As your dog ages, you’ll notice not only behavioral changes, but, metabolic, immunological, and body composition ones as well. Some of these are unavoidable and some can be adapted to. One thing that can and should change as your dog grows older is his diet. How will your dog’s eating habits change? What should you feed him? As with people, senior dogs need a nutritious and balanced diet to keep them happy and healthy. To help you properly feed your aging pets, we’ve put together the following tips.
1. Use size to determine when a senior diet is appropriate
Since smaller dogs live longer and do not experience age-related changes at the same rate as large dogs, size should be used to determine the proper time for senior diet implementation. According to the ASPCA, t’s time to feed your pooch a senior diet when:
- Small breeds/dogs – weighing less than 20 pounds, 7 years of age.
- Medium breeds/dogs – weighing 21 to 50 pounds, 7 years of age.
- Large breeds/dogs – weighing 51 to 90 pounds, 6 years of age.
- Giant breeds/dogs – weighing 91 pounds or more, 5 years of age.
2. Avoid diets with reduced levels of protein
It’s important to manage the levels of protein in the senior diet you choose. Previous studies have shown that the protein requirement for dogs does not decrease with age. Protein levels do not contribute to the development or progression of renal failure, like some might think. It’s essential to feed your senior dog a diet that contains optimum levels of highly digestible protein to help maintain sufficient muscle mass.
3. Your dog may put on some pounds
It’s not unusual for senior dogs to put on body fat in spite of consuming fewer calories. This is an inevitable body composition change that can worsen with decreased energy expenditure, or a reduced metabolism rate. Either way, it’s crucial to feed your senior dog a diet with a lower caloric density to avoid weight gain, but maintain that normal protein level.
4. Increase GLA intake
One thing you’ll want to do is increase your dog’s gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) amounts. This is a omega-6 fatty acid that contributes to maintenance of healthy skin and coat. Although GLA is naturally produced in a dog’s liver, levels generally decrease as a dog ages. For this reason it’s important to make sure GLA is in your senior dog’s diet.
5. Add antioxidant compounds
Antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene help eliminate free radicals that can damage body tissues and cause signs of aging. Senior dog diets should include higher levels of these antioxidant compounds. Additionally, these antioxidants can increase the effectiveness of your dog’s immune system.
6. Keep your dog healthy
The objectives you should strive to achieve through your dog’s diet include:
- Maintain health
- Keep optimal body weight
- Slow or prevent the development of chronic diseases
- Minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present
As your dog enters his golden years, keeping him healthy and happy should can become more complicated and worrisome. You may notice behavioral, metabolic, and immunologic changes as time goes on. To incorporate the most important parts of a diet for your senior dog, make sure to keep appropriate protein levels, add antioxidant compounds, increase GLA intake, and begin this diet based on their size.