How Life Stage Diets Can Help Senior Dogs
By Lorie Huston, DVM
Whether or not your senior dog needs special dog food depends, to a large extent, on your individual dog. There are a number of health issues that senior dogs face that might benefit from a special food. Here are just a few of them…
Obesity and Being Underweight
As pets age, they may become less active. Less exercise may lead to an increase in weight, requiring changes in your dog’s diet to compensate and avoid obesity. A diet formulated for dogs that are less active might be appropriate in these situations. This may be a food with a lower calorie content that still contains adequate levels of nutrients to meet all of your senior dog’s nutritional needs and keep your dog healthy.
In some cases, the opposite may happen and your senior pet may actually start to have difficulty holding his or her weight. In a case like this, a diet with an increased calorie count and a highly palatable and highly digestible protein source may be useful but the choice of diet may depend on the cause of the weight loss as well.
Arthritis is a common condition in older dogs and a pet food supplemented with glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or omega fatty acids may be helpful in improving joint health and decreasing the pain associated with arthritis and other degenerative conditions.
Kidney and Heart Disease
Dietary protein levels for older dogs are controversial. Some veterinarians believe that decreasing protein content in the food of a senior dog may be beneficial, particularly if your dog is experiencing kidney disease. Others feel differently, worrying that restricting protein content may lead to inadequate nutrient levels being provided. It is important to remember, especially in senior pets, that not all forms of protein are equally accessible. Some proteins are more easily digestible and therefore more valuable for your pet than others. Your veterinarian can help you determine what is right for your dog.
In some illnesses, it may be required to control or manipulate electrolyte levels in your dog’s blood. Examples of this include dogs with kidney disease and/or heart disease. A special diet may be advisable in cases of kidney or heart disease to help control the disease itself. Again, the type of food necessary will depend on your individual dog and your dog’s health. In the case of heart disease, some veterinarians recommend diets lower in sodium. In kidney disease, a diet lower in phosphorus may be necessary. Your veterinarian is your best source for determining what type of special food is needed for your senior pet.
It's best if your veterinarian performs regular examinations on your senior dog to choose the most appropriate pet food. In many cases, this will include blood testing and other diagnostic testing to look for or monitor health issues that may be impacted by diet.