As your dog gets older, they will have changing needs. They may need some modifications to their routine and overall lifestyle. Senior dogs need a dog food that is formulated for their age. Large breed dogs need higher protein content in food throughout their lives. Feeding your dog an appropriate amount of a well-balanced diet is vital to its overall health and well-being.
How to keep older dogs healthy: senior dog nutrition basics
Dogs are omnivores. As a species, the dog is a member of the scientific order Carnivora, meaning carnivores. While they do eat meat, VCA Hospitals explains that their tooth structure and their intestinal system makes dogs eat more like omnivores. Omnivores can get their dietary needs from a combination of both plants and meats.
Hydration: All dogs should have access to as much fresh water as they want, all day long. A lack of water can put stress on the kidneys, which filter waste from the body, says the Pet Health Network. Wet food is a good source of water for dogs, so feeding your senior dog a balanced wet food wet food can provide extra hydration for older dogs.
In addition, wet dog food is often easier to eat for older dogs who may have dental issues. If dogs don't want to eat, they can become too skinny. If your dog has any mobility issues, bring the water bowl to him or put multiple bowls of fresh water around the house so older dogs can easily access them.
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Vitamins: VCA Hospitals says that the main nutritional requirements are water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. National guidelines for these essential nutrients have been established for commercial pet foods. Your dog may have her own requirements based on her individual health needs. Your vet can evaluate your pet's nutritional needs and food, to see if supplements or other modifications to the diet would be a good idea.
Many foods are fortified to provide probiotics, which can help with digestive issues. Others have an extra dose omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which can help with healthy skin and coat. These days, most pet food manufacturers offer options specifically formulated for senior animals. Consumer Affairs reports that the best senior dog foods keep older dogs healthy by providing a high-protein, high-fiber, low-fat and low-sodium diet.
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Types of senior dog food
Dog food comes in two main types: wet food and dry food. Some companies also make fresh, raw food, or you can feed your dog fresh homemade food. VCA Hospitals says there is no nutritional difference between the two. So the choice of what types of senior dog food to feed your dog should be based on your lifestyle, preferences, and budget.
If you're opting for a raw diet or homemade food, make sure you are working with a veterinarian to make sure your dog is not at risk of nutritional deficiency. Commercial dog foods are formulated with nutritional requirements in mind, and it can be hard to make up the right balance in the home setting.
Recommended healthy weight diet for older dogs
The American Kennel Club says that as dogs age, changes in metabolism cause fewer calories to be burned and more calories to be stored as fat. They report that mature dogs require 20% fewer calories in order to maintain the same weight as younger dogs, because they lose some muscle mass as they age. While getting the right nutritional requirements is very important, it's also important not to feed your dog too many calories.
Dogs entering old age seem to benefit from less fat and fewer calories. They also suggest that L-carnitine, which is found in red meats, fish, chicken, and dairy products, may help their bodies use fat for energy.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
The best food for underweight senior dogs
Sometimes a dog will lose weight as it ages. This could be due to a few reasons. Teeth problems can make it uncomfortable to eat. A dog 's appetite will sometimes decrease as it ages. Your dog's digestive system may not be working as well as it should be.
If this is a problem for your dog, Senior Tail Waggers says to feed your dog the most high-quality, nutritionally dense food you can. Check the formulation and talk with your vet, because many senior formula dog foods are formulated to help make sure the dog does not gain weight, so it may not have enough calories for your underweight senior dog.
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What to do when a senior dog won't eat
When a senior dog won't eat, try making the food more appealing. Senior Tail Waggers suggests soaking your dog's dry kibble in water or broth before serving. Mixing in a scoop of senior recipe wet food can help, as can adding a small amount of something like cooked chicken or a scrambled egg.
The best food for obese senior dogs
If your dog has the opposite problem and needs help with weight control, talk with your veterinarian to get a recommendation for a good dog food that is formulated to not contain too many calories. Talk with your vet to see if it is safe to increase the amount your dog is exercising.
Can my senior dog eat regular adult dog food?
This is a complicated question that has no right or wrong answer. Senior dogs do have changing nutritional needs. While a bowl or two of regular food won't harm them, VCA Hospitals says "life-stage nutrition" is best.
A regular dog food may not provide enough nutrients to meet the needs of a growing puppy or a pregnant or nursing mother and it may not provide the right balance of nutrients for an older dog. Each dog is different though, so talk with your dog's veterinarian or nutritionist to make sure your dog's food supports her overall health and well-being.
Does my senior dog need supplements?
The American Kennel Club suggests that many of the supplements that help humans with health problems can also be added to a dog's diet to help dogs as they age. Consider including glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health and to help prevent arthritis. Antioxidants might be able to improve memory and cognitive function in senior dogs. Some high-quality dog foods have supplements added to them. Some high-quality dog foods have supplements added to them that can help with particular health issues.
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Kidney disease and diabetes in senior dogs
The Pet Health Network says they are seeing an increase in diabetes in dogs. This is partly due to an increase in obesity. They also say that kidney disease is increasingly common as dogs age, and that one in 10 dogs will develop kidney disease over their lifetime.
This is just one reason why making sure your senior dog has the right food for them throughout their lifespan is an important part of caring for your dog. If you have any doubts about your dog's health or their food, talk with your vet. Ask about exercise, supplements, calories, and overall health for aging dogs.
- VCA Hospitals: Nutrition - General Feeding Guidelines for Dogs
- Pet Health Network: My Dog is Drinking a Lot of Water (Polydipsia)
- Consumer Affairs: Best Senior Dog Food
- American Kennel Club: How to Feed the Senior Dog
- Senior Tail Waggers: How to Keep Weight On An Older Dog
- American Kennel Club: Nutrition and Supplements for Senior Dogs
- Pet Health Network: Diabetes Complications in Dogs and Cats: Diabetes Ketoacidosis (DKA)
- Pet Health Network: Chronic Kidney Disease: What Does Kidney Failure in Dogs Really Mean?