Dietary Changes for Elder Dogs

As your dog gets older, he or she could benefit from a change in diet. Your pet may remain on the same adult diet if he or she is not overweight, has no medical problems and is active, and for some older dogs, you can simply give them the same food in a smaller quantity. However, a majority of dogs will require a change in diet as they age.

Why should I change my elder dog’s diet?

As your four-legged friend ages, his or her health and stamina slowly declines. Elder dogs’ bodies lose the ability to repair themselves, maintain normal body functions and struggle to adapt to the stresses and changes in the environment. For most dogs, their metabolism also slows down, says MedicAnimal, meaning your dog requires fewer calories.

Because elder dogs are less active, obesity proves a common problem and directly correlates to a decreased life expectancy as well as other health problems. While exceptions exist, routine veterinary exams and blood tests can help you decide the best new diet for your aging friend.

When should I change his/her diet?

The breed and health of your furry friend will determine when you should change his or her diet. Smaller breeds mature faster than larger breeds, but after reaching maturity, they begin to age more slowly, so they may not be considered elderly until 10 to 12 years old. Larger and giant breeds are considered senior citizens at 5 or 6 years old, by contrast. However, many vets consider an average dog aged 7 or 8 years as senior.

What should his/her diet consist of?

An appropriate diet for an elder dog depends on your pet. Some dogs are less active and need fewer calories and nutrients, and others need more due to poor digestive functions and loss of ability to absorb vital nutrients from their food.

Work with your vet to nail down the kind of diet your dog needs. If your dog has a specific health problem (such as kidney issues, diabetes, etc.), they can help you develop a diet that caters to this problem. Most commercial senior dog foods are lower in protein, sodium and phosphorus to support aging hearts and kidneys, and these increased levels of vitamins can prove beneficial to your pup as well.

What are some conditions that might benefit from diet change?

Diet changes can benefit your dog’s health in several ways. Dogs with significantly decreased kidney function could benefit from a diet lower in protein, which will lower the workload for the kidneys.

Older dogs are also prone to develop issues with constipation, so a diet high in fiber could help alleviate this condition. Dry foods can also help control tartar build-up and reduce gum disease.

But what if my dog won’t eat?

First, schedule a complete veterinary exam to rule out possible diseases or medical issues. It could simply be that as your dog gets older, he or she is developing a disinterest in food. Try the following methods recommended by WebMD’s vet experts to see if you can pique your elder dog’s interest.

  • Some dogs may have a hard time chewing large kibble; try kibble with smaller pieces or moisten the food with water to make it easier to chew.
  • Try adding some other foods to increase appeal, like water from canned tuna or a small amount of cooked chicken.
  • Create a homemade diet with your vet for your dog that he or she would enjoy (such as boiled rice, vegetables, potatoes, etc.).
  • Heat up your dog food to release the food’s aroma and combat your dog’s weaker sense of smell and taste.
  • Use doggie drinking fountains to keep water cooler and aerated.

Should I use supplements?

Talk to your veterinarian about whether or not your dog would benefit from supplements, as it is not a one-size fits-all scenario. Some older dogs can also benefit from vitamins and supplements that offer extra calcium, increased fiber or other vitamin boosts. Too many or inappropriate supplements can prove detrimental to your aging friend’s health, so make sure to consult your vet before starting any program!