In general, dogs of seven years and older start taking life a bit easier and, as a result, their nutritional needs begin to change once more. With large breeds, this change will take place at around six years of age Senior dogs are less active and have a slower metabolism, so can be even more prone to gaining weight. Equally as they reach their geriatric years, illness and blunting of the senses of taste and smell mean it can be hard to maintain a good body condition.
In their senior years dogs need a high quality, palatable diet with easy to digest protein, lower calorie levels and a careful balance of other essential nutrients. Key minerals support ageing joints, and vitamins C and E, along with protein, help support the aging immune system.
As dogs age their senses of smell and taste can fade a little, along with their ability to chew effectively. A smaller kibble size will help your dog get the most out meals and higher meat content can improve smell and flavour.
Depending on veterinary advice and underlying medical conditions it may be advisable to move older dogs onto a specially formulated senior dog food in preference to a normal ‘adult’ dog food as they age. Manufactured complete and balanced senior dog foods are carefully formulated to reflect these changes in nutritional requirement and feeding habits. So your dog can continue to enjoy mealtimes to the full without compromising on the essentials.
As always when changing onto a new food, you should start by mixing the new formula with what they are used to, slowly building up the proportion over a week to ten days until you are only feeding the new senior formula food. If your dog refuses to eat the new diet consult your vet as there may be a medical reason for this, or he/she may be able to advise you on alternatives.
How to feed
Feed your older dog as with all dogs twice a day, although seniors may start to prefer smaller portions more frequently, especially if you serve wet food. Be careful not to overfeed. Older dogs are less active and particularly prone to weight issues, so it is important to monitor their body condition score regularly.
Serve food at room temperature to ensure your dog can taste and smell it properly. This is especially important for older dogs, with their diminishing sense of smell. If you are feeding wet food, warming up an opened can or pouch may take up to two hours from being taken out of the fridge. Alternatively, you might consider microwaving wet foods for a very short time to bring them to room temperature, but be careful of hot spots. In general avoid serving food that is either too hot or too cold.
If feeding a dry complete food store it in a dry, clean environment. Re-sealable packaging or an airtight container keeps it tasty by sealing in the aroma.
Your dog should be fed in a quiet place away from interruptions and away from where you eat. It's always a good idea to feed on a surface that is easily cleaned, like a tiled floor or a feeding mat. Larger breeds, susceptible to arthritis in old age, may find it hard to lean down, and will benefit from a bowl placed at head height. Don't allow children to interrupt your dog when it is eating and if you have more than one dog feed them separately in case of bullying.
Follow the feeding guide on the back of the pack, but remember the guide is only there to give you an idea. Every dog is an individual, so the most important consideration is to feed enough to maintain a lean, healthy body condition. Always provide a bowl of fresh clean drinking water.
Less active older dogs are especially susceptible to weight gain. Obesity is a common nutritional disorder in all dogs, and needs to be monitored carefully. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop health problems including osteoarthritis, diabetes and respiratory problems. Lower calorie levels in senior foods can help control the tendency. If you are concerned your older dog is overweight or obese consult your vet before changing his/her diet, to exclude underlying medical problems and discuss the most appropriate diet to reduce your dog’s weight. Your vet may advise trying a specially formulated 'light' product, lower in fat while still containing all the necessary vitamins and minerals, ensuring a balanced diet despite reduced calorie intake, but not all light diets are suitable for senior dogs so consult your vet for further advice.
Lack of exercise can often be the cause of weight gain - particularly if your dog has led an active adult life. Speak to your vet before increasing exercise, as arthritis is common in older dogs, and if appropriate, add an extra 10-20 minutes to his/her daily walk or 20 minutes of playtime. Some dogs with orthopaedic conditions including arthritis can respond very well to hydrotherapy/swimming. Ask your vet if your dog might be suitable.