Nutritional Needs of Older Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Dec. 17, 2010

As our dogs age, they go through a lot of significant physical changes. Their nutritional requirements change as well. The way the body uses energy changes, along with the amount of substance needed to produce energy. This process, known as metabolism, tends to slow down, especially in dogs, so that the need for fat and calories decreases.

The lack of knowledge in the area of animal physiology has led many pet owners to unknowingly overfeed their aging dogs, which has led to a growing population of overweight and obese dogs, and the illnesses that accompany these conditions.

The Health and Disease Link

Older dogs are already more at risk for developing kidney and heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and various forms of cancer. The immune system also weakens with age, leaving older dogs at a higher risk of infection and slowed healing. For some, there is a genetic breed link that predisposes them to disease. To combat, or to at least mitigate the effects of these conditions, there are diets that have been specially formulated for special needs pets.

For example, older dogs with kidney disease are fed highly digestible proteins; those with heart disease are fed diets that are lower in sodium content. Animals that have developed problems with brain function may benefit from the addition of certain antioxidants to their daily diets; and cancer patients often benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids, along with additional antioxidants in their diets.

Depending on your dog’s health status, immediate dietary changes may be necessary to halt the progression of a disease that has come about. Even if the disease cannot be resolved entirely, diet changes can often reduce the more severe effects of disease. Foods that are made with highly digestible sources of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates can make a big difference, as they are more readily absorbed, placing less stress on the digestive system and allowing for the body to balance its energy reserves more efficiently.

Maintaining the strength of the aging immune system is also a priority, and this can be done with the addition of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet -- both are known to boost immunity and improve the body's ability to heal.

Even if your dog is not suffering from a diseased condition, changes such as these are a practical disease deterrent. Consult your veterinarian so that you are tailoring your dog’s diet to his or her specific physical needs.

Checkups Are Important At All Ages

Because you want to maintain your dog’s health, it is important to remember that veterinary checkups are still as important as when your pet was a small and inexperienced risk taker. Monitoring your dog's organ function will allow your veterinarian to determine if a special diet is necessary for your pet as s/he ages. But aside from diet, the yearly checkup can catch the first symptoms of an impending disease before it has become apparent to you, saving money and heartache over the long term.

Image source: Umberto Fistarol / via Flickr

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health