Feeding Your Senior Dog

    Obesity is one of the major health issues facing senior dogs today, according to veterinarian and pet nutritionist Dr. Susan Lauten, and research shows that dogs that maintain a normal weight can live up to two years longer than dogs that are obese. “Obesity is a major problem in young dogs and it gets even worse as they get older,” says Dr. Lauten. “The dog begins to slow down, and we attribute this slow change to aging. We just write it off because Buffy is getting up there in age; in fact, there is an incredible creature inside that needs to be the proper weight. Dogs need mobility and weight management to lead a proper life.”
    Arthritis can be one of the first symptoms of a dog carrying excess pounds, with the joints becoming overstressed in supporting the extra weight.
    Therefore, as essential as what to feed is how much to feed. It’s important to keep your old friend trim as she ages, as this will keep her healthier and reduce the symptoms of arthritis and joint problems. You don’t want to see every rib, but you should be able to feel them.

    The guidelines on most commercial dog food bags often recommend feeding more of the product than the average senior dog needs. Metabolism and activity will differ from dog to dog, so gauge how much your old dog needs by how she looks, not by how much it says on the bag.
    According to Dr. Lauten, it’s not necessary to feed a low fat or low calorie diet to your older dog (“senior food”)— as long as she is not gaining weight. “We don’t recommend switching to senior or low fat food unless the dog has a weight problem. If your dog is maintaining a good weight and body condition, then stay with what they are eating.” But if not, you may want to transition him to a senior food that is lower in fat and calories.
    Fat intake should be monitored in general as a dog ages, and fatty table scraps (pan drippings, fat trimmed from steaks or roasts, or poultry skin) should be restricted. If you are feeding a raw diet, it may be time to review that particular food to determine if there is an excess of fat in the ingredients. Raw diets may be particularly high in fat.

    Dr. Lauten gives the following guidelines for good fat content levels in the diet: with dry dog foods, look for 7-12 percent fat; and with canned foods, 5-8 percent fat.

    Feeding your dog twice a day will keep her from getting too hungry between meals, and if she still seems hungry, fresh vegetable and fruit snacks are great treats that won’t add to her weight. Sliced zucchini, cucumber, or carrots, fresh green beans, blueberries, and apple slices are all healthy treats for dogs who like a little something extra between meals, and can be used as rewards or for training in place of more high calorie dog treats.

    Remember that grapes, raisins, chocolate, onion, macadamia nuts, avocado, and all foods sweetened with xylitol (commonly used in sugarless chewing gum) are toxic to dogs and should never be allowed, even in small quantities.

    The information presented by The Grey Muzzle Organization is for informational purposes only. Readers are urged to consult with a licensed veterinarian for issues relating to their pet's health or well-being or prior to implementing any treatment.
    This article is excerpted from Grey Muzzle's free guide
    Caring for Your Senior Dog. Caring for Your Senior Dog was developed in collaboration with a leading veterinarian in geriatric medicine, a clinical nutritionist, and other experts in senior dog care. The entire guide is free to download. Dr. Susan Lauten has been a Clinical Instructor of Veterinary Nutrition at a veterinary teaching college and is a consultant to pet owners, veterinarians, and veterinary specialists around the world. She is the author of numerous papers and book chapters on pet nutrition.

    The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.