Physiological condition, rather than chronological age, determines whether a dog is mature. Aging begins when the body's systems start to slow down, when cells deteriorate faster than the body can repair them. Though large breeds tend to age faster than smaller breeds, the mature years generally begin at around 7 years (5 years for large breeds). If you feed your dog a diet designed to address the nutritional needs of his age, you can best maintain his overall health and well-being.
As your dog ages, it is important to detect and address with his veterinarian the telltale signs of aging or disease: a dull, dry coat and flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems, and frequent constipation. These signs, among others, may be caused either by normal wear-and-tear or perhaps by the onset of disease. In any case, detecting and addressing them early may give your dog a greater chance to stay active and healthy.
When and how your dog responds to the aging process has a lot to do with genetics and environment, but nutrition plays an equally important role. The quality of food and its ability to maintain and nourish your dog's cells can help promote a long, healthy life.
As your dog ages and his systems become less efficient, he relies increasingly on the food you provide to make up for his body's shortfalls. According to Michael Hayek, PhD, an IAMS research nutritionist who specializes in geriatric nutrition, "Aging dogs need the same nutrients as younger dogs; however, the quantity or the way the nutrients are provided may change."
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Switching your dog to a new food takes some planning. Because dogs are creatures of habit, they tend to prefer their current food to a new food. Like us, they become accustomed to a food and might not be thrilled about a new routine. These useful dog-feeding tips will help you keep your dog satisfied.
4 Tips to Successfully Transition Your Dog to a New Food
1. Introduce the new food gradually.
When easing your dog into a change in diet, think “slow and steady.” Start by mixing 25% new food with 75% current food. Slowly change the proportions over the next three days or so by gradually increasing the new food and lessening the amount of the current food. Here’s a sample feeding schedule:
- Day 1: 25% new food, 75% current food
- Day 2: 50% new food, 50% current food
- Day 3: 75% new food, 25% current food
At the end of this weaning process, you should be feeding 100% of the new food. Your dog may want to eat only the old food, or not eat at all. Don’t worry — a healthy dog can miss meals for a day or two with no ill effects.
2. Watch your body language.
Bringing a new food into your home, pouring it into your dog’s bowl and declaring that he should eat it might cause your dog to go on a hunger strike. This is not the time to show who’s boss. It’s better to introduce the new food by using a pleasant tone of voice and gently encouraging him to try the new food.
3. Don't give in to demands.
Persistence is key! For the first two days of the food transition, don’t give your dog treats or table scraps. Dogs train us as much as we train them. Giving in to their demands only reinforces refusal behavior and makes it more difficult to make a nutritious dietary change.
4. Be patient when switching from wet food to dry food.
Switching diets may be more challenging when changing from a moist food to a dry food. If your dog continues to resist eating dry food, mix in a little warm water. You might even want to put the moistened food in the microwave for a few seconds. If you mix the food with water, be sure to throw away the uneaten portion after 20 minutes to prevent spoilage. The same rule applies for canned and pouch food. After the dog has become accustomed to the moistened food, you can wean him onto completely dry food. To do this, follow the same mixing instructions outlined above.
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