Nutrition is important across the lifespan. Even for a mutt, getting the right nutrients in sufficient amounts can help support the different growth, development, and maturation needs of dogs in various stages of their existence. Like the elderly among us, senior pooches will typically require specialized diets both to meet their age-appropriate nutrient requirements and to improve their declining functionality as a result of advancing age. Owners of elderly dogs should thus, invest in high quality, age-appropriate nutrition for their pets. You can start with our own selection of the 10 best senior dog foods you can ever find in the market today.
Do Older Dogs Need Special Diets?
One of the most important physiologic changes that occur with aging is the slow decline of the dog’s energy levels. It is not really because they have grown lazy but rather because of the reduction in the function of organs that are associated with mobility. They may already have arthritis or other joint problems that can significantly impact their mobility. The pain and discomfort associated with these conditions can make moving quite frustrating. As a result, senior dogs may prefer to simply lie down all day long. When this occurs, they no longer require too much energy coming from carbohydrates.
As such, one of the essential dietary changes that elderly mutts will undergo is a reduction in their carbohydrate and fat intake since carbs are the primary source of calories for energy and fats providing highly concentrated forms of energy. However, while older mutts will benefit from reduced caloric intake, they will need more fiber in their diets as these can help facilitate normal digestion and the more efficient movement of bowels. Immobility has a negative effect on gut peristalsis so introducing fiber into their diet will help facilitate the removal of these wastes in the gut.
Another reason why their diets need to be lower in calories is that their metabolic rates are significantly reduced. Coupled with inactivity, they are now more prone to the development of obesity and its associated metabolic problems.
Older pooches will also require more water as the inherent ability of their body to balance water decreases with age. The risk for dehydration and fluid and electrolyte imbalance are amplified with reduced water intake. That is why it is crucial to offer older dogs clean and fresh drinking water. However, if mobility is a problem or if the mutt doesn’t want to drink, then giving it a moisture-rich dog food should suffice.
Older mutts also require low-sodium and low-fat diets as the risk for metabolic problems is increased exponentially if they are fed too much of these nutrients.
Since mobility is a major issue among older canids, you can provide them with supplements that contain glucosamine and chondroitin, although there are many dog food formulations that already contain these two substances. These molecules can help relieve the symptoms of arthritis and other conditions of the articular surfaces by improving the production of synovial fluid and by increasing the flexibility of the joint capsule. Overall, these lead to improvement in their mobility, although experts recommend weight management can also provide the same benefits.
Older pooches also benefit from higher-quality proteins. It should be noted that proteins help in the maintenance of a healthy body weight while also keeping muscle mass. High protein intake also relieves pressure on the kidneys, further minimizing the risk of developing kidney-related canine diseases.
In a gist, senior canines require high protein, high fiber, low fat, and low carbohydrate diets. They will also benefit from micronutrient-rich canine chow.
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Are there Health Problems that Can Affect the Diet of an Elderly Dog?
The elderly diet we described above is specifically for normal, healthy senior dogs. Unfortunately, if they have existing health problems, their diets may have to be specialized to account for the nutrient requirements of these health problems.
Almost all aging dogs present with arthritis which is characterized by inflammation and immobility of the affected joints. It is almost similar to the arthritis experienced by humans. Inflamed and painful joints will limit mobility that you don’t want to move at all. Elderly dogs with arthritis can benefit from supplementation with chondroitin and glucosamine. If these substances are already present in your pooch’s diet, then there clearly is no need for supplementation. Additionally, one can include alfalfa, ginger, papaya, and celery in their canine food as these natural ingredients have been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of articular conditions.
- Gum disease
While giving dry kibbles can help prevent, or at least minimize, the development of periodontal diseases, advancing age is always characterized by the deterioration of the integrity of tissues, bones and teeth included. Because of the continuing degradation of tooth integrity, it becomes more susceptible to the development of tartar and plaques which can introduce bacteria and other harmful microorganisms into the deeper structures of the teeth until such time that these germs reach the gum tissue.
Although there are no diets that can help treat gum disease in dogs, there are those that can help retard the deterioration of the teeth’s structure. Calcium-rich foods as well as foods that are low in starchy carbohydrates can help. Calcium can strengthen the integrity of the teeth while reducing the intake of carbohydrates can deprive germs of energy to grow.
If you think diabetes is inherently a disease among humans, you’re wrong. And while canids cannot be given insulin or even oral hypoglycemic agents, their diets can play a role in the development of diabetes.
Since the major culprit in diabetes is the abnormal accumulation of glucose in the blood, a canine diabetic diet is centered on reducing the carbohydrate content of food. This means that fewer carbohydrates will be converted into glucose. Additionally, increasing the fiber in their diets can also aid in the management of diabetes. Fiber gives bulk to the food and most of this is actually eliminated and never absorbed. As such, they don’t get converted into glucose. Moreover, providing food that is slowly absorbed can help prevent the abrupt increase or sudden spike in blood sugar levels. For diabetic senior canids, this might be tricky as they may have other problems that can compound their diabetes.
