Their ear anatomy can work against them, but we can help. Ear problems are common in dogs. The anatomy of the canine ear and certain breed characteristics are predisposing factors
How Is Senior Dog Food Different?
How is senior dog food different? Puppy diets are widely accepted within the industry, with clearly defined nutritional guidelines. Yet, in contrast, the nutritional requirements of senior dogs are not strictly defined by FEDIAF, AAFCO or the NRC.
Despite our dogs spending proportionally more time categorised as ‘senior’ or ‘geriatric’, their nutritional requirements are based on adult parameters. Nevertheless, senior dogs can benefit from nutritional changes tailored to support the physiological changes known to occur within this life stage.
What Should I Feed My Senior Dog?
Senior diets for pet dogs and are formulated to address known physiological changes that occur as animals age. For example, activity levels are known to decrease in older dogs. Compared to young adult dogs (1.5 – 4.5 years), dogs aged between 7-9 years were 17% less active, while dogs aged 11-14 years were found to be 42% less active. While activity levels decrease with age in dogs, digestive efficiency appears to be maintained i.e. senior dogs are able to derive energy from their diets as efficiently as younger adult dogs.
Together these factors increase the risk of senior dogs becoming overweight if nutrition is not tailored accordingly. Therefore, a senior dog diet formulated with increased protein and decreased fat content, with an overall decrease in energy content, should help to maintain lean body mass and limit weight gain and fat deposition.
When to Start Feeding a Senior Diet?
Like humans, dogs do not age consistently, and chronologic age does not always match physiologic age. The breed is highly influential on the lifespan of dogs, with small breeds expected to outlive their large breed counterparts. This variation in lifespan makes it difficult to establish an exact age for ‘senior’ dogs. Signs of ageing may be noticeable in large breed dogs as early as 5 years old, whereas small breeds may be as late as 10 years.
With no one given age point available to mark the need to transition to a senior diet, monitoring individuals is key. Observing behavioural patterns and activity levels can reveal signs of ageing. Is your dog ‘slowing down’ on walks or less interested in play? Bodyweight and body condition scoring (BCS) evaluation are also key tools for owners to use in line with regular veterinary assessment. Regular monitoring can help owners to identify general signs of age-related changes as well as potential underlying illnesses in early stages.
Adapting to senior dogs needs does not require drastic change. For example, with a decline in dental health, the consumption of dry food may become more challenging. Presenting the food over a number of small meals and softened with a little warm water may help maintain intake.
Benefits of Feeding a Senior Diet
With a focus on healthy ageing, a key trend across diets tailored for senior feeding is supplementation with ingredients/nutrients to support joint health. Supplements such as green-lipped mussel (GLM) are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found GLM is effective in alleviating swelling and pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. GLM has also been used in addition to more familiar joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate.
Complementing the desire for highly digestible protein sources for senior diets, fish-based diets are a common trend and have the additional benefit of being naturally high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These long-chain, polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and be beneficial for joint health.
As in humans, dogs can display a progressive decline in cognitive functioning with age. Damage to brain cells is gradual but irreversible, so nutritional strategies for healthy brain ageing can be of benefit to senior animals. Supplementation of the diet with EPA and DHA together with B vitamins, antioxidants, and arginine has been shown to provide a nutritional approach that can preserve and even improve cognitive function in senior dogs.
Nutrition can play a key role in aiding healthy ageing. The varying demands of the senior life stage require the regular review of dietary requirements. At all times, the diet must address the challenges to maintain a lean muscle mass and optimum body fat. However, nutrition can also play a role in reducing the physiological stressors experienced by our senior companion animals. In particular senior diets can aid a reduction in the risk or rate of age-related illnesses. Alongside feeding a senior diet, reasonable adjustment to the environment and routine of an ageing dog can aid welfare. Considerations such as an increased number of feeding stations around the home can aid the maintenance of daily rations.
For perfectly balanced, complete ‘Senior Dog Dry Food Recipes’ we strongly recommend Jackson’s UK Senior Recipes