My dear Pepper recently turned 10-years old and even if he still looks great I can not forget there are some less visible changes that come with age; body and digestion start changing and the immune system may need some extra support.
It seems to happen overnight… One day, your dog is running crazy like a puppy and the next you notice new white hair and his taking things slower…
As a dog ages, their health slowly declines.
Their bodies lose the ability to repair themselves and maintain normal body functions. They will also start struggling to adapt to all kind of changes, generating higher levels of stress.
Moreover, around the age of 7 for most dogs, and the age of 5 for giant breed dogs, metabolism starts slowing down.
But fear not, if your dog is starting to enter the more mature years, there are ways to make sure he thrives as a senior.
When Is Your Dog Considered A Senior?
First of all, it is important to understand when you would start considering your dog a senior.
Even though there may be a general rule to identify a dog’s age as a senior, every dog ages differently. It is necessary to understand and keep track of your dog’s life stages so you can be proactive about his nutrition and health, preserving his vitality as he grows older.
Prevention is always the best cure!
There’s no set age when a dog turns from “adult” to “senior, senior age may vary depending on the dog’s size, weight and health.
Smaller dogs tend to mature faster and once reached maturity, begin to age more slowly. A little dog such as a toy Poodle, Yorkshire terrier or Chihuahua isn’t considered senior until about 10 or 12-years old. On the other hand, giant breeds, such as Cane Corso or Grate Dane, are considered senior at 5 or 6-years old. Most vets, though, may consider a dog of 7 or 8-years and older to be a senior already, no matter the breed.
Size isn’t the only factor though. From a medical standpoint, a dog might not be considered senior until he starts showing symptoms of ageing. These include a change in weight, vision problems or joint pain.
A dog’s weight plays a serious role, as overweight or obese dogs age more quickly, so are likely to be considered senior at a younger age.
You can see how the answer to the question is not straightforward.
Why A Senior Dog Needs A Different Diet
Dogs’ bodies change as they get older, but do senior dogs need a different kind of diet than an adult dog? There’s no universal approach to feeding an older dog, however, if your dog’s needs change, he can benefit from a senior dog’s recipe, with boosted nutrition and more digestible foods.
Proper nutrition is important at every stage of your dog’s life but it’s especially critical in his senior years. Just as humans develop more health conditions as they get older, dogs also experience problems like:
- Reduced joint mobility and arthritis
- Weight gain due to decreased exercise and slower digestion
- Higher risk of developing diabetes
- Higher risk of developing dental diseases
- Higher risk of developing kidney, liver, pancreas and heart diseases
And how people can prevent these health conditions?
With a healthy diet and lifestyle of course!
And guess what, the same answer applies to our beloved dogs ツ
Nutrition has a profound impact on your dog and hugely influences his health and wellness in every stage of his life.
Unfortunately, most dogs are still fed kibbles and commercial dog food.
No matter how natural they label these foods, they still are the equivalent of human processed ready-meals / fast food. Would you consider ready-meals and fast food a healthy diet to protract overtime for years and years?
Every dog is different, but the best starting point for any senior dog is to eat the highest-quality balanced diet possible. I can’t recommend enough a diet of fresh, gently cooked food, which provides easily-digestible nutrients that will help maintain a healthy body and normal body functions.
As a dog gets older, his body’s systems slow down, so a balanced diet is important. Providing the right amount of nutrients in the correct ratios is essential to not depriving or overloading the body of certain nutrients. And the more you can provide those nutrients in their natural form through whole foods the better.
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Planning Your Senior Dog’s Diet
As your dog changes with age, so do his nutritional requirements.
When creating a meal for your senior dog, these are the main points to look into:
- Proteins help to maintain a healthy strong muscle mass, as well as good organs and immune system function. Recent studies show that dogs need more protein as they age. High-quality, pastured fed meat, keeps its original nutrients intact so your dog can reap the benefits. Even with exercise, older dogs tend to lose muscle mass, which means losses in protein reserves. Losses in muscle tissue and protein reserves may impair the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to respond to physical trauma, infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, fungi parasites), or stress. Loss of protein reserves also means the body may not have enough amino acids for tissue repair and energy metabolism.
- A decreased metabolism will cause the digestion to slow down, possibly leading to constipation. A high-fibre diet will keep your senior dog’s intestine clear!
Fibres can also provide glucose regulation, which may be helpful in older dogs.
- A slowed-down metabolism means also that you may notice your senior dog is putting on some extra weight. To keep him at a healthy weight, make sure his diet is lower in fat, starchy carbohydrates and calories.
- Vegetables are a source of fibre while also feeding the good bacteria for a strong gut biome. Vegetables are also rich minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and phytonutrients not found in meat.
