An older dog is past half his life expectancy -- generally 6 or 7 years for large breeds and 8 to 9 years for small breeds. As your dog ages, his nutritional needs may change. When he reaches senior status, he may gain weight or lose his appetite, both of which can accelerate aging. Cooking food at home for your dog can help ensure he gets a healthy amount of calories without preservatives, chemicals and fillers. Always consult your veterinarian before drastically changing your dogs diet, especially if he suffers from health problems.
Unless your vet has told you your dog is underweight, homemade dog food should be low in calories and fat to fight weight gain which is a huge problem among seniors according to Fred Metzger, DVM. Older dogs are less active and their metabolism slows down. On the other hand, home-cooked food may be more palatable for underweight senior dogs who have lost their taste for kibble and canned food. Homemade food can also be made into a soft texture for dogs who may have lost teeth or who are having trouble chewing.
Food to Include
Cooked meats, such as boiled and drained hamburger or chicken breast, are suitable for older dogs. Mix the meat with soft cooked vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin. Including micronutrient- and antioxidant-rich vegetables, such as cooked broccoli, yellow squash and kelp, may help protect your older dog from cancer. Vegetables also offer additional fiber which promotes gastrointenstinal health. Healthy oils such as fish oil are another important ingredient in homemade dog food, especially for an older pet. They help helps maintain a healthy skin and coat as well as protect against cancer.
The ingredients in your homemade food won't be a mystery and you can worry less about potential contamination from toxins or bacteria. Depending on what you serve, you might actually save some money on the pet food bill -- especially if you have been choosing ultrapremium brands.
Educate yourself on the foods that can be dangerous to dogs. Grapes, onions and garlic can be toxic to your pet. If you are unsure if a food is safe for your old pal, check with your vet. Older dogs with health problems may have specific nutritional requirements that you cannot adequately provide with a homemade food. You may need to add a vitamin-mineral supplement in some cases. As always, defer to your vet's advice to promote your pet's well-being.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.