Older dogs and senior dogs will need careful monitoring with regards to their eating habits and their diet. In many cases older dogs will need a complete change of food, especially if his or her exercise level has dramatically decreased. Monitoring an older dogs weight is going to be essential for your senior dogs health, not just to increase their lifespan but also to prevent further complications with issues such as arthritis, digestive problems and even the development of diabetes.
Older dogs may have slower or less effective digestive systems, so it is important to ensure that the protein is coming from a very highly digestible source. Older dogs often do very well on diets that feature chicken, duck, beef (not beef by-products or meal) or lamb in combination with brown rice or other whole grains such as rolled oats that are gentle on the digestive system. In general the amount of calories from protein should be at least 22 to 30 percent, depending on how active the senior dog continues to be. The more active, the higher the percentage of calories from protein should be. There is ongoing research that indicates that dropping the amount of protein below about 24% can actually result in greater health issues for senior dogs than what general what previously believed. However, if your older dog has kidney or liver problems or has any other renal diseases such as diabetes it may be necessary to decrease the amount of protein in the diet to prevent complications.
If you are using a commercially prepared high quality or premium kibble you may be able to simply switch your older dog to the senior formula, which will be the easiest on the dog. If you do have to switch brands or types of food, be sure to do so slowly to avoid upsetting the digestive system. This is best done by simply substituting Â¼ of the ration of the original food with new food. Feed this mixture for about a week, then switch the ration to Â½ new and Â½ original for an additional week. The third week mix Â¾ of the new food with Â¼ of the old food, then on the fourth week you can feed 100% new food. If, at any time your dog starts to show signs of digestive problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, excessive gas or food refusal revert back to the last mixture and extend the period of that combination until the issue is resolved.
Senior dogs should not require any additional supplements or feed additives unless recommended by your vet.
The Importance of Fiber
Fiber is an important part of any dog's diet, however older dogs with slower metabolic and digestive systems may need to have higher levels of fiber than more active younger dogs. Increasing fiber needs to be done gradually as well as selectively as not all fiber is equally beneficial for an older dog. High amounts of fillers and bulking agents can cause excessive stress on the digestive system, resulting in gas, loose stools or a much large number of bowel movements per day. Bloat can also be increased, leading to life threatening conditions in deep chested senior dogs such as Great Danes, Boxers and Bulldogs.
Kibble VS Canned and Dental Issues
Dogs that have not had good dental care throughout their younger years or breeds that are prone to early tooth loss and dental problems are going to have increasing difficulty in eating dry kibble. Toy breeds are particularly prone to tooth problems as they age, sometimes due to genetic factors but also because of their finicky eating which often results in owners feeding canned food.
Switching a senior dog to canned food needs to be considered very carefully. Canned food is much harder to measure and control portions, plus it is much less filling for the dog and provides almost no fiber. If you are feeding a canned food, it is essential to feed only a band recommended by your vet that is balanced with regards to protein, calories and fiber. Avoid any table scraps or treats between meals as this can really add calories and result in weight management problems when feeding canned foods.
In addition feeding canned food is not going to help in maintaining teeth and gums, in effect it is likely to make early tooth loss a greater problem. Owners can counterbalance this effect by routinely brushing the senior dog's teeth as well as ensuring that the dog has lots of chew toys, dental bone treats and even access to fresh joint bones to help scrape the teeth free from tartar.
Instead of switching completely to canned food, it may be possible to slightly warm and moisten kibble just prior to feeding to make is softer on the senior dog's mouth. To do this warm a small amount of low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable stock and pour over the kibble, just enough to moisten but not soak the kibble. Let stand for a few minutes and then feed, discarding any food not eaten. Keep in mind that once the food has been moistened it is more likely to spoil.
Older dogs are a lot like puppies in that they do best with more frequent, small feedings rather than just one larger meal per day. Ideally senior dogs should be fed two or three small meals throughout the day and then be provided time to go outside. Scheduling for both feeding and outside time will help control digestive problems and will give the dog the chance to avoid having to make a mess in the house.
Your vet is often the best person to consult with regards to what type of foods are the best options for your senior dog. Different digestive problems and changes in energy and activity levels can be normal indications of aging, however they can also be problematic and key indicators of diseases and health conditions that can be treated.
Talking with your vet on a regular basis with regards to any changes in your dog's eating or digestive problems is critical. For older dogs that are have any known health conditions it may be important to schedule check-ups and routine appointments every three to four months rather than just once a year.