Tailor your senior dog’s diet to ensure she’s spry and sprightly well into her golden years.
Though it is bittersweet watching our dogs grow older, the senior years can be a wonderful time for our best friends, especially if we give them a leg up by maximizing their health. If your senior is starting to show some of the common signs of aging, perhaps experiencing challenges surrounding mobility, appetite, skin and coat, obesity, or mental alertness, give your dog a little nutritional boost by tailoring her diet and adding natural dog food supplements to her specific needs.
It’s best to start with a visit to your vet before changing your dog’s diet for medical reasons. Informing your vet of changes that you see in your aging dog can help to catch problems early and allow for treatment. A dog who stops eating her food may be suffering dental problems, and a poor coat can be a symptom of hypothyroidism. Ruling out the medical issues first is always a good practice.
Changes in body weight: Gain vs Loss
Obesity is the single biggest factor that can affect the health of your dog, and, luckily, it’s one of the few thongs we as guardians have total control over. You make the choices as to what your dog eats and how much. As your senior dog starts to slow down, you may find that he doesn’t need as much food as he once did. Keep an eye on your dog’s body condition and adjust his portion size as needed.
As dogs age, their digestive tracts can lose some of their function. As a result, food that your dog was once doing well on can prove less digestible now that she is older. For starters, avoid foods containing by-product meals as they can be less digestible. Also, senior dogs also require more protein than younger dogs, so choose a senior dog food with high quality digestible protein sources, such as chicken meal, turkey meal or beef meal.
The food’s protein amount should be 25%-40%. Though there has been some concern that geriatric dogs should not consume high protein dog foods because of the theoretical risk of high dietary protein causing kidney damage, there is no evidence to support this concern in healthy older dogs. For dogs with suspected kidney problems, consult your veterinarian before switching to a higher protein diet as a high protein diet could exacerbate an existing condition.
Carnitine & Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Carnitine is an amino acid that is required for fat metabolism. Under normal conditions, dogs do not require carnitine, but, as they age or if they are prone to obesity, they may develop a requirement for this amino acid. As such, many dog foods already have carnitine in their formulations. If you are feeding a homemade dog food, you can add carnitine to your dog’s diet. Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA is an additional supplement that may provide some benefit to obese animals, however, there have been no studies examining whether the beneficial effects are seen in geriatric dogs. CLA supplementation is unlikely to cause harm, but discuss with your vet first.
Mobility, Arthritis, and Pain Relief
A big challenge facing geriatric dogs is a loss of mobility. And it can prove a vicious cycle: loss of mobility leads to weight gain which then results in greater loss of mobility. This is a very difficult cycle to break. The loss in mobility could be due to joint pain, loss of muscle mass or increased body fat. If your dog has arthritis there are several things that you can do to help. The step is to look at the many nutritional supplements that have been shown to help reduce pain and increase mobility.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3′s are a wonder supplement because they reduce inflammation. Inflammation is what causes pain and swelling, which in turn reduces mobility for our dogs. There are some joint supplements that contain high omega-3 fatty acids but you can also supplement your dog’s diet directly with fish oil capsules or sustainable marine algae-derived omega-3s, such as DHA Gold.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin. Glucosamine and chondroitin were thought to be very good supplements for relieving arthritis pain and increasing mobility, however, over the test of time research has suggested that they are very poorly bioavailable to the body. As a result, glucosamine and chondroitin are better used as injectable rather than dietary supplements. There are injectable products on the market that have been proven to be very beneficial in increasing mobility in dogs; your veterinarian should be able to advise you on what is available in your area.
Green Lipped Mussel (GLM). GLM is a natural product that has been clinically proven to improve mobility in dogs. GLM contains omega-3 fatty acids and is thought to contain other antioxidants as well as glucosamine. The dose of GLM should be 0.3 percent of the dog’s normal food ( approximately 0.3 g GLM/cup of dog food).
Many of the supplements mentioned are available in a palatable treat form, but read the label carefully to check that any functional treats contain an appropriate amount of the active ingredients. Dog treats or food may contain some of the above mentioned supplements at levels that are much lower than needed in order to benefit from them.