Smart Feeding Tips for Senior Dogs
By: Kyle Holgate
As your beloved dog gets older, you may notice some changes in eating habits, weight and loss of energy. Sometimes, senior dogs appear to lose interest in their food that they once loved scarfing down.
Older dogs have a lot of special health concerns. For example, they may develop difficulties with chewing and swallowing due to dental conditions or start to have new skin issues that require extra attention.
Dog owners should watch their pooches closely as they age. Some older dogs may benefit with a diet change that adds more fiber, less protein or has a softer consistency. Below are some tips for feeding a senior dog that all dog owners should be considered for the health and well-being of their furry best friend.
Signs of aging in a dog
Like humans, dogs can appear to age at varying rates. There usually isn’t a dramatic change in appearance or behavior overnight, so it can creep up on you. Many dog owners are confused as to how they can determine when their dog should be considered a senior citizen of the dog community.
The designation for a senior dog can vary depending on breed and size. Since life expectancy varies so widely, you should look at behaviors and changes to get an idea for your dog’s aging rather than “years old” alone. Some factors that are used to determine aging in dogs include:
- Breed of dog – large breeds typically age faster than small breeds
- Age of dog – dogs typically hit senior status between age 5 & 10
- Condition of organs like kidneys – poor kidneys & other organ issues indicate aging faster
- Loss of overall energy – sleeping more, uninterested in play, tiring easily, or showing signs of overexertion quickly
- Unusual lumps – older dogs are at risk for more cancers, glandular issues & other health conditions
- Difficulty eating – may lose interest in food
- Signs of dehydration – panting, dry skin, decline in mental focus etc.
- Cognitive decline
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Urinary & bowel movement changes
- Cataracts or loss of vision
- Difficulty hearing
- Loss of balance, tremors or difficulty walking without reason
- Evidence of stiff or painful joints, muscles or other body structure
- Behavioral changes – growling or biting actions could indicate underlying pain or age related irritability
- Dental problems like sore gums and teeth
What are the dietary concerns for older dogs?
Older dogs often need some adjustments to their dietary intake in order to stay healthy. Your veterinarian can help guide you to addressing your dog’s unique needs, but here are the most common conditions to watch out for.
Older dogs may have new issues with their skin and coats including flaky skin or hair loss. Choosing a dog food that’s higher in fats or supplementing their diet with an omega 3 fish oil supplement could help reverse these issues.
Like people, dogs can develop stiff and/or painful joints as they become older. Obese and overweight dogs are considered high risk for joint related swelling, pain, stiffness and difficulty with mobility.
Obese dogs should be put on a veterinarian approved diet to shed excess weight and you should also stop feeding extra snacks unless they’re low-calorie.
Additionally, senior dogs often have lowered amounts of natural glucosamine and calcium that aids in keeping joints limber. Some senior dog foods are fortified with extra glucosamine, but you can also find that as a standalone supplement as well.
Senior dogs tend to have dental issues, and some even loose teeth. If this occurs, the dog should be fed softer food choices. These include pouring specialized dog gravies over food, using canned food, or switching to fresh delivery dog food. Wet or fresh foods may also help spark appetite in your dog if they haven’t been eating much.
Dogs that have kidney problems might need a diet lower in protein. You’ll want to talk to your vet about finding the right level of protein that still helps them retain muscle mass. They may recommend a prescription dog food.
Strive to keep your dog at his/her ideal weight. Adjust amounts and proportions of dog food as your dog ages and slows down activity. Dogs that remain at their ideal weight tend to live approximately 2 years longer than overweight/underweight dogs do.
Feeding a senior dog isn't difficult
While feeding a senior dog may take a little extra thought up-front, once you have it figured out it’s really no more difficult than feeding any other dog. Most health problems are easily managed with advice from your vet and the right dog food/supplement mix.