Nutrition and Feeding for Senior Dogs

By Susan Lauten, Ph.D. Canine Nutritionist and Grey Muzzle Advisory Board Member

The dog is the only species that can weigh less than a pound at birth, grow to weigh as much as 250 pounds, and reach their adult weight by two years of age, depending upon the breed of the dog. Does the Chihuahua age at the same rate as the Saint Bernard? Are the nutritional needs of these two breeds the same? Aging involves the decrease in functional ability of organs, although differences among individuals can vary widely. In dogs, the larger the dog, the shorter the expected lifespan, so it would appear that dietary needs for say a 10 year-old small breed dog are probably not the same as for a 10 year-old Saint Bernard. Accordingly, what is the source of the best nutrition for the aging dog?

Purina® scientists were able to show that monitoring food intake to maintain a lean and trim dog resulted in longer, healthier lives. Study results indicated a significant delay in the onset of typical signs associated with the aging process, and an increased quality of life for dogs maintained at proper body weight.  Maintaining your fur family member at an ideal body weight is probably the most important contributor to long healthy lives.  

The commercial food market does not provide consistent products to the pet food market because there are no requirements established for senior or geriatric dog foods.  Neither the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the Nutritional Research Council (NRC) provides requirements or recommendations for nutrient levels in the diets of senior dogs.  The goals of senior dog nutrition are to 1) account for size differences and rate of aging in the individual dog; 2) delay the onset of disease; 3) increase length of life; and, 4) increase the quality of life. In order to accomplish this, senior or geriatric diets need to address dog size and relative age, changes in food digestion, nutrient metabolism, storage of nutrients, and the excretion of waste.

As with most species, aging brings a general decline in immune system function, a decline in the total number of cells in an animal, and an increase in the ratio of fat to lean tissue. Some level of dehydration is also found both within cells and between cells.  The fluid loss plays an important role in overall health. We must also take the senses into account.  Hearing and eyesight are less acute, and the senses of smell and taste are frequently affected with increasing age. 

Since appetite is strongly associated with taste and smell, it plays an increasing role in feeding during advanced age, and can be the cause of decreased food intake. Although the geriatric dog may be able to mount an appropriate immune response, it appears that it takes longer for the response to begin, and that response can be more varied than that of younger dogs. 

Susan Lauten, Ph.D.   - Excerpt from the book Your Dog's Golden Years -   

Pet Nutrition Consulting Information - Susan Lauten, Ph.D.

The Whole Dog Journal - Informational

Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats Book

Holistic Veterinary Supplements

Animal Wellness Magazine

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