German shepherd eating from his bowl

How to feed an old dog

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Becoming the new Pet Chef: 7 nutrition tips for your old dog

By Emily Keene Journalist

Updated on the

As a dog gets older, just like with humans, their body and their daily activity levels change. As a result, you may need to introduce senior dog food into their lifestyle.

These days, dogs can live to a ripe old age. Contributing factors include better medical care and improved vaccines, not to mention healthier nutrition. As our dogs age, they go through several physical changes and as a result, their digestive systems require different nutrition.

What is the definition of a senior dog?

A canine is usually considered to be an “older” dog when he reaches the third period of his life expectancy, depending on his breed. As our pets age, they might start to take life at a slower pace. As they approach their old age, more visible changes are apparent too. Your dog’s physical appearance will change and his digestive and immune systems will alter too. Senior dogs have less stamina and can often have joint pain. As a result, they often exercise less. Because of this lack of mobility they can gain weight which in turn, places increased pressure on their joints.

Small breed dogs like Chihuahuas, Terriers and Toy Poodles, tend to mature sooner but then appear to age slower. Hence, smaller dogs are classed as senior dogs at around 10 to 12 years of age. In contrast, a larger breed dog will be categorised as elderly at 7 to 8 years. As a dog gets older, his metabolism will slow down. Due to this, he will need to be fed fewer calories than a younger, more energetic pet would.

Meal ideas for your senior dog

Your older dog will still need a well-balanced menu to help him live a healthy, happy life. If your dog suffers from any health problems, take professional advice before changing his diet. 

However, if you need some inspiration and are up for making your pooch a home-cooked meal, check out the following ideas:

For a senior trying to manage his weight:

Try cooked chicken thighs, sweet potato and broccoli stems for an old dog who has a tendency to gain weight easily. Whatever dinner you are cooking for your dog, remember that proportions are essential for the right nutrition: A healthy bowl should contain 40% protein (the chicken), 10% carbohydrates (sweet potato) and 50% vegetables (broccoli stems). Don’t forget to keep up the exercise too!

For a senior with a sensitive tummy:

Old dogs can have digestion problems. Try a handful of soft cooked rice (just like for humans with tummy problems!), cooked ground beef, and a couple of teaspoons of plain, non-fat yoghurt to help support his digestive tract. Some people disagree with giving dogs dairy, but the general consensus is that the occasional spoonful won’t harm your dog, and could even provide nutrition benefits.

For a senior with skin or coat concerns:

As they age, a dog’s coat can look dull, the skin can become dry, and sometimes allergies can develop. Avoid preservatives and food allergens, and stick to healthy, organic ingredients like safflower oil, sardines, lima beans and spinach. Common sources of food allergies are beef, dairy and wheat.

For a senior who wants a special treat:

You shouldn’t give it to your dog every day, but once in a while liver can be beneficial to their health. Keep portions low, as some old dogs have stomach upsets with rich meat. A few pieces of chicken or calf liver are nutritious (and taste delicious) with 100% apple puree, carrots, a few spoons of chicken broth, and a whole boiled egg. Dogs can digest egg shell, and it provides a good source of protein. Just make sure you crush up the pieces to avoid any irritating the throat. 

Tips to keep in mind when feeding your senior dog

Very old dogs can become quite finicky about their food which can result in weight loss. Some elderly pets also lose their sense of smell and have a very small appetite. As senior pets are more prone to dehydration, always ensure that your dog has access to a supply of fresh drinking water. Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when feeding your senior dog:

Tip #1: Reduce calorie intake

Your dog will probably be exercising less as he ages. Make sure you are matching his calorie intake with his exercise levels, so as to avoid weight gain. To do this, make sure your dog is getting a moderate amount of proteins and fats, and that the level of salt/sodium in his diet is low.

Tip #2: Ensure meals are high in fibre

This will help to prevent constipation and gastrointestinal issues.

Tip #3: Prioritise dry food

Dry food will reduce your dog’s chances of contracting gum disease and also prevents a build-up of tartar. You can get dry food specially made for senior dogs. However, if your dog’s teeth get bad as he ages, you may have to switch to wet food just to make it easier for him to chew. 

Tip #4: Feed smaller meals more often

Your elderly dog might not be able to face a huge meal. He can, however, still enjoy a smaller portion, but offered twice or three times daily.

Tip #5: Add in a food supplement

When feeding older dogs, an additional supplement can support joint health. Just like elderly humans can suffer from pain and arthritis, so can your pet. There are many types and brands of joint supplements to buy that can help to prevent joint troubles. Look for a supplement that contains glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, all of which support healthy joints.

Tip #6: Add antioxidants

We all need antioxidants due to the nutrients they provide. Not only do they prevent the effects of ageing, they also have the ability to fend off disease. If they are offered under professional supervision, they make a brilliant addition to your senior dog’s food. The most natural way to offer these antioxidants is as fruit and vegetables but not all canines can tolerate them in this form. In these cases, capsules may be preferable.

Tip #7: Add Omega 3 supplements

Consider adding Omega-3 fatty acids which are known to reduce inflammation and boost your older dog’s immune system. Fish oil supplements and sardines are an excellent source of Omega 3 for your ageing pet.

As senior dogs go through various physiological changes, a food product specifically aimed at older dogs is recommended. In addition, keep adequate checks on the dog’s weight and monitor his exercise routines. An elderly canine will also need more frequent medical check-ups. You can make your senior dog’s golden years more pleasurable by following some of these fundamental principles.

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