Diet plays an integral role in a senior dog's health. Here, our Orlando vets answer questions about geriatric care and the best types of dog food for senior dogs.
At what age is my dog considered elderly or geriatric?
We won't attempt to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to this question since every dog is unique. A dog's anticipated lifespan may vary depending on size and breed. As a rule of thumb, small dogs' life expectancy is between 15 and 20 years, while larger dogs typically live for 12 to 15 years.
Generally, smaller dogs reach middle age at around 8 years old and larger dogs age faster - and therefore are considered "older" around the time they turn 6 years old.
Does my senior dog have specific nutritional requirements?
When it comes to looking for the best dog food for senior dogs, we recommend considering two primary criteria:
First, check whether it's low in calories. Similar to people, as dogs age, their metabolisms slow down, which is why keeping our four-legged best friends from eating too much, too fast is key to preventing obesity.
Second, look to include high-fiber options in their diet. Constipation is a fairly common problem for aging dogs and may lead to further issues with their gastrointestinal system if it becomes severe enough. Also, it can be painful.
One of your highest priorities will be keeping your older dog's gastrointestinal system healthy, so the best dog food for older dogs will have lots of fiber to help them stay regular.
What should I do if my senior dog won't eat their food?
Many a. dog owner has scoured pet store shelves looking for the best dog food for older dogs. We sometimes examine older dogs that have lost at least some of their appetite. Causes for sudden loss of appetite vary hugely in severity and scope; your dog may be suffering from simple nausea due to gastrointestinal issues, or they might be showing signs of cancer.
If your senior dog has suddenly started to display symptoms such as an unexplained loss of appetite, speak with your vet to have them rule out any potentially serious causes including kidney disease, liver disease, dental disease, diabetes or cancer.
Once the vet has ruled out serious medical conditions as the cause for appetite loss, we may consider another, simpler avenue - your dog may just be tired of their regular food.
You may want to add some chicken broth, water, or a small amount of canned food to your dog's dry kibble to make it more enticing. Preparing a simple meal of barley, cooked lamb or chicken and rice may also work. These meals are both bland and nutritious, which means they will sit well in their stomachs if your older dog is feeling nauseated.
Which health issues can the best dog food for senior dogs help prevent?
Does your senior dog suffer from health conditions such as kidney failure, diabetes or liver disease? He or she will likely need a special diet to help manage the condition. If your dog is ill and you are concerned about any potential effects of their diet, it's best to consult with your vet.
Best Dog Food for Older Dogs
Our team at East Orlando Animal Hospital has put together a list of some of the best types of dry dog foods for senior dogs. Ask your vet which senior dog food is best for your pet.
Prescription Dog Food
Depending on your dog's specific circumstances and health conditions, in some cases a medical prescription dog food might be the best option for your senior pooch. In other cases, your vet may simply recommend you switch to a healthy alternative.
Low-Calorie Dog Food
Low-calorie senior dog food can benefit dogs that are at a higher risk for heart disease (or who have already been diagnosed with it), as it will help keep their weight down. Low-sodium recipes are preferred.
High-Fiber, Low-Fat Dog Food
Our veterinarians in Orlando recommend owners of pre-diabetic or diabetic dogs place a high priority on the slow absorption of food. Blood sugar tends to rise more slowly with special diabetic diets, reducing the risk for health complications. These diets are also exceptionally high in fiber and low in fat.
As mentioned previously since older dogs commonly struggle with constipation, the higher amount of fiber, the better. This will help to prevent constipation and keep their bowels working regularly.
Dog Food High in Protein
Many senior dog foods will also contain higher quality protein sources than standard dog food, which can help senior dogs maintain a healthy body weight without putting unnecessary strain on their aging kidneys.
Limited Ingredient Dog Foods
If your senior dog has allergies, your vet might recommend limited ingredient dog foods, which include just a single protein source (such as chicken, beef or lamb), often combined with one carbohydrate source.
This can be used to eliminate allergens that might be causing allergic reactions or symptoms. When looking for limited ingredient dog foods, it's important to check for the Association of American Feed Control's (AAFCO) seal of approval, in addition to a "complete and balanced" claim from the manufacturer.
Your vet will be able to provide dietary recommendations for your senior or diabetic dog, along with comprehensive geriatric care and exams.