We all want our pets to live a long and happy life. Older dogs, just like older people, experience a variety of physical aging and degenerative conditions and also undergo many mental changes as well. The metabolism and aging process changes occur depending on the type of dog. Although you can keep your dog active and healthy, some of the aging factors are unavoidable. However, some can be managed with the correct diet specifically made to help senior dogs.

When is My Dog Considered Old?

Dogs are generally considered to be older if they are in the last third of their normal life expectancy. However, just as in people, age is just a number and many dogs may seem younger than their age. For example, an older pug who is 10 years old may be physically younger than a 10-year-old Husky in spite of the same age. Today, it is not uncommon for small breeds to live 20 years and giant breeds to live 10-12 years.

Nowadays, dogs are living longer for a number of reasons including better preventatives, vaccines, parasite control products, and other treatments. Plus, animal nutrition experts now have developed a greater understanding of dog’s dietary needs for a better overall health. Finding what nutrients dogs need help to combat diseases and sickness.

However, no matter how much we develop an understanding of dog’s nutrition and their needs, many changes will still develop and progress in dogs as they get older. This includes deterioration of skin and coat, loss of muscle mass, more frequent intestinal problems, arthritis, obesity, dental problems, and more prone for infections.

First Things First: Optimal Health for Your Senior Dog

What most pet parents don’t know is that aging pets need more protein than younger pets. It’s especially great to give your pup high quality food because the more digestible and assimilable the protein is, and the higher the moisture content is in the meal, the easier it will be on your aging dogs organs. You should also find a food that is nutritionally balances and healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids such as krill oil. This will give your older dog more energy and healthy nutrients for their bones.

Their diets should not have any refined carbohydrates, which are basically just unnecessary sugar. Older dogs have higher risk if inflammation, so their diets should also not include grains, potatoes or legumes, because these increase inflammation in the body. All unnecessary carbs should be replaced with extra high-quality protein.

There are many pet foods out there that are manufactured with byproducts which can affect cognitive health. Fresh, biologically appropriate foods provide dogs with whole food nutrients and amino acids for the aging brain. Giving your older dog the right diet will also enhance their microbiome, which has been linked to improved cognitive health in humans, and has also been seen to improve pet’s cognitive health as well.

What Are the Most Important Nutrients for Older Dogs?

With age, the range for key nutrients becomes narrower, making it easier to give your pup the right foods for their dietary deficiencies or excesses. Here are the important nutrients older dogs should have in their daily diet.

Water: 

The most nutritional concern for older dogs is their proper water intake. Older dogs may not drink enough water resulting in dehydration and even mild dehydration can worsen existing conditions.

Protein: 

Protein requirements for older dogs increase with age. However, protein levels do not contribute to the development or progression of renal failure. It is important to feed older dog’s diets that contain optimum levels of highly digestible protein to help maintain good muscle mass.

Fat: 

Older animals tend to gain weight in the form of fat. It is important to reduce fat content in their daily meals. Treats can also contribute to weight gain so give your dog low-calorie treats.

Minerals: 

Sodium and Potassium are important in the maintenance of dog’s heart and kidney health. Calcium and phosphorus are also great for dog’s overall health.

Carbohydrates: 

Always good for extra energy. Make sure they are healthy carbohydrates though and not unnecessary sugars.

Vitamins: 

If you are feeding a well-balanced commercial diet that meets AAFCO guidelines there is no need to supplement vitamins and minerals in a healthy dog regardless of their age. Supplements specifically focusing on older pets are of no scientifically proven value.

However, dogs who have certain healthy issues such as a urinary tract disease or gastro-intestinal problems, may have issues balancing their diet, so they may benefit from the additional supplements such as fat-soluble vitamins.

Anti-Arthritics: 

According to the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine2, the evidence of efficacy of nutraceuticals is poor, with the exception of diets supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids in dogs. Omega-6 fatty acids can help maintain skin and coat health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been recommended for arthritis.

Probiotics: 

Pet parents are often advised to supplement their dogs’ diet with probiotics because of all the benefits the natural bacteria in probiotics offer. The Mayo Clinic says that probiotics help treat diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics, prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections, treat irritable bowel syndrome, speed treatment of certain intestinal infections and even prevent or reduce sicknesses.

How Many Calories Should My Senior Dog Consume?

As dogs get older, they often face the challenge of obesity. Pet owners don’t know whether to feed older dogs more or fewer calories. Not only do older dogs get less active, but they also have changes in their metabolic rate, which causes fewer calories to be burned and more to be stored as fat. Veterinarians often say that mature dogs require about 20 percent fewer calories in order to maintain the same weight as younger dogs.

Dogs who are getting older will benefit from a diet that consists of fewer calories and less fat. It is also said that L-carnitine, vitamin compounds made from amino acids found in fish, chicken, and red meats, may also help the body use fat for energy instead of storing it.

However, it’s not that simple.  When dogs are getting really old, chances are they will thin down and instead of gaining weight, they will instead start losing weight. This will result in changes in their diet and actually increasing their caloric intake. In this case, they might have a decreased appetite, or have difficulty chewing or swallowing due to their brittle teeth and gums. Increasing the fat content in their diet can possibly increase palatability and calorie content, which may improve protein efficiency so they can maintain a healthy weight while benefiting from protein nutrients.

How Much Protein Should My Senior Dog Eat?

Increasing protein will help maintain muscle. But some say protein can be bad for old dogs because it can negatively affect their kidneys. This is a myth! Dogs evolved to eat more meat and protein, and subsequent studies have debunked the idea that protein is bad for old dogs and confirmed that protein does not adversely affect the kidneys. In fact, there’s evidence these days that suggests old dogs need more protein. 

A study comparing protein requirements in 2-year-old Beagles versus 13-year-old Beagles found that the senior dogs needed at least 50 percent more dietary protein. 

Protein is important for older dogs. Even with exercise, older dogs tend to lose muscle mass, which means loss in protein storage. Losses in muscle tissue and protein reserves may impair the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to respond to physical trauma, infections, or stress. Loss of protein reserves also means the body may not have enough amino acids for tissue repair and energy metabolism. Senior diets should have increased protein, providing a minimum of 25 percent of calories from protein.

How Much Fiber Does My Senior Dog Need?

Some senior diets may have added levels of fiber, usually along with fewer calories, as a way to help the dog lose weight. But, just remember very old dogs probably don’t need to lose weight. Furthermore, fiber may also decrease the intake of some essential nutrients. Cellulose-based fibers can significantly decrease the digestibility of other nutrients in the food.

Fiber has its uses, however. It can help alleviate constipation, which can be a problem in older dogs. It can also provide glucose regulation, which may be unbalanced in older dogs. Although cellulose-based fibers are traditionally used in dog foods, recent findings suggest that moderately fermentable fiber blends, such as beet pulp, may provide better glucose regulation and nutrient digestion.