Nutrition is a very powerful tool at every stage of a dog's life. It can be used mainly for maintaining health, preventing disease and even treating some disease states. That said, just because your dog is getting older doesn't necessarily mean he needs a change in diet.
There are many foods that are labeled for adult, senior, and senior dogs. There are even proven diets for all phases of life. It can be difficult to know what is best for your dog and whether you should switch to senior dog food.
Do older dogs need senior food?
The decision about what to feed and whether to switch to senior dog food should be based on many factors - your veterinarian can help make recommendations based on your dog's health status, disease risk and lifestyle.
A senior dog's diet has two purposes:
prevent or fight disease
If your dog has been diagnosed with a condition that is known to be affected by diet, it may be time for a change. This is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding if your dog needs senior food.
What Makes Senior Dog Food Different?
So what makes a senior dog food different from an adult or all life stage dog food? Foods labeled for older dogs may vary in their ingredients and nutrient profiles, but not always.
For example, the protein content in food for adult dogs is between 18 and 30%. This corresponds to the 18-23% range for senior dog foods (on a dry matter basis). Other nutrient levels can vary widely, as can sodium and phosphorus levels.
What separates senior dog food from adult or all life stage foods is that it also contains certain nutrients and other ingredients that may help affect or control certain diseases.
is importantRead dog food labels, and if you're considering a change, consult your veterinarian to find out what specific needs your dog might have.
All foods, regardless of stage, should contain the recommended amountsrequired nutrients as established by the Association of American Food Control Officials (or AAFCO).However, it is important to note that AAFCO approval is not a guarantee that the food will be effective in preventing or controlling a particular disease.
Which diseases can dog food for older dogs help with?
there is enoughsome diseases known to affect older dogs. Many of these can be partially or totally influenced or controlled by diet. This includes conditions such as:
Certain types of cancer
In some cases, dietary changes can affect the outcome of a disease or slow its progression, while in other cases they can only help relieve the symptoms associated with the disease.
Dogs with dental disease can benefit from dry senior food with special kibble shape, size and texture to reduce plaque build-up. These may contain additional ingredients known to specifically target dental disease.
Alternatively, if your senior dog is missing teeth or has only a few teeth left, your vet may suggest a variety of canned foods to make eating easier and more enjoyable.
Dogs with arthritis may benefit from senior foods with additional ingredients known to be beneficial to the joints, such as: B. glucosamine hydrochloride; chondroitin sulfate; and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA), eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)), to name a few. If a therapeutic diet is not recommended, supplements containing these ingredients may be recommended for your senior dog.
If your dog has kidney disease, your veterinarian may recommend a high-quality senior food that is low (but high-quality) in protein. In many cases, a therapeutic diet can be recommended.
When does a dog have to switch to senior food?
Dog life stage classification can help you identify when your dog is considered older. Depending on their breed and size, most dogs between the ages of 6 and 8 are considered “adult dogs.” In most cases, a dog over 8 years old will be accepted into the senior category.
While these age ratings can be helpful when making food choices, it's important to remember that animals are individuals. Just because they reach a certain age doesn't mean they're necessarily old on a physiological scale.
The aging process is different for every dog and, just like humans, can look, feel and have different effects on everyone. If your senior dog is healthy and maintains a good weight, a new dog food may not be necessary.
Your veterinarian is your best ally in determining when your dog is ready to transition to a senior diet.
How to choose the best dog food for senior dogs
Talk to your veterinarian before switching to senior food to make sure your dog is ready and not offering any specific suggestions.
Here are some tips to help your dog make the transition easier.
Use the senior version of your current feed
When your four-legged friend is ready for a senior diet, you can start trying the senior's version of what you're already eating (same brand, type, and consistency). Many brands offer a senior version of most adult foods. This can help prevent digestive discomfort that comes with changing your diet.
Look for a senior dog food that is similar to the current food
If your brand doesn't offer a senior version, look for senior dog foods with similar ingredients and nutrient profiles. For example, if your dog has always eaten chicken and rice kibble, look for an elderly kibble with similar ingredients.
If your vet has suggested a different formulation, brand, or variety, take a look at the ingredients and make your choice based on your dog's individual needs.
Consider trying a specialty food for your dog's size or breed.
Depending on the brand, there are usually different types of food for senior dogs of small and large breeds.
If you have a small dog, finding an older small breed dog food is a good idea (the same goes for larger breeds too). These diets are usually designed with size (or in some cases breed) specific needs in mind. This may include a specific shape, size and texture of the kibble, or additional ingredients for conditions that are more likely to affect dogs of different sizes or breeds.
Follow your veterinarian's recommendations for specific medical conditions
If your dog has been diagnosed with a medical condition that is known to be influenced by diet, or if your dog's health and lifestyle are at risk for certain diseases, your veterinarian may suggest a therapeutic or prescription diet. These diets require a prescription from your veterinarian.
While these diets don't typically include the word "senior" in the title, they are designed to treat medical conditions that are common in older dogs. They may have additional ingredients or specific formulation differences not available in over-the-counter varieties.
Slow transition to the new senior dog food
Once you've chosen the right diet for your senior dog, it's important to gradually transition to the new food. Ideally, this should happen in about 7 to 10 days, with full transition to the new food within 14 days.
If your dog is prone to indigestion, it may take longer to introduce the new food. It is best to mix small amounts of the new food into the current diet first. Every day you can add more new foods and remove more old ones until the transition is complete. If you experience digestive problems (vomiting, diarrhea, etc.)Do not eat), it is best to discontinue the new diet and contact your veterinarian.
Always talk to your vet about dietary changes.
There are so many great options when it comes to senior dog food these days. Due to the different levels of nutrients and ingredients, it is difficult to know which is the best. Choosing the right food should be made based on your senior dog's specific needs, known health conditions, disease risk and lifestyle. Your veterinarian is a key player in your dog's health and should be consulted if you are considering any dietary changes.
Featured image: iStock.com/Atlantagreg
Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC
Dr Christina Fernandez received her DVM degree from St George's University in 2007 and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary...