You understand that a nutritious diet is important for maintaining your senior dog's good health, but with so many brands to pick from, choosing the best food for your older dog can feel daunting. Here, our Stockton vets offer a few tips to help you make an informed choice.
Is my dog a senior?
Because every dog is unique, it's impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your dog's breed, size, and genetic makeup will factor into their expected lifespan. As a general rule, small dogs can be expected to live between 15 and 20 years, while larger dogs typically live from about 12 to 15 years.
Smaller dogs usually enter middle age at around eight years old, while larger dogs age faster and are considered "older" around the time they turn six years old.
Do senior dogs really need to eat specially formulated food?
To find the best dog food for your senior dog, we recommend considering two main criteria.
First, check that it's low in calories. Similar to people, a dog's metabolism will slow down as they age, which is why it's important to keep our canine companions from chowing down too ferociously to keep obesity at bay.
Second, include high-fiber options in their diet. Constipation is a fairly common issue for aging dogs. Aside from being painful, this may lead to further gastrointestinal problems if becomes severe enough.
Keeping your older dog's gastrointestinal system healthy should be a high priority, so the best dog food for senior dogs will contain lots of fiber to help them stay regular.
What if my senior dog won't eat their food?
Our vets at Bear Creek Veterinary Hospital sometimes see older dogs that have lost at least some of their appetite. Causes for a sudden loss of appetite vary hugely, both in scope and severity; your dog may be suffering gastrointestinal issues, which can bring on nausea, or they could be dealing with the effects of cancer.
Speak with your vet if your senior dog has suddenly begun to exhibit an unexplained loss of appetite so any potentially serious causes, including diabetes, dental disease, cancer, or kidney disease, can be ruled out.
Once the vet has ruled out serious medical conditions as a cause for appetite loss, we can consider another simple avenue - perhaps your dog is just tired of their regular food.
Adding chicken broth, a small amount of canned food or some water to your dog's dry kibble supply may help to make it more enticing. You might also try preparing a simple meal for your dog of cooked chicken and barley or cooked lamb and rice. These nutritious home-cooked meals will be bland enough to sit well on your older dog's stomach if they are experiencing nausea.
Are there foods to help treat my senior dog's health conditions?
If your senior dog suffers from health conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, or kidney failure, he or she will likely require a special diet to help manage the condition. If your dog is sick and you are concerned about any potential effects of their diet, it's best to consult with your vet, who can provide advice about this and other issues that fall under veterinary care for your senior pet.
What is the best food for older dogs?
Our team at Bear Creek Veterinary Hospital has put together a list of some of the best types of dog foods for senior dogs. Ask your vet which senior dog food is best for your pet.
Prescription Dog Food
Depending on your dog's specific circumstances and health conditions, in some cases, a medical prescription dog food might be the best option for your senior pooch. In other cases, your vet may simply recommend you switch to a healthy alternative.
Low-Calorie Dog Food
Low-calorie senior dog food can benefit dogs that are at a higher risk for heart disease (or who have already been diagnosed with it), as it will help keep their weight down. Low-sodium recipes are preferred.
High-Fiber, Low-Fat Dog Food
Our veterinarians in Stockton recommend owners of pre-diabetic or diabetic dogs place a high priority on the slow absorption of food. Blood sugar tends to rise more slowly with special diabetic diets, reducing the risk for health complications. These diets are also exceptionally high in fiber and low in fat.
As mentioned previously since older dogs commonly struggle with constipation, the higher amount of fiber, the better. This will help to prevent constipation and keep their bowels working regularly.
Dog Food High in Protein
Many senior dog foods will also contain higher quality protein sources than standard dog food, which can help senior dogs maintain a healthy body weight without putting unnecessary strain on their aging kidneys.
Limited Ingredient Dog Foods
If your senior dog has allergies, your vet might recommend limited ingredient dog foods, which include just a single protein source (such as chicken, beef or lamb), often combined with one carbohydrate source.
This can be used to eliminate allergens that might be causing allergic reactions or symptoms. When looking for limited ingredient dog foods, it's important to check for the Association of American Feed Control's (AAFCO) seal of approval, in addition to a "complete and balanced" claim from the manufacturer.
Your vet will be able to provide dietary recommendations for your senior or diabetic dog, along with comprehensive geriatric care and exams.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.