As your puppy grows and changes, his (or her) nutritional needs also change. As an adult, your dog no longer experiences bone growth and his metabolism slows down. His nutritional and caloric requirements change. As your dog becomes a senior or develops a disease, his dietary needs change again. Because dogs age so much faster than humans, dogs are considered to be seniors between the ages of seven and ten, depending on their breed.
As quality pet manufacturers do more research, they learn more about the nutritional needs of dogs. These advances in pet nutrition greatly benefit senior dogs. There are even foods available that have been proven to improve mobility and help prevent arthritis pain. These foods have very high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine, hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate, which help reduce joint damage and inflammation. Senior dogs are also at a higher risk for developing diseases affecting the kidneys and liver. Special commercial dog foods are available that have altered protein, fat and mineral content that will help them through certain diseases.
As your dog ages, your veterinarian will recommend doing blood and urine tests to determine the health of his underlying organs. If your dog is diagnosed with a disease such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, kidney insufficiency or liver disease, there are special prescription diets that have been proven to help your dog through his specific illness. For example, special heart diets have reduced salt, which helps prevent elevated blood pressure.
How can you choose the right food?
Because there are so many pet foods to choose from, made by so many different companies, choosing the best food for your dog can be very confusing. It’s important to get the facts from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian has the best interests of your pet in mind and the most knowledge. Your veterinarian can help you learn the difference between ingredient lists and nutritional contents of dog foods so that you won’t be mislead by clever marketing campaigns.
For example, some dog food manufacturers try to market their products on unique ingredients such as cranberries or blueberries, soy or special types of bacteria or enzymes that they say will aid digestion. These ingredients, although considered healthy for humans, may not be advantageous to dogs. Recently, some companies have been marketing uncooked, pre-packaged dog food or recipes for making home cooked foods. Feeding raw or homemade foods to your dog can be dangerous because of the risk of food poisoning, improper nutritional balance or ingredients such as bones that can damage your dog’s intestines. It’s always best to ask your veterinarian’s advice.
Matching the right food to the dog
Very active working or hunting dogs or dogs who participate in sports require more calories than the average dog. If they’re not fed a food that meets their increased energy demands, they can become very sick. However, most dogs have a decrease in their metabolic rate as they age and are more likely to become overweight if they are fed too much and not exercised enough every day. Your dog may need a special diet food with reduced calories to help him lose weight and higher fiber content that helps him from feeling hungry while on his weight reduction plan. Some of these special calorie reduced foods have an ingredient called carnitine which helps covert fat to muscle and improves body conditioning. The types and amounts of treats for overweight dogs must also be chosen carefully.
Foods for healthy teeth and gums
The risk of dental disease increases with age. Your veterinarian can recommend special commercial foods and treats to help decrease the plaque and bacterial build-up on your dog’s teeth. Some of these foods have been clinically proven to act like a toothbrush and prevent the development of tartar. Combined with tooth brushing, these diets will keep your dog’s teeth healthier throughout his life.
Some dogs develop allergies to certain foods as they age, often manifested as itchy, dry, red skin. If your veterinarian suspects food allergies, special blood tests or food trials can be done to determine what your dog is allergic to. Fortunately, several food companies have developed foods that are restricted in specific proteins, fat and carbohydrate sources, or have very tiny hydrolyzed proteins, which enable dogs with specific allergies to maintain a healthy nutritional balance.
Some senior dogs become senile as they age. A veterinary nutrition company has developed a special diet that helps slow down related damage of the brain. This special prescription diet has high levels of anti-oxidants that help keep the dog’s brain and nervous tissue healthy.
Food for a longer and happier life
Every dog is unique in his nutritional needs. Ask your veterinarian to recommend foods that optimize his health and quality of life.