go because dogs in their advanced years tend to be less active than their younger counterparts. Since their activity levels drop as they age, it means they do not need to consume as many calories. Thus portion control is key.
If your old dog is losing muscle mass, a vet might recommend a diet higher in protein and calories. Another key factor to consider is vitamins and minerals. Since the diet is designed for calorie restriction, it is important that their food is fortified with adequate amounts of necessary vitamins for optimal health.
Dogs, like humans, may show changes in memory and the ability to learn as they age. Some key nutrients that they would need are:
Recent research has shown that long-term supplementation of MCTs can improve cognitive function in ageing dogs. So look for coconut oil or palm oil as sources, or you can add MCTs to your dog's food as a supplement.
Finally, always consult your vet, who can help you determine what is right for your senior dog and make adjustments accordingly.
There is no one best dog food for older dogs. Evaluate your dog before making adjustments to its diet because every dog, more so an ageing one has a different nutritional strategy.
If your older dog is healthy and eating a quality, balanced diet, there’s no reason to switch to a specific dog diet. For a quality diet, Petcubes' range of dog food for senior dogs provides convenient and easy to feed food made from the best ingredients.
Obesity is the number 1 cause of chronic disease and premature death in dogs. Even worse, dogs affected by obesity are more prone to arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. Pancreatitis, a condition whereby the pancreas becomes inflamed is likewise linked to high dietary fat intake as well.
Dogs also face issues with heart disease, especially if their diet isn't properly balanced. One key factor to heart disease in dogs is their sodium (salt) intake. Hence it is better to avoid feeding your senior dog human food that may be high in sodium and enhancers.
Finding the best dog food for your older dog involves looking for certain beneficial ingredients whilst avoiding ingredients that could pose problems. Here are two to keep in mind:
Ideally, start with the package’s feeding instructions. Adjust that serving size up or down to reach and maintain your senior dog’s ideal weight. A vet can help keep your dog on track and by prescribing supplements or new foods over time.
Has your elder dog stopped eating? Do not stress too much because as they age, dogs tend to become less active and eat less to maintain their weight. Cognitive changes could impact a matured dog's eating schedule or frequency, too. For a dog who is still in good shape, this is not a huge concern. However, there are a few steps you can take:
It is understandable that owners want to give their senior pets the best life has to offer, and that includes food. Diet, as in all life stages for a dog, from puppyhood to the twilight years, is critical.
Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.
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