Feeding the Older Dog
By Leonard Mutch
What changes do you need to make to your dog feeding regime as your dog gets older? The changes you make to your dog feeding regime, and when you make them will vary depending on the age of your dog, and the breed of your dog. It is considered that the larger and giant breeds of dog age earlier than the smaller and toy breeds of dog. Your objective in managing the nutrition of the older dog is to enhance his quality of life, delay further ageing changes, and to extend his life whilst maintaining his optimal weight. You are also trying to slow down the onset of disease and improve immune function.
Older dogs will generally be less active than younger dogs so as a rule will require a less energy dense dog food, unless of course the dog’s appetite is reduced for some reason. Continuing to feed a dog the same amount of food with less exercise will inevitably result in obesity, a problem all too common in many dogs today. In the old dog obesity can be a bigger problem than in the young dog as there may also be concurrent arthritis and organ problems which will be made worse. A keen eye is needed to assess the energy needs of your dog as it ages, so be aware and switch brands if your dog’s weight shows marked changes as it ages.
For the older dog a good quality animal protein based on meat, fish eggs, milk or cheese is better than cereal protein. A balance needs to be struck between providing too much protein which may be a problem for dogs with renal failure (a common problem in older dogs), and providing too little. As ageing dogs tend to have less muscle and bone they will have less of a tissue protein reserve and need a certain level of protein in their diet to avoid a negative nitrogen balance. Your veterinarian is the best person to monitor your ageing dog’s renal function and advise the appropriate level of protein in his diet. When your dog’s protein intake is low due to inappetance, this can be increased by heating the food to increase palatability and release more aromas, and by feeding smaller more frequent meals and by supplementing with vitamins.
Carbohydrates are mainly provided by cereals and legumes in the diet, and these are a cheap source of energy. Care should be taken with the sugar content of some of these foods
Fats are essential in the diet to provide a vehicle for fat soluble vitamins, and are essential for the health of old dogs. However too much may result in obesity, so again moderation is the rule.
Fibre has a role too in the elderly dog as many are predisposed to constipation. Adding fibre in the form of wheat bran or cooked vegetables two or three times a week will help to keep your elderly dog regular!
Most dog foods will have more than adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus for the older dog. There may be a case for reduced levels of phosphorus and salt in the diet. Some supplementation of zinc and vitamins may be helpful in the older dog, particularly the vitamin B complex.
The main food types for the older dog are – dry, semi-moist or canned. Diet changes should be made slowly to prevent tummy upsets and diarrhoea. Be sure to have plenty of water available for your dog, particularly if fed a dried food, and also if kidney and liver disease is a problem.
Reduced appetite in older dogs may be helped by feeding them 2 or more times per day with smaller portions so that they get their full daily requirement.
There are many commercial senior dog food diets now available. It will pay you to thoroughly examine the different types to increase the life span and vitality of your older dog.
About the author: Leonard Mutch is a dog owner and trainer. Read more about dog food and dog nutrition on his web site at: pedigree dog food
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