As your dog gets older, her dietary needs will often change. Meeting these changing requirements can be challenging because no dog ages the same way. There are some general guidelines you can follow, but the best way to help ensure your best friend leads a happy, comfortable life is to team with your veterinarian to determine her specific nutritional needs.
When to Start a Senior Diet
Dogs typically are considered senior when they reach the final third of their expected lifespan. Thus, large breeds are considered senior when they hit 6 or 7 years and small breeds become seniors at 9 or 10 years. Obesity, which is a big problem in older dogs, can also make your dog age faster. But age is not the best way to judge when to start feeding a senior diet. Your furry friend's overall health plays an important role in determining her nutritional needs.
As your dog matures, her metabolism slows, and she's probably not as active as she used to be. Therefore, there's a greater likelihood that she'll start to gain weight. Excess weight is not only unhealthy for the heart and other organs, it causes excess stress on joints, which can lead to arthritis and other skeletal problems. By cutting down on the quantity of food or choosing a lower-calorie, lower-fat dog formula, you can help reduce these related health problems. Most senior dog diet products on the market have fewer calories and less fat than the adult formulas.
Once you've consulted with your veterinarian to determine your senior dog's nutritional needs, he may have some recommendations for appropriate senior dog food brands. But it's also important for you to read labels so you can make healthy choices that fit your budget. In general, for an elderly dog with no major health conditions, you want to choose a meat-based formula with around 18 percent of high-quality protein. Many pet owners believe that senior dogs should be fed a low-protein diet, but that's not always true. A healthy dog needs adequate protein in order to preserve muscle mass and to keep up their energy levels. Your choice of food should have a fat content around 10 percent and calorie count that fits within your veterinarian's recommendation. If your aging friend suffers from frequent constipation, you may want to choose a food with a high fiber content -- 3 to 5 percent -- or ask your vet for an appropriate fiber product to add to her food.
As your dog ages, she becomes more susceptible to conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, liver and kidney disease, and joint and bone deterioration. These ailments require dietary modification to reduce disease progression or complications. There are commercial preparations that address these conditions. A diabetic diet is usually lower in fat and calories but high in fiber to slow the absorption of food and prevent spikes in blood-sugar levels. A heart-friendly formulation is low in fat, calories and sodium. Kidney or liver disease requires lower levels of high-quality protein to reduce the strain on those organs. If your canine pal suffers from arthritis, a dog food containing glucosamine and chondroitin may offer relief.