To Feed or Not to Feed—Meeting Your Senior Dog's Nutritional Needs
by Lucie Doucette
As dietary needs might change as a dog gets older, choosing the right food for your furry friend amidst the myriad of available dog foods can be overwhelming and even confusing. Senior dog nutrition really depends on an individual dog's needs.
As Meredith Simon, B.O.N.E.S. Medical Director states, "Deciding on a diet for an older dog is complicated by activity, genetics, and health problems, and there is no one food for all."
Some dogs could benefit from a prescription diet, like senior dogs with specific issues like heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Decreasing protein content and phosphorous in your senior dog's diet could be beneficial if your dog has kidney issues, for example. Having a good source of protein is very important, even though you might need to decrease the amount of protein for a dog with kidney disease.
As Simon mentions, "Dogs with kidney disease may very well benefit from a therapeutic diet with lower high quality protein" and that "Restricting sodium intake is recommended for dogs with heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease."
And for senior beagles, as with any senior dog, obesity can be another big issue. According to Simon, "Decreasing calorie intake, often with increased fiber, can be beneficial, especially for dogs with diabetes and arthritis. Beagles often need restricted calories, which can be achieved by changing the diet to a lower caloric density food, supplemented with low calorie edibles (I use canned green beans and carrots) or both."
Simon also mentions that some older dogs "start to lose more weight as they age, and need a more caloric rich diet." It really depends on the dog.
There are also many dog foods on the market that try to address dental disease. As Simon continues, "Dogs with dental disease may benefit from foods and treats designed to clean or prevent tartar. They may need softer food if there is any pain on chewing...There are more claims than effective products. The Veterinary Oral health Council website, www.vohc.org, and the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines can help."
Some prefer to feed their senior dog a home-cooked or raw diet. As per Simon, "almost all home-prepared and commercial raw diets are deficient in essential nutrients. I do not recommend raw feeding...Although recipes can be formulated (by a nutritionist), to be complete and balanced for healthy dogs and those with some medical conditions, it can be difficult to maintain a balanced diet, as availability of ingredients may cause dietary drift, the expense of ingredients and required supplements, and lack of quality control."
According to the Tufts nutrition website, www.petfoodology.org, what is very important to look for in a dog food is that it is made by a reputable company with a long history of producing quality diets, and that it has the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on it saying that the dog food has undergone animal feeding trials for the appropriate life stage of the dog.
As Simon explains, "This is totally an individual need. If an older dog is doing well and not gaining weight, there is no need to change the diet to one designed (or marketed) for a senior. Most importantly, the diet you select for your dog is the one is the one [he/she] does well on!"
There are so many varieties of dog food out there. Some senior dog food formulas now have glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids added to them for dogs with joint issues and other degenerative conditions. Some premium dog foods have a percentage of fruits and vegetables in them as well. The wonderful thing these days is that there are many great choices out there for dog food, and also great resources.
As per Simon, the American College of Veterinary Nutrition website, www.acvn.org, and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association website, www.wsava.org/nutrition-toolkit, and www.petfoodology.org are great resources for dog nutrition in general. Choose wisely, and consult with your dog's veterinarian, especially if your senior dog has specific ailments or issues.