SENIOR DOGS: HOW TO CHOOSE THEIR IDEAL DIET
Generally, a dog is considered "senior" from the age of 7 for a large dog, 8 to 9 for a medium-sized dog, and 9 to 10 for a small dog. But age is just a number! What matters is knowing and understanding your dog and their specific needs, in order to adapt their living conditions to the natural ageing process!
Just like young, growing puppies, older dogs will benefit from senior dog food adapted to the physical and psychological changes taking place in their body.
Senior dogs require fewer minerals (especially phosphorus and sodium) to preserve renal and cardiovascular function, more fibre (between 4 and 6%) to ensure optimal transit and maintain intestinal hygiene, and more antioxidants to limit inflammation in the body. Dogs move about less and less as they age, so they'll sometimes also require a lower energy diet to limit excessive weight gain.
As long as no specific disease presents itself, your senior dog's food will act as an accompaniment to their ageing process and must take into account the particular needs of each individual dog.
What is Old Age in Dogs?
The question may seem silly... but ultimately, do we truly understand the effect that ageing has on our pets' physical and mental health?
Ageing is a natural, progressive biological process, which results in the body no longer being capable of ensuring a physiological balance and subsequently becoming increasingly susceptible to disease. But progress differs depending on the individual dog and factors such as their genetic predispositions, breed, size, living environment, and of course diet.
For example, small and large dogs have different life expectancies, due to their difference in size. It is generally accepted that small dogs age slower and live longer than large dogs, who have a longer growth phase but shorter period as seniors. As such, their nutritional needs will not be the same when they enter old age.
Things to Watch Out For with Your Senior Dog
As your dog ages, their body becomes less and less efficient. As such, it’s necessary to be aware of certain changes:
Keep an eye on their weight: Ageing dogs move about less. Adapt your senior dog's food to ensure that their energy intake is proportional to their activity level to avoid obesity and limit the weight on their joints, especially if your pooch suffers from osteoarthritis. In general, we recommend you reduce the amount of senior dog food given, but each individual is different! You should take into account your dog's breed, activity level, whether or not they're sterilised, and any recent experiences.
Ensure good digestion: Intestinal transit can slow down with age. To avoid digestive disorders (gas, constipation, etc.), ensure that your senior dog's food contains enough fibre and a reasonable amount of well-cooked carbohydrates. You can also supplement their diet with probiotics.
Protect against oxidative stress: An ageing dog often experiences a gradual loss of cognitive function. Antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and vitamins all play an essential role in the balance of many metabolic processes. Copper, zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamin E help limit oxidation. Vitamins A, D, and K, and calcium strengthen bones. Minerals, zinc, and vitamins A and B6 promote protein synthesis. Omega-3 fatty acids slow down brain ageing.
Maintain lean body mass, good immunocompetence (the body's ability to produce a normal immune response), and good capacity for tissue regeneration, and avoid overloading renal function: By ensuring that your senior dog's food contains a sufficient amount of high-quality proteins and essential fatty acids.
Avoid fluid overload and cardiac fatigue: By limiting the intake of phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. We recommend senior dog food that contains less than 1% phosphorus, less than 1.5% calcium, less than 0.01% magnesium, and less than 0.5% sodium.
Supplement Your Senior Dog Food
It's not that your pooch suddenly becomes a picky eater with age, it's that their sensory capacities decline! Senior dogs start to lose their senses of sight, smell, and taste... not to mention the onset of dental concerns!
Whether in the digestive system, the immune system, the joints, or the sharpness of the senses, all age-related changes must be taken into account to optimise your senior dog's food and increase their life expectancy and quality of life.
As they age, dogs’ bodies become less and less efficient at assimilating macro and micronutrients in particular. The primary objective is therefore to provide your senior dog with food that's high quality, appetising, digestible, and easy to eat.
It is especially necessary to provide your pooch with a sufficient quantity and quality of vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids (proteins) to maintain their body, slow down deterioration, and ensure you're meeting all their needs.
👉 Opt for Senior Dog Food with a High Water Content
Maintaining an optimal weight is essential for senior dogs, to avoid obesity as well as weight loss. To this end, moistening their dry food or replacing part of their dry food ration with comprehensive wet food serves a double purpose: It limits the onset of certain pathologies (especially urinary) while increasing the volume of your senior dog's food ration without increasing the energy supply therein. This way, your dog will feel fuller for longer while maintaining an optimal healthy weight.
👉 Use Vitamins and Trace Elements to Combat Osteoarthritis and Oxidative Stress
Enhance your senior dog's food with a daily supplement such as green-lipped mussel powder, which is rich in chondroprotectors and antioxidants, to limit inflammation in the body while protecting your dog's joints. We also recommend supplementing your senior dog's food with antioxidants in the form of vitamins E and C, and to lower the W6/W3 ratio to 3 or even 2 by increasing the dose of Omega-3 fatty acids provided by fish oil.
👉 Provide High-Quality Protein
To preserve muscle mass, which can decrease with age, your senior dog’s food must contain a sufficient quantity of high-quality protein. It’s often believed that you should limit protein intake in elderly pets to preserve kidney function. But… it turns out that this is wrong! Because, unless your dog suffers from advanced kidney disease, high-quality protein is in no way harmful to their body. Quite the opposite.
A dog's organic nature predisposes it to value foods which are rich in animal protein. And, as we mentioned earlier, a senior dog needs even more protein than an adult dog. Therefore, healthy older dogs can benefit from senior dog food which contains an increased protein ratio, with a minimum of 25% of their calories coming from protein (more is always better).
👉 Don’t Forget the Fibre!
A larger intake of quality soluble and insoluble fibre will improve the hygiene and function of your dog's colon and intestines. To find a good ratio between the two, mix one teaspoon of blond psyllium—great for regulating intestinal transit—with one tablespoon of 0% natural yoghurt.
Small pieces of well-cooked vegetables like carrots, courgettes, and green beans are another good option. You can give your pet about 50g of cooked veg per 10kg of bodyweight. The bonus of cooked vegetables as a source of fibre is their high water content, which keeps your pet feeling satisfied for longer.
Did You Know?
Elderly cats start to lose a lot of weight about 2 years before their death. As such, senior cats are more prone to losing weight in contrast to senior dogs, who tend to put on body fat.
PUBLISHED 11.12.2020 - HECTOR KITCHEN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team
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