Once our dogs reach their senior years, their diet plays an even bigger roll in their health. Today, our Santa Barbara vets address questions about geriatric care and the best types of food for senior dogs.
At what age is my dog considered elderly or geriatric?
Every dog is unique, so we are not able to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to this inquiry. A dog's anticipated lifespan can vary depending on breed and size. 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.
Usually, smaller dogs enter middle age at around 8 years old, while larger dogs age faster and are considered "older" around the time they turn 6 years old.
Does my senior dog have specific nutritional needs?
We recommend considering two main criteria when seeking the best dog food for senior dogs.
First, try to make sure it's low in calories. Like people, as a dog ages their metabolism will slow down, which is why it's important to prevent our furry best friends from chowing down too ferociously to keep obesity at bay.
Second, bring high-fiber options into their diet. For aging dogs, constipation is a fairly common issue and may lead to further gastrointestinal issues if it becomes severe enough. Plus, it can be painful.
Keeping your older dog's gastrointestinal system healthy should be high priority, so the best dog food for older dogs will contain lots of fiber to keep them regular.
What should I do if my senior dog won't eat their food?
Sometimes, we see older dogs that have lost at least some of their appetite. Causes for sudden loss of appetite are hugely carried both in scope and severity; your dog could be suffering from simple nausea brought on by gastrointestinal problems, or they could be suffering from the effects of cancer.
Speak with your vet if your senior dog has suddenly begun to display an unexplained loss of appetite, to have them rule out any potentially serious causes including kidney disease, cancer, diabetes or dental disease.
Once serious medical conditions have been ruled out as the cause for appetite loss, another avenue for consideration is the simplest one--perhaps your dog is simply tired of their regular food.
Adding chicken broth, some water, or a small amount of canned food to your dog's dry kibble supply may serve to make it more enticing. You could also try preparing a simple meal for your dog of cooked chicken and barley or cooked lamb and rice. These home-cooked meals are both nutritious, and bland enough to sit well with them if your older dog is experiencing some nausea.
Which health issues can the best dog food for senior dogs help prevent?
Does your senior dog suffer from health conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes or liver disease? He or she will likely need a special diet to help manage the condition. If your dog is ill and you are concerned about any potential effects of their diet, it's best to consult with your vet.
Best Dog Food for Older Dogs
Our team at San Roque Pet 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 Santa Barbara 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.