Similar to humans, dogs often begin to display signs of health problems as they enter their senior years. Your furry friend may be slowing down, is less playful, and may spend more time napping. Senior dogs often go gray around the muzzle and may experience stiffness in their limbs, a common sign of arthritis. While there is no way to stop aging, you can help your dog maintain health and wellness with proper nutrition.
Transitioning your aging pet to a senior-friendly diet can have numerous advantages for senior dogs. Senior dog food is often formulated with high-quality protein sources to support lean muscle mass. Proper nutrition also helps maintain an appropriate caloric balance between protein and fat. Many senior diets contain additional nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine that support mobility and joint health. Other vital nutrients, like linoleic acid and vitamin A, help support a healthy coat and skin.
If you are concerned about your aging pet’s health, it may be time to upgrade your dog’s diet. Here’s what you should know about proper nutrition for your senior pet.
When to Switch to Senior Dog Food
Knowing when to switch to senior dog food is not always easy. Dogs age at different rates, depending on factors like breed and size. According to VCA Hospitals, small dogs are typically considered senior citizens when they reach 11 to 12 years of age. Medium-sized dogs are seniors around 10 years of age, while large dogs reach this milestone at 8 years old. Finally, giant breeds are considered seniors around the age of 7.
There are also other signs that your pet has reached his senior years. Some common signs you may notice include:
- Loss of energy
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of vision
- Weight gain
- Loss of hair
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Loss of organ integrity
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint problems
- Loss of teeth
- Loss of mental acuity
- Loss of immunity
Importance of Proper Nutrition for Senior Dogs
Providing your aging dog with proper nutrition is more important than you may think. As your pet ages, his nutritional needs also evolve. Due to changes in body weight and the onset of certain diseases, your pet may require additional nutrients to maintain good health.
Without the proper vitamins and minerals, your dog could experience a variety of health problems, such as arthritis, a loss of muscle density, obesity, slowing metabolism, dental problems, deterioration of the coat and skin, gastrointestinal problems, and a weakened immune system.
Tips for Feeding Senior Dogs
Every dog is different when it comes to nutrition but the goal is to feed your pet the highest-quality balanced diet you can afford. There are three main options when it comes to dog food: fresh food, raw food, and kibble. All options can provide your pet with the nutrients he needs to thrive but there are some differences.
- Fresh Food – Fresh dog food is made with natural, real ingredients, such as chicken, beef, lamb, spinach, peas, carrots, and blueberries. Homemade diets can be extremely healthy for your pet and can boost heart health, increase energy levels, improve eyesight, and make his coat shiny. However, cooking for your pet can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor.
- Raw Food – Raw food diets typically consist of store-bought, homemade, dehydrated, or freeze-dried foods. Dogs are often fed muscle meat, organ meat, ground bone, raw eggs, dairy products, and fresh fruits and veggies. Again, a raw food diet can be highly advantageous to your pet’s health but some precautions must be taken when handling and preparing raw foods.
- Kibble – Kibble or dry dog food is an affordable and convenient option. Dog food brands are required to meet the nutritional needs of a dog, resulting in a balanced diet. Feeding your pet kibble can help reduce dental plaque, reduce the risk of bacteria, and lessen the risk of spoilage. However, some dry dog foods are heavy in carbohydrates and contain added sugars and low-quality ingredients.
There are several things you’ll want to consider when establishing proper nutrition for your senior pet. First, address any dental issues your dog may have. Your aging pet may not be getting the nutrition he needs due to an inability to chew food without pain. Dental problems are a common cause of a dog’s loss of appetite. If your dog has experienced tooth loss, consider switching to a softer food that requires minimal chewing.
Consider adding a joint supplement to your dog’s diet. It is common for senior dogs to experience joint problems, making it harder to get around and maintain a healthy weight. Look for a joint supplement that contains chondroitin, MSM, and glucosamine to help promote healthy joints.
Antioxidants are also important for aging dogs. A diet high in antioxidants can help fight disease and the ongoing effects of aging. One of the best ways to supplement antioxidants in your pet’s diet is with fruits and veggies; however, some dogs will not eat these foods. Speak with your vet about prescribing an antioxidant in capsule form.
In addition to feeding your dog healthy meals, remember to choose healthier treats. Many commercial treats found in stores contain poor-quality ingredients that can cause your dog to gain weight. Instead, choose whole foods like apple slices, blueberries, pear slices, mini carrots, and watermelon. Some senior dogs may also enjoy the occasional cold treat, such as frozen green beans.