The best dog food for senior dogs takes into account the changing nutritional needs of dogs over the course of their lifespan. It might be that they require a change from the best dry dog food or the best wet dog food that they’d previously enjoyed.
Although the exact age at which a dog is considered a “senior” varies by size and breed, most dogs will hit this milestone at approximately seven to ten years of age. Senior dogs are more prone to a number of medical conditions, including obesity, osteoarthritis, and cognitive decline. While these age-related changes are not entirely preventable through nutrition alone, making slight dietary modifications as your dog ages can help to maximize your dog’s health and quality of life.
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1. Calorie control is key when trying to maintain a healthy body weight
As dogs age, their metabolisms slow down, and dogs tend to become less active. These factors both contribute to weight gain. Unfortunately, weight gain is a vicious cycle; as dogs gain weight, they tend to become less active, leading to further weight gain. Before you know it, your once-active dog has become a couch potato who can’t make it to the mailbox without huffing and puffing. If this is your dog, we can help you with some advice on what to do if your dog is overweight.
Weight gain does more than affect your dog’s quality of life, though. It can also lead to arthritis in dogs. First, carrying extra weight puts additional strain on your dog’s bones and joints. Second, fatty tissue itself releases chemical signals that promote inflammation, including arthritis. By keeping your dog lean, you can minimize your dog’s risk of arthritis and promote healthy mobility.
Senior dog foods are typically restricted in calories, helping you to ensure that your dog isn’t eating too many calories and gaining weight. Even with senior food, however, you will want to carefully monitor your dog’s food intake and control portion size. Also, keep in mind that there are a number of medical conditions in older dogs, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, that can lead to weight gain. If your older dog begins to gain weight, first talk to your veterinarian about performing blood tests to rule out underlying medical conditions.
2. Look for senior dog foods that contain supplements to reduce the risk of osteoarthritis
Many senior dog foods contain ingredients that are intended to help combat osteoarthritis in aging dogs. These supplements are intended to strengthen cartilage and decrease inflammation. We have further advice here explaining dog food ingredients.
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Glucosamine and chondroitin are frequently added to senior dog foods to help prevent osteoarthritis. Glucosamine and chondroitin are normal components of healthy cartilage that are thought to improve cartilage health in patients being fed these diets. Although the evidence on the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin is relatively weak, there is no significant risk associated with these supplements. Therefore, many pet food manufacturers (and pet owners) prefer to give these supplements to older pets, in case there is a benefit to be gained from doing so.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are also included in many senior dog foods, to aid in the prevention of arthritis. These omega-3 fatty acids have evidence to support their use in the management of canine arthritis. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are attributed to their anti-inflammatory effects. By decreasing inflammation within the joints, omega-3 fatty acids can help to alleviate the clinical signs of osteoarthritis in aging dogs.
3. Consider feeding your dog a food formulated to combat age-related cognitive decline
Like their human counterparts, dogs experience mental effects of aging, in addition to the more obvious physical effects. Dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may demonstrate a variety of signs, including anxiety, disorientation, lapses in housebreaking, changes in social interactions, and changes in activity level. If you begin to observe these behavioral changes in your dog, then a diet to combat cognitive dysfunction may be beneficial.
A number of studies have been conducted regarding diet ingredients and cognitive dysfunction. Dietary ingredients that have been shown to be beneficial include antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, flavonoids, carotenoids, L-carnitine, DL-alpha-lipoic acid, medium-chain triglycerides, and omega-3 fatty acids, among others. Feeding a food that is specifically designed to support cognitive function in aging dogs can be a valuable way to help your dog maintain a good quality of life during its senior years.
4. Take your dog’s individual medical considerations into account
While the prevention of obesity, osteoarthritis, and cognitive decline are relatively universal concerns, your aging dog may also have more specific health concerns. It’s important to take these individual concerns into account when determining the optimal diet for your dog. If your dog has an underlying medical condition, such as chronic kidney disease, liver disease, or heart disease, your veterinarian may prescribe a therapeutic diet that specifically targets this underlying condition.
5. As your dog becomes very old, be prepared to make eating easier and more pleasant
While our primary concern in most aging dogs is obesity, many dogs reach an age where their appetite declines, and they may struggle to maintain weight. In some cases, dogs find it difficult to bend over to eat out of their food bowl, due to osteoarthritis pain. In these dogs, an elevated bowl or a bowl that is more conveniently located near their preferred sleeping area can make a big difference to the dog’s willingness to eat.
At other times, a dog may be reluctant to eat because they struggle to chew, or the food doesn't taste as full of flavor as it once did. In this case, you may need to transition to canned food or even add something palatable, like baby food, in order to entice your dog to eat.
Work with your veterinarian
While it can be challenging to determine the best dog food for senior dogs, it doesn’t have to be. Talk to your veterinarian, who is familiar with your dog’s overall health and medical history, to develop an appropriate dietary plan for your aging dog.
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