the scoop on senior dog nutrition
Updated February 28, 2019
As pets age, their nutritional needs change, and the dietary requirements of senior pets vary widely between dogs.
In general, senior dogs benefit from the addition of omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine/chondroitin, and antioxidants to their diets. More specific requirements may be needed if particular conditions call for them. Most, but not all, senior dogs need food with a lower caloric content. And in general, older pets tend to become more sedentary, requiring fewer calories to maintain a trim figure.
Labeling a food “senior” may not mean that the food is any different from food from other life stages, though checking the food label ingredients list may help you determine the truthfulness of the company. Looking for decreased caloric content or the addition of antioxidants, glucosamine, and omega-3 fatty acids.
What to feed your senior pet
When determining which diet is most appropriate for your senior pet, and it’s important to go by your dog’s metabolic age rather than his chronological age.
Just like humans, some dogs just age better than others. If you have a senior dog with no health complaints who is doing well on his regular food, there is probably no need to change his diet. However, if your dog is slowing down (mentally or physically) or has other diseases associated with geriatric dogs, changing his diet to a senior diet or other therapeutic diet is probably your best bet.
There are so many new pet foods on the market, with the makers running the gamut from TV chefs to talk show hosts and actors. Knowing what to look for on a dog food label is important when there are so many choices. Any pet food marked with the AAFCO statement “complete and balanced” have met established nutritional standards. The food ingredients are listed by weight, with the heaviest being first on the list.
Remember: even though meat is listed first, this doesn’t mean that it makes up the majority of the meal. Meat is high in water, making it heavier than other ingredients, such as grains. Preservatives and stabilizers in dry food keep it from spoiling before your dog has a chance to eat it and make up the majority of those chemical-sounding ingredients. If it’s in your dog food, the FDA has deemed it safe for consumption.
Do senior pets need supplements?
If your senior dog is on a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, he may not need supplements, especially if he is one of those lucky dogs who ages well. However, multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and glucosamine/chondroitin are generally a good idea in senior pets.
Additional supplements such as SAM-e and milk thistle may be beneficial if your pet is suffering from liver disease or cognitive dysfunction. Because senior dogs vary so greatly, they should be considered individually. Ask your veterinarian if your senior dog can benefit from nutritional supplements.