- Antioxidants will help neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
- Essential fatty acids are an older dog’s best friend. They work to reduce inflammation, maintain a balanced immune system, fight diseases and keep cognitive functions sharp.
- Minerals are important but damage can be done by over-supplementing them. This is particularly true for calcium and phosphorus as the proper amounts and ratio proportions of these two minerals are essential but if incorrectly supplied can lead to organs damages.
- Probiotics and Prebiotics can help all dogs, especially senior dogs, to have better quality stools, healthier GI tract and biome.
- Supplements can benefit ageing dogs. For example, a large number of older dogs suffer from arthritis and can benefit from vitamins and supplements, like chondroitin and glucosamine for their joints (better results if combined with weight control and a proper exercise). A vitamin or mineral supplement is recommended if your dog is not eating a complete balanced diet or if your senior dog is affected by conditions that make him absorb fewer vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes or he is losing more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Or simply, some older dogs eat less and may not receive their daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. Always make sure to feed natural supplements – do no feed synthetic formulas that not only are ineffective, in many cases they can also be harmful.
Keep in mind that supplements will not do much if fed alongside an unhealthy diet. If your dog is fed kibble or other low-quality foods, or he’s overweight, then this needs to be addressed first. Feeding a fresh, whole food diet is the foundation for good health.
- Do not forget to keep your little senior one well hydrated, even mild dehydration can worsen existing conditions. You can add some filtered water or herbal teas to their food or feed some bone broth. Make sure your dog has easy access to fresh clean filtered water throughout the day and night. Water helps to keep your dog’s body hydrated, support digestion and the elimination of toxins.
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Remember to always introduce new foods gradually. Start by adding the new food slowly over 7 to 14 days, increasing the proportions daily. Avoid sudden changes as this can give your dog an upset tummy.
Note = Dogs With Health Conditions May Need Special Diets
If your older dog has specific health problems (such as failing kidneys, diabetes, allergies, liver disease, chronic pancreatitis, poor nutrient absorption…) it will benefit from a personalised diet that provides specifically to that problem.
Every health condition requires an adjustment to the diet in order to provide all the nutrients your dog needs. Remember in these cases to ask your vet for advice.
Manage Calorie Intake To Avoid Weight Gain
As previously mentioned, a dog’s metabolism slows with age. It can vary, but the average dog needs 10-20% fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight.
Since older dogs also exercise less (but should still have short daily walks to help support muscle condition and provide mental stimulation), you may need to reduce your dog’s eating by up to 40%.
Reducing your dog’s food might seem harsh, but obesity is worryingly common in older dogs. It can cause serious health problems such as heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis and more.
As a dog progresses from old to very old, they tend to stop putting on weight and instead start losing weight, actually requiring more calories. In those cases, they usually have a decreased appetite, possibly related to a reduced sense of smell or taste and/or may even have difficulty chewing or swallowing. You may want to try increasing the fat content of the meals, it will boost palatability and calorie content.
Older Dog And Changes In Appetite
As your dog ages, he may become fussy about food, but they should still have a healthy appetite.
If your dog is eating a lot less than normal or refuses to eat at all, this could be a sign of an underlying medical problem. Kidney disease, diabetes, cancer or dental problems can all affect your dog’s appetite, so you should visit your vet as soon as possible for an examination.
Once serious causes have been ruled out, there are a few things you can try to make food more appealing to a fussy senior dog.
- Try hand-feeding your dog to tempt him to eat.
- Mix in some whole foods like eggs, goat yoghurt or lactose-free cheese to give your senior dog’s appetite a push. (Do no overfeed dairy. Some dogs don’t tolerate it well).
- If your dog is losing too much weight, you may want to try to add some fat in their meals to increase palatability and calorie content.
- To bring out the food’s taste and smell, serve it at room temperature. You’ll need to take it out of the fridge beforehand or warm it up on a non-stick pan.
- Try adding bone broth to your dog’s meal, it’s delicious and nutritious; the perfect combination.
- Multiple smaller meals throughout the day may be easier for your dog to digest than one or two large meals.
- Some types of medications can affect your dog’s appetite. If you think this might be the reason your dog is eating less, consider alternative treatments, possibly natural counter versions.
- When it comes to mealtime, feed your dog in a quiet place where they can eat in peace without being distracted. If you have more than one dog, feed them at the same time but separately so that one doesn’t bully or steal food from the other.
- Older dogs sometimes find it difficult to reach down to their food on the floor. Try elevating their bowls, so they don’t need to bend their neck too much to eat.
You may get upset to see your dog suddenly turning grey, it is absolutely normal – but don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your dog can have a longer and healthy life – starting with a complete, balanced, fresh, whole, organic diet that best meets his nutritional needs.