As dogs age, their dietary needs change. When researching the best diet for a senior dog, it is important to keep in mind that individual dietary requirements and restrictions vary, depending on the size, health, and breed of the dog. Generally speaking, there are some guidelines and tips that every dog owner can and should follow in order to make sure his senior dog receives the best nutrition possible.
Defining a Senior Dog
Most vets and dog experts consider a dog to be a senior when it has reached 7 years of age. The exact determination of senior status, however, depends on the breed and health of the dog. For example, a Great Dane is usually considered to be a senior when it is 6 years old, but Chihuahuas and other small breed dogs may not show signs of old age until they are 12 years old.
Senior Dog Nutrition
Senior dogs are more prone to kidney and liver problems than younger dogs, and your vet will probably order routine blood work at an upcoming checkup to check for these problems. If your dog has developed these problems or is at risk for them, your vet may recommend a modified diet. Older dogs have lower protein requirements and require more fiber in their diet, so offering your dog small amounts of vegetables and fruits, such as canned pumpkin mixed with dog food, is a good idea.
Senior Dog Food vs. Adult Dog Food
As a general rule of thumb, if your dog seems to be doing well on its current food, there is no need to automatically switch to a senior or adult dog food formula. Both senior and adult dog food brands are required to meet the nutritional guidelines for adult dog food; but beyond that there is no evidence that one is better for a senior dog than the other. You may want to switch your pet to a senior or adult dog food if you are worried about weight gain, which is a problem for older dogs as their metabolism or activity level slows down, or if your vet recommends a particular brand.
There are many different supplements for senior dogs on the market today. If your dog suffers from joint pain, consider a glucosamine-and-chondroiton supplement. Supplements are also a good idea for dogs who do not receive the required amounts of minerals and vitamins from their diet.
As always, consult your veterinarian before switching your dog's food or adding supplements to its diet. Remember, when it comes to senior dog nutrition, one size does not fit all. Some dogs may need to have specially modified diets created by a veterinary nutritionist in order to achieve optimal health, while others may need few, if any, modifications to their current diets.