In the past, veterinarians recommended diets for senior dogs largely based on the nutritional management of diseases common to the aging process. Research, however, has shown that special nutrition can help manage body-condition problems in aging dogs, such as obesity and loss of muscle mass. Senior dogs also benefit from special nutrition to help maintain bone and joint health.
Learn more about how you can help your senior dog manage common health issues associated with aging.
Managing Obesity in Senior Dogs
Senior dogs tend to gain weight, despite consuming fewer calories, due to changes in their metabolic rate. Therefore, they can benefit from eating a diet with reduced fat levels and lower caloric density than adult maintenance foods.
Recent IAMS™ research in dogs also indicates that L-carnitine — a vitamin-like compound made in the body from the amino acids found in red meats, fish, chicken and milk — can help reduce weight in overweight dogs by escorting fat into cellular mitochondria where it is turned into energy.
Addressing Loss of Muscle Mass in Senior Dogs
Protein is the building block of muscle tissues. It is important for maintenance of muscle tissues, muscle strength and mobility. Recent research conducted by The IAMS Company has shown that senior dogs that eat a higher-protein diet better maintain muscle protein stores. By providing optimal protein levels from muscle maintenance, we can help senior dogs continue being physically active.
This research is contrary to conventional opinion that senior dog foods should contain lower protein levels than adult maintenance formulas to avoid progressive decrease in kidney function. However, senior dogs fed a high-protein diet had stable renal function and a lower death rate than dogs fed a lower-protein diet.*
Maintaining Bone and Joint Health for Senior Dogs
During the aging process, cartilage between joints often begins deteriorating. Nutritional management can help maintain healthy bones and joints and mobility in dogs in several ways:
- Optimal levels of vitamins and minerals promote the efficient production of cartilage and nutritionally support bone and nerve function.
- A complete and balanced diet with an adjusted omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio nutritionally supports joint health.
Some pet-food manufacturers have endorsed reduced levels of calcium and phosphorus based on the belief that excesses of these minerals are harmful to the kidneys. However, research has shown that no damaging accumulation of calcium or phosphorus was found in the kidneys of older dogs fed diets containing maintenance levels of calcium and phosphorus for four years.*
* Finco, DR. “Effects of aging and dietary protein intake of uninephrectomized geriatric dogs.” American Journal of Veterinary Research; Vol. 55, No. 9. Sept. 1994.
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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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