Special Food Choices for Your Senior Dog
When New York City native George Kingsman’s 11-year-old pug, Lily, began regularly limping around after each of her many naps, her veterinarian suggested a food change: senior-plus formula. “I transitioned to senior-plus food. She lost weight and, even better, her joint stiffness subsided within weeks,” says Kingsman.
Dr. Trisha Joyce, veterinarian of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, says that Lily’s quick improvement was probably due to both the weight reduction and the special supplements in senior-plus food. Below, Joyce weighs in on the special nutritional needs of dogs in their golden years.
How Old Is a Senior-plus Dog?
Large-breed dogs age faster because their bulk puts greater stress on their bodies. Dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds are considered senior-plus at age 9, but dogs that weigh less than 50 pounds aren’t considered senior until age 11.
Why Do Nutritional Considerations Change as Dogs Age?
“One of the more preventable problems for older dogs is probably weight gain,” says Joyce. “Like humans, dogs become more sedentary as they age, and their caloric needs decrease.”
Other concerns for older dogs will sound familiar to anyone who is familiar with the human aging process:
- Immune functioning. A dog’s ability to fight illness declines with age.
- Mobility. Joyce says that large-breed dogs are especially prone to joint issues, though small dogs are not completely immune. “They are all susceptible to joint degradation, just like people.”
- Dental problems. Like humans, gum disease leaves dogs prone to heart problems as well as other issues, like pain when chewing. “Dental disease is ubiquitous in small-breed dogs,” cautions Joyce, who adds that larger dogs are also at risk.
- Skin and coat issues. As dogs age, their oil-producing glands work less efficiently. Their skin and coats can become dry, allergies can worsen and wounds may become slower to heal.
How Do You Know If Senior-plus Food Is Right for Your Dog?
Senior-plus food is appropriate for all dogs 11 and older whose health problems do not meet the threshold for a specific prescription diet. Dogs with more severe health problems may need a more aggressive dietary approach. “Senior food is no substitute for a prescription diet. Make sure to involve your veterinarian in any decision to change your pet’s food,” advises Joyce.
When transitioning to a new food, it is recommended that you gradually make the change, substituting small amounts of new food for old over the course of a week.
What Should You Look for in Senior-plus Food?
Given the most common health concerns of older dogs, senior-plus food should be crunchy and reduced in calories. “The crunch of kibble works like a natural abrasive to help reduce plaque buildup on teeth,” says Joyce. Senior-plus food should also address fat burning, immune functioning, joint health, and skin and coat dryness. The following ingredients mitigate each of these common concerns:
- L-carnitine. This compound is thought to promote the metabolism of fatty acids, helping dogs burn them as energy.
- Antioxidants. “Antioxidants are thought to support immune functioning. These fall under the category of ‘Might help; can’t hurt,’” says Joyce.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These compounds are naturally produced by the body and keep cartilage healthy. A senior-plus formula should be supplemented with these to stop the progression of arthritis.
- Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. “They’re like immune boosters for the skin and coat,” says Joyce. These fatty acids are widely believed to support sleek coats and supple skin.
With the right pet formula, your senior-plus dog can enjoy its old age as much as its youth.