Older Dog Diet & Exercise

June 26th, 2008

Older Dogs Special: The Golden Years Diet and Exercise

As technology in dog food and pet healthcare advances, so does the expected lifespan of our beloved dogs. Nadia Crighton takes a look at the needs of our aging pets to help increase their quality of life.

Aging gracefully is something we all strive for, and our dogs are no different in this respect. Today, our dogs receive medical treatment and care that their predecessors only dreamt of, and as our pets care advances, so does life expectancy. Dogs are living well beyond the 10-year notch, with many reaching 17.

There is even evidence of a Red Heeler x Bull Terrier who lived to 27! In saying this, taking care of your aging pet is increasingly important to ensure quality of life. Just like humans, there are a few common illnesses and healthcare issues that owners should be aware of. With so many long-term and loyal patients, Dr Angus Ross from Ku-Ring-Gai Veterinary Hospital in Sydney knows all too well the problems facing our older pets.

These guys are living so long that they do need active management, Ross says. Approaches like, Well just let it runs its course, its an old dog at 12 are no longer appropriate because dogs will continue to live for a while with painful problems. Ross is quick to note that older dogs need proper assessments, diet, housing and constant adjustments in these areas. To be 12-plus with arthritis and live another five years without control is not my idea of fun.

Aging Facts

There are a few main things to consider when ensuring your older pets health. Firstly, make sure your dog has regular check-ups and is taken immediately to the vet if you notice any changes in behaviour or health. As everyone gets older, things begin to change, Ross tells Dogs Life. Joints get a little more painful, eyesight and hearing deteriorates, dietary and exercise needs alter, and diseases that were never considered as a youngster start to arise.

The key to maintaining the best possible quality of life for older pets is to be aware of the changes that take place and be able to diagnose, treat and control the issues as they arise. Diet is another important area to consider when it comes to our golden oldies. Unlike the bountiful puppy he once was, your older pet will now require a lot less energy and a lot more fibre.

For this reason, there are many great older-dog diets available from your veterinarian, and one which can be perfectly suited to your dog and your wallet. Geriatric patients require an altered intake of protein, Ross explains. Excessive waste protein is often detrimental, as older kidneys are less able to excrete protein wastes.

Giving your older dog a good-quality and controlled protein that they can use up rather than excrete as waste is very important. Fat levels in diets should be controlled, but are not necessarily to be kept to excessively low levels, Ross adds.

Overweight dogs, at any age, need to be carefully monitored by your veterinarian. If your dog is entering its golden years and is excessively overweight, your vet will help you draw up a weight-loss regime that is suited to your dogs age. Too much weight can cause havoc on your dogs joints and organs no matter what his age. Pounding the pavement and over-exercising your overweight aging hound is not an option, so please speak to your vet when considering weight loss for your old pooch.

Ageing dogs may need their diet fine-tuned, depending on any other underlying issues you may also be treating, such as obesity. The perfect diet is generally one that is lower in waste protein, controlled in fat, slightly higher in carbohydrates and with slightly higher loadings of vitamins and minerals. Depending on specific conditions, other changes may be needed, Ross recommends.

There are many supplements and additives on the market, and some have been shown to help our dogs and assist with problems such as sore joints and arthritis. Some have even linked green-lipped muscles and celery to helping out our aging pets. B vitamins, Omega-3 and 6, and flaxseed oils certainly can help, Ross states. Care must also be taken when exercising. Gone are the days when your dog could endlessly bound along in the park chasing and sniffing all in sight, no matter how much your old fellow tries to convince you otherwise. If your old dog is stiff for a day or two after running havoc through the park, it is a clear indication that Rover needs to slow down.

A controlled walk every day is ideal, like taking grandma down to the shops flat, level surfaces, slight inclines and not too far or too intense. One to two kilometres is fine, Ross suggests. Grassy surfaces are perfect for walking your aging pet and will help to cushion those hard surfaces. Older dogs will also benefit from some training games to keep their mind sharp. But never overdo it.  Your dog may behave like he could play for hours, when in fact he is straining.

Hiding a few treats around the home and getting Rover to find is a great way to keep minds active. So too is using treat balls to push and nudge around for food. Freezing a Kong full of soggy wet doggy biscuits is a great way to keep Rover licking and chewing and using those important parts of the brain. Keeping in touch with basic commands like come and drop is a good way to assess your dogs hearing. If you find Rover isn’t as responsive as last week, perhaps a quick check-up is in order.

Your old mate will also need some extra care when it comes to bedding. Keeping older joints warm, particularly in the cooler months, is vital. Allowing your dog to sleep inside or in a nice warm kennel is also essential to your dogs wellbeing. There is a huge variety of dog coats on the market to keep your older dog warm during those bitterly cold nights. Your aging dog will also find it difficult to jump down from high objects, so finding the right bed is crucial. Trampoline beds and foam cushions specifically designed for older dogs and joint support are perfect.

The floor is not good enough for an aging pet, particularly if they suffer from any joint stiffness and problems such as arthritis.Getting in and out of the car will also become a hard task. This is easily solved if you can lift your dog inside the car, otherwise a specially designed ramp may have to be on hand to lift your dog. Old dogs will be more susceptible to the unbearable heat in summer. Keeping your older dog comfortable during the day is important. Ensure there is plenty of cool water and shade available at all times of the day. Remember, steel bowls heat up quickly. Ceramic and plastic water bowls are best, particularly in summer.

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