Visual changes are expected as one ages. And this is true even for pet canids. The important thing to remember is that, if your older pet already has problems in its vision, a trip to your veterinarian will be necessary. More often than not your mutt will be given a diet that is rich in docosahexaenoic acid and beta-carotene. DHA is well-regarded in improving the nerve impulses transmitted across the eye structure while beta carotene can help enhance the function of photoreceptors inside the eye. Unfortunately, there are no diets that can really cure complete blindness.
- Kidney disease
Senior pooches that have kidney problems can benefit a lot from a well-designed renal diet that consists of low higher-quality proteins, low in phosphorus, and high in moisture. Maybe you lost us in the “low higher quality proteins”. What we meant is that your pooch requires higher quality proteins but in lower amounts. Because the kidneys are already dysfunctional, providing too many byproducts of protein metabolism can put additional strain on the kidneys. Too much phosphorus can also put added stress on the kidneys. Giving your pet pooch wet or canned dog food is ideal as the increased moisture content can help the kidney in its function; after all, the kidney relies on water to be efficient.
Elderly canines with cancer often have their immune systems substantially affected. If they are undergoing cancer therapy, most of their tissues are also damaged and these will need to be replaced. The diet of a dog with cancer should thus, include high protein, high fat, and grain-free. The reason is quite simple. Protein is needed to support tissue building processes while fats are required to ensure the integrity of these newly-built tissues. Going for grain-free and non-allergenic foodstuffs can help prevent putting strain on the already-compromised immune system.
Forgetfulness. That’s what dementia is to most people. Elderly pooches have it, too. Good thing dog chow formulations that are rich in Vitamins C and E, beta carotene, carotenoids, flavonoids, selenium, DHA, and EPA have been shown to be especially helpful in improving canine memory and cognitive functioning.
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How to Choose the Right Food for Your Senior Dog
Choosing the best chow for your aging pooch is not really easy as these types of pets often have underlying medical problems that can compound their ability to process food. In most cases, they will also require specialty diets based on their existing health condition. So how do you choose the right food for your senior dog?
- Start with a comprehensive assessment by your vet.
Your veterinarian can provide you with exceptional advice on what to feed your aging mutt depending on its health profile. If it has any of the common diseases that affect senior dogs as we have presented in the preceding discussion, then you must be made fully aware of specific diets. Unfortunately, if there are coexisting diseases that require conflicting dietary requirements, your vet can show you the best way to address such issues.
- Always choose higher quality protein sources.
Protein is perhaps the most important macronutrient in aging canines. This is needed to support the ongoing tissue-building processes that aim to replace age-damaged tissues. Without protein, you will only be hastening the deterioration of your pet pooch. Even pooches with kidney problems can benefit from high quality proteins, albeit at much lower quantities.
- Make sure to include wholesome grains.
A lot of folks are wary about the word ‘grain’. While grain free diets can be beneficial to pooches with immune system problems, wholesome grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are exceptional sources of amino acids. These are proteins that no longer need to be broken down as they are already in their simplest forms. This means they are readily used by the body to build tissues.
- Say ‘no’ to artificial.
No matter how well their marketing efforts go, don’t pick a product that comes with anything but natural ingredients. Everyone is already aware that anything artificially synthesized is not really good for you and for your pets. From preservatives to coloring to flavorings, as long as it is not natural, stay away from it.
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What You Can Do If Your Senior Dog Refuses to Eat
Elderly dogs require the rights amounts of the right nutrients that are appropriate for their overall health. Unfortunately, it is also not uncommon that dogs can lose their appetite sometimes. This can have more profound effects on older canines. So what should you do then if your old pooch simply refuses to eat?
- Check with your vet.
It is important to check with your veterinarian why your pooch is not eating. Any disease or illness must be ruled out first before you can start enticing your pooch to eat. For example, if they have stomach upset, they will typically be nauseous, causing them to not eat. Also, if they have cancer, they will generally lose their appetite.
- Try home-cooked meals.
Now is the time to cook some well-deserved treat for your pets. Just remember not to put any ingredient that is considered hazardous or toxic to pets such as garlic, onions, and many more. Cooked chicken with brown rice or even lamb with rice should help them get interested in eating again.
- Consider flavor enhancers.
This should only be done if your home-cooked meals don’t work. Sadly, many of these come with artificial ingredients so you have to look for those with natural flavor enhancers.
Elderly canines need special diets because of the changes in their body that are brought about by the aging process. Generally, they will require more higher-quality proteins, fiber, and water and less of fats and carbohydrates, especially the starchy ones. Older mutts also require specialized diets if they happen to have medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems, arthritis, cancer, dementia, and others. Choosing the right food for them is thus, crucial. To do this, you need to check with your vet the specific type of diet that your mutt needs, especially if it has a health problem. With the 10 best senior dog foods you can narrow your search for the most appropriate chow for your elderly mutt.