Senior pets need different dietary requirements to provide the very best nutrition for their golden years. Kylie Baracz discovers how to select the right food for your senior pet.
Dogs reach their golden years much earlier than us humans, so it is crucial to not only familiarise yourself with your dog’s real age, but to also switch them over to a diet more supportive for their senior years.
Dr Geoff Golovsky, veterinarian from Vet HQ, says around seven years of age is the time our furry friends reach senior status.
“Seven-plus is where we tick over to seniors and I guess when we do the algorithms of working out dog ages (seven times eight is 56), it is somewhere between seven and eight.”
Changing your pet’s diet
Once your pet reaches their “golden age”, their dietary requirements change and therefore you need to provide a different type of food, similar to when your dog was a puppy.
“We’ve worked out the ages of dogs comparative to human years by the rate in which their organs fail. So what we’ve discovered is that the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract start to decrease in efficacy as animals get older,” says Dr Golovsky. “If you think about a gastrointestinal tract that doesn’t absorb well, you need to provide it with better quality nutrition for the animal to get the same amount of sustenance, the same amount of energy, the same amount of protein.”
Extra nutrients needed
As senior pets find it more difficult to absorb the nutrients out of a standard diet, a pet food suited to seniors needs to have an increased micronutrient balance to make sure they are absorbing the right amount.
“Because the organs are damaged [during the ageing process], you need to try and reduce further damage,” says Dr Golovsky. “As a general rule, the protein levels increase a little bit, but that depends on if anything else is going on. If it’s actually liver disease for example, we will then try and reduce the protein levels – so it varies. It comes down to the individual’s needs.
“When we look at the standard senior diet – for an average senior pet that is healthy – the protein levels increase, the antioxidants increase and the micronutrient balance changes to aid in absorption. This is so the gut can work better and the liver can undergo less stress and also because vitamin needs change and increase as the animal gets older.”
Obesity is not confined to senior pets, however, it is more common in seniors because they are not as active and can suffer from arthritis.
“One of the specific diets we have for arthritic dogs is also designed for them to lose weight because if they’re arthritic, they don’t walk as much and therefore, they don’t expend as much energy,” says Dr Golovsky. “People say ‘as my dog gets older, it gets fatter’ but we would, too. As people get older, they don’t get as much exercise, so you just can’t have as much cheesecake! If only people thought about it in the same way, instead of ‘oh, but the dog is looking at me with those big puppy eyes’ and just feed them appropriately, they would be fine.”
Just as older pets can put on the kilos, some may suddenly look thin and “worn out” as they age.
“It is not uncommon for someone to come in and say ‘my dog’s just old’ and that is why he or she has lost weight,” says Dr Golovsky. “As far as I’m concerned, age doesn’t necessarily mean weight loss but age means the gut doesn’t absorb as well (as mentioned earlier) so it is about working out why this is actually failing and how we can fix it. It is a fallacy to say an old animal will just ‘lose weight’.”
Improving bad breath and skin conditions
Not only can a senior diet help your older pet stay at a healthy weight and absorb the correct amount of nutrients, it can also improve their skin and coat as well as their dental hygiene.
Dr Golovsky switched his pooch to a senior diet at nine years old and found his dog’s skin improved dramatically.
“It was quite fascinating to see his skin improve and since that time I have been a bit of a senior diet advocate because, in essence, skin is an organ,” he says. “People think skin is just skin, but actually the skin is one of the largest organs of the body. The senior diet is really aimed at helping the skin by increasing fish oils and reducing the inflammation with antioxidants. The skin needs a lot of fatty acids, fish oils etc to try and keep healthy.”
As for preventing bad doggy breath, Dr Golovsky says it can be done with a combination of dry food and bones, as well as regular vet visits.
“Vets are realising now that dental disease is a massive problem and we know that dental disease affects heart, kidneys and it has been linked to strokes in people. We brush once, twice, and some people more than that, per day and dogs should be doing the same. Obviously they don’t and therefore dental disease is a big concern. Nothing beats bones in cleaning dog’s teeth, however, now some pet food companies have specific dental diets. It is important to remember plaque forms on our teeth 20 minutes after brushing and it’s probably the same for dogs. You are going to get massive bacterial growths in their mouth and if you don’t scrape it off, whether it is by using diet, bones or by purely tooth brushing, you’re going to get dental disease and that causes all sorts of problems, especially for senior pets.”
Can senior pets get sensitive stomachs?
Senior pets are more likely to end up with gastrointestinal problems because their guts are slowing down.
Make sure to get a vet check-up
One dog year is equivalent to around eight human years, so owners need to take their dogs to the vet at least once a year.
“It is really important that people do those sums because things happen and it’s awful when someone hasn’t brought their pet in for eight years and it needs all this work – it needs dental, it has got lumps and they get really upset because it costs money and potentially the animal is at risk,” says Dr Golovsky. “You can do everything you can at home but it really is important to get a professional opinion from a veterinarian at least once a year.”
Hill’s Science Diet Mature Adult Canine
Hill’s Pet Nutrition has a senior pet food that is specially formulated for dogs between seven and 10 years old. It has high quality ingredients for easy digestion, superior antioxidant formula, contains no preservatives, artificial flavours or colours, has a 100 per cent taste guarantee and is also available in small bites for the senior toy breeds.
Hill’s Science Diet Small & Toy Breed Age Defying is also available for dogs 11 years and older.You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory