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When you were a kid, you probably tried to figure out how old the family dog was in “people years” by multiplying its age by the number seven. Veterinarians, however, look at a dog’s physiological condition.
Veterinarians find that most dogs begin to experience the first signs of aging at about 7 years for small or medium breeds and around 5 years for large and giant breeds. Often the first changes are hidden or are not recognized; however, telltale signs may include a dull or dry coat, flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems, frequent constipation, and loss of muscle.
Simply put, these issues are symptomatic of the body’s inability to rejuvenate its cells. Although genetics and environment play a large role in how quickly your dog ages, your best friend’s health is also up to you.
Good Nutrition Is Critical for Your Aging Dog
A healthy diet can help make up for the physical shortfalls of an aging dog. Good nutrition can help your dog:
- Maintain muscle tone
- Maximize digestion
- Retain ideal body weight
“While some senior dogs need condition-specific prescription food from the veterinarian following a general health screen, many older dogs can simply benefit from a diet formulated for their age-related needs,” explains Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. “Healthy senior dogs need an optimal-quality senior diet to address joint health, cardiovascular health and decreased metabolic demand: that is, fewer calories while not sacrificing high-quality ingredients. Fortunately, there are some excellent diets found in the stores these days that satisfy these requirements.”
Picking Food to Support Aging
Dogs of all ages need the same ingredients in their food, but aging dogs need quantities that are different from those needed by younger dogs. Here’s what you’ll want to look for when shopping for an older dog formula:
- High-quality protein: Much of your dog’s food should be made up of protein. Make sure it’s derived from an animal source — chicken liver, for example — rather than a vegetable. Protein is used by the body to build and maintain muscle.
- Fat: Choose a food with sources of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. These promote a healthy skin and coat and provide the body’s essential fatty-acid requirements.
- Fiber: Pick a brand that offers a fermentable fiber, like beet pulp, and a prebiotic for a healthy gut. These types of fibers enable excellent nutrient absorption and help push small, firm stool through the intestines.
- Antioxidants: These molecules protect the immune system by ridding the body of free radicals, which corrupt cell membranes and DNA.
Timed Feedings for Your Aging Dog
Because aging dogs generally eat less than their younger canine friends, you might consider dividing your aging dog’s food intake into two or three meals. Try a morning/evening schedule or a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way, the food in the dish isn’t so overwhelming. Moreover, the food is likely fresher and thus more appealing. Such timed feedings have the added benefit of increasing your dog’s metabolism, which will help your friend maintain its ideal weight.
Meeting your dog’s dietary needs and managing mealtimes smartly will go a long way toward ensuring a high-quality life for your aging canine pal.