Getting old is no joke – for us and for our dogs it means dealing with reduced energy levels coupled with a slower metabolism and, of course, fending off all of the many age-related illnesses for as long as possible. With all of these challenges, diet can either help to remedy the problem or exacerbate it so it’s important to make sure your senior dog is on the right food for his or her specific needs.
How old is ‘senior’?
You’ll notice that most senior pet foods are marketed as suitable from 7 years old but in truth different breeds can mature at very different rates. As a general rule, the larger the dog is, the faster he will reach his ‘golden years’ so, while your Chihuahua may not reach seniority until the age of 10-13 years of age, a large breed like a Great Dane can already be considered ‘senior’ at just 5 years. Other factors like body weight, nutrition and overall health can also speed up or slow down your dog’s ageing. Cross breeds are also known to generally live longer and age slower than many pure breeds.
Changing nutritional needs
Whatever breed you have and however healthy they are, sooner or later they will start to get old. Their general energy levels will begin to decrease and they will naturally be less active. Add in a declining metabolic rate and what you have is a gradual but significant drop in the amount of calories your dog will need from their food.
The first aim of feeding any senior dog (or any other dog for that matter) should therefore simply be to not overfeed. If you start to notice any of the telltale signs of overfeeding – namely weight gain and / or digestive upsets, it is probably time to make some changes. These signs may come on suddenly or might appear gradually over months or even years. Either way, if you notice that your senior dog is starting to look a bit heavy or if he starts experiencing regular bouts of unexplained runny poos or vomiting, it may be that the amount of food your feeding him or, more precisely, the amount of calories it contains, is now too much.
You therefore have two options: feed less or change to a lower calorie food. For most dogs, the first option will work just fine but for particularly hungry dogs, changing to a lighter food may be best since you can feed larger volumes, helping to provide the feeling of fullness, without overloading the dog with too many calories.
The other big challenge facing a lot of senior dogs is joint health. As the years go by and joint wear and tear starts to build up, many dogs inevitably begin to experience joint stiffness and pain and in some cases might develop more severe joint problems like arthritis.
There are a ton of joint support supplements out there which you can add to your dog’s food if and when joint problems begin to show. The most common ones like chondroitin, glucosamine, MSM, green lipped mussel extract, devil’s claw and fish oils can all work wonders and are available widely in health food shops and online but do take care to find pet-specific dosage instructions before diving in.
You have probably noticed that until now we haven’t mentioned senior dog foods at all. That’s because they aren’t strictly necessary – after all, no wild animal suddenly changes to a different food after reaching some arbitrary birthday. By simply feeding less and providing the right supplements for your individual dog, you’ll actually already be ticking every senior nutrition box.
But that’s not to say senior foods are without merit. They do tend to have less calories than adult foods which will help to prevent unwanted weight gain and they usually already include one or more joint supplements making them much more convenient than measuring your own each day.
Senior foods come in all sorts of formats from dry to wet, fresh to raw and can range from nutritionally very poor to very good so be sure to check out our nutritional ratings to make sure you’re picking the right food for your OAP(ooch).
Author: David Jackson, All About Dog Food