Whether you have a growing puppy or silver-faced senior, you know an appropriate food is important to maintaining your canine companion’s health. But trying to figure out when to switch your older dog to a senior dog food — assuming the change is needed — can be tougher than you’d think.
Every dog ages differently
Part of the challenge of knowing if and when a switch to a senior food is necessary stems from knowing when your dog has reached senior status. Dogs age at different rates, depending on their breed and size, with small dogs aging much more slowly than large or giant dogs.
That said, according to Pet Health Network, many dogs enter their senior stage of life at about 7 years old. That’s when dogs start to experience some internal changes, such as decreased activity or slower metabolism, even if they’re not showing outward signs of aging. It’s also when dogs begin to develop health issues similar to senior humans, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, hypothyroidism, kidney disease and others.
Many senior dogs with age-related health concerns can benefit from an appropriate food change. So if you’re thinking about switching your dog to a senior food, talk first with your veterinarian — your dog’s overall health, body condition and any underlying medical conditions can determine which senior diet may best meet their nutritional needs.
Physical changes common to senior dogs
Even if your senior dog doesn’t have an age-related health concern now, he or she still may be undergoing physical changes that would benefit from adjusting the food or feeding program. You’ll want to be aware of these common changes that the majority of aging dogs face:
Changes in body weight
Some dogs tend to gain weight as they age because their metabolism slows, they’re not as active because their joints hurt, or they’ve developed hypothyroidism (an abnormally underactive thyroid). Regardless of the reason the extra pounds are adding up, the bottom line is that your older dog isn’t burning as many calories as he or she is eating. If weight gain is a concern, some senior dogs benefit from eating food with less fat and fewer calories, or simply less food.
However, weight gain isn’t a problem for all senior canines. As some senior dogs get even older, they start losing weight and need more calories than they’re eating. For these older dogs, your veterinarian might recommend a food that’s higher in fat and calories.
Just as in older people, a dog’s appetite can diminish as they age. The reason could be related to a dulled sense of smell, an underlying disease such as kidney disease, or a medication that your dog routinely receives. If you notice your senior dog is eating less than usual, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help determine if your dog’s decreased appetite is a sign of an underlying issue and, if so, recommend an appropriate course of action. But if your dog’s appetite loss is age-related, your veterinarian can also recommend an appropriate diet to help your senior dog get the nutrition they need.
Difficulty chewing or eating
Periodontal (dental) disease, a common problem for many senior dogs, can make it difficult for your dog to chew overly large or hard kibble. Until your senior dog’s dental issues can be addressed, you may want to consider feeding an easier-to-chew kibble or canned food. You can also add a small amount of warm water to soften dry kibble to make it easier for your dog to eat.
Changes in muscle mass
Like aging people, older dogs can lose muscle mass despite getting an appropriate amount of exercise. These senior dogs (and humans) may need higher-quality protein — and possibly a higher level of protein in their diet — to help build and maintain their muscles. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about how much protein your senior dog should have.
More tummy troubles
Senior dogs tend to have more upset stomachs than their adult canine counterparts. That’s because your older dog’s digestive system is less efficient at breaking down foods and absorbing nutrients. Two of the more common digestive upsets seen in older dogs are constipation and increased flatulence (extra gas). A food with increased fiber can help avoid constipation, while exercise can help move gas through your dog’s digestive system and stimulate bowel movements.
No single diet is right for every senior dog
If you think your older dog would benefit from a food specifically for senior dogs, it’s important to recognize that senior dog foods are not all formulated alike. Because there is no specific nutrient profile established for senior dog diets, “senior foods” are variations of adult maintenance diets. Some are lower in fat or calories, and some are higher in fiber. Other senior diets will have added supplements that may help some dogs with joint or digestive problems. Still other senior dog foods are lower in protein, while others can be higher in protein.
Diamond Naturals Senior Dog Chicken, Egg & Oatmeal is formulated to meet the needs of your aging canine companion. Carefully determined levels of protein and fat provide the essential amino acids and fatty acids your senior dog needs to help maintain a healthy body condition while minimizing muscle loss. Added glucosamine and chondroitin help support your older dog’s joints, while probiotics and increased fiber help support digestion and intestinal health even in dogs with sensitive stomachs. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium, along with minerals such as zinc, can help support a healthy immune system.
The switch to a senior diet should be considered carefully, especially if your dog has significant health issues such as kidney or heart disease. Since your veterinarian can tell you if a particular senior diet is right for your dog, please be sure to consult with your veterinarian before switching dog foods.