As our canine companions age, they are likely to find themselves with different dietary requirements. Our Santa Rosa vets answer questions about geriatric care and the best dog food for older dogs.
At what age is my older dog considered elderly or geriatric?
There is not a one size fits all answer to this question. Expected lifespans for dogs vary based on breed and size. As a general rule of thumb, small dogs can be expected to live 15-20 years, while larger dogs usually live from around age 12 to age 15.
Bigger dogs age faster and are considered to be "older" around the time they turn 6, while small dogs generally pass into middle age at around 8 years old.
Do senior dogs have special nutritional needs?
Yes, there are two major things to consider when determining the best dog food for senior dogs.
The first is to try and keep it calorie-low. Just like with people, a dog's metabolism slows down as they age. To prevent obesity, it is important to make sure our elder pups aren't chowing down just a little too ferociously!
The second is trying to make sure their diet includes high-fiber options. Constipation is painful in its own right, and it can lead to further gastrointestinal issues when it becomes severe enough. Maintaining gastrointestinal health is a common obstacle for older dogs, so the best dog food for senior dogs will have lots of fiber to help them stay healthy and regular.
How can diet choices help a senior dog with health conditions?
Senior dogs who are suffering from diabetes, kidney failure, or liver disease are liable to require special diets that will help keep their condition under control. It is best to consult with a vet about your dog's diet if they are sick and you are concerned about the impact of their diet.
Dogs who have or are at elevated risk for heart disease benefit from lower-calorie senior dog foods that help keep their weight down; low sodium recipes are preferable.
Our Santa Rosa vets recommend owners of diabetic or pre-diabetic dogs select dog food which slows the absorption of food. These special diabetic diets tend to raise blood sugar more slowly and reduce the chances of impactful health complications in dogs with diabetes. These diets are very low in fat and exceptionally high in fiber. We recommend talking to your vet who can provide dietary recommendations for your senior or otherwise diabetic dog.
Many senior dog food brands make a point to include higher-quality protein sources than standard dog food. This helps senior dogs maintain healthy body weight without putting unneeded strain on their aging kidneys.
As previously mentioned, constipation is a common struggle for older dogs, the high amount of fiber present in the best dog food for older dogs helps to prevent constipation and keep their bowel movements regular.
What should I do if my senior dog won't eat their dog food?
It is relatively normal for older dogs to have some loss of appetite. Causes for sudden appetite loss are hugely varied both in scope and severity. Your dog could be suffering from simple nausea brought on by gastrointestinal problems, or it could be suffering from the effects of cancer.
If your senior dog has suddenly begun to demonstrate an unexplained loss of appetite, it is best to speak with your vet and have them rule out any potentially serious causes including dental disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer.
Once serious medical conditions have been ruled out as the cause for appetite loss, another avenue for consideration is the simplest one—perhaps your dog is simply tired of its regular food. Adding chicken broth, some water, or a small amount of canned food to your dog's dry kibble supply may serve to make it more enticing. You could also try preparing a simple meal for your dog of cooked chicken and barley or cooked lamb and rice. These home-cooked meals are both nutritious, and bland enough to sit well with them if your older dog is experiencing some nausea.
Is prescription dog food the best dog food for older dogs?
That depends on the exact situation for your dog. In some cases, yes, the best option for your senior dog may be a medical prescription dog food. In other cases, simply switching to a healthy alternative regular food brand might do the trick. Speak to your vet to see what they recommend.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.