Caring for Your Senior Dog: The Ins and Outs

Dog parents, dog rescuers, dog adopters, dog lovers, pack leaders. The labels do not matter. We are all dog owners and we all have to care for our dogs as they age. This article will give you some useful tips on caring for your senior dog. From daily comfort and exercise, to nutrition and weight management, you will gain valuable insights into proper care for your senior dog. Please read on to learn more.

Pay Attention to Your Aging Friend

Never take your dog's needs for granted. Every day you have with your dog matters; they are all special. Each day spent with your dog is a gift. As your dog ages, their needs will change. Your dog accepts these life changes without complaint and remains devoted to you until their last breath. It is your job to be sure your best friend continues to receive your love and very best care each day.

A Senior Dog’s Dietary Needs

Nutrition is key when it comes to caring for your senior dog. When a dog approaches its senior years they will become less active. That means the dog’s daily energy levels will lessen. If you continue feeding your senior dog as you did in its younger years, then it will likely become overweight or obese. With excessive weight comes a myriad of life shortening health problems.

As your dog slows down with age, consider switching the pooch to a nutritionally balanced senior dog food. The slow down usually begins in middle age for their specific breed or mix. There are some very good senior dog foods and some that are not so good. For instance, raw dog food rations are well suited for young, fit, and active dogs, but they should not be introduced to old dogs that are not used to them, especially if the old dog has bad or worn down teeth. The raw recipes are simply too hard for senior dogs to transition to. This is especially true if the aged dog has always been fed a processed canned or kibble dog food.

It is also important to understand that all domestic dog breeds are omnivores, like humans. Unlike cats, which are obligate carnivores, dogs do very well on a diet mixture of animal and plant ingredients. Here are some details about typical ingredients you should look for on a senior dog food label.

Ingredients in Quality Senior Dog Food

  • Primary real meat source (lean beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or fish)
    Secondary real meat source (no by-products or mystery meats)
    Fruit and vegetable complex carbohydrate, fiber, and antioxidant sources.
  • Any added moisture.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements to meet AAFCO senior dog nutritional recommendations.
  • Specialized additives to support health (glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health).

A good ingredient blend to provide the above would be a canned or kibbled chicken and lamb recipe that includes brown rice, carrots, peas, pumpkin, blueberries, oatmeal, macro minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and sodium) essential vitamins, essential micro minerals, and non prescription joint support additives.

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Word to the Wise

If you are not a pet food label reader you should become one. Do not buy dog food based on price or adverts. Do not buy a senior dog food based simply on a friend’s or relative’s suggestions. Always ask for your vet’s advice before changing your dog’s diet or food brand.

For all dogs a high crude protein diet (25%) is recommended, unless your vet suggests a reduced protein diet for some medical reason. For fit senior dogs the crude fat should be in the 12% to 16% range and 10% to12% for overweight dogs. Dietary crude fiber for all dogs should be about 4% to 5% and total ash should not exceed 3.5%. These label percentages are all determined on an as fed basis by the manufacturer. It is important to know that canned foods can range from around 60% to 75% moisture. Semi moist foods typically fall between 15% to 30% and dry dog foods are usually about 8% to 9%. Obviously, a pound of wet dog food is not the same as a pound of kibbles, so feed according to the label to meet your dog’s requirements.

A low sodium diet would be suggested if your senior dog has been diagnosed with kidney or cardiovascular issues. You should always talk with your vet about any diet and appetite concerns you may have.

Size Matters

At least it does when it comes to dog breeds and lifespans. Generally speaking, big breeds do not live as long as small breeds. Saint Bernards become senior dogs at 7 years whereas Chihuahuas do not become seniors until about 12 years or older. In fact, toy breeds like Chihuahuas can live to a ripe old age of 15 to 20 years.

Therefor, you need to factor in your dog’s breed as well as body condition when you are planning for all of the age driven changes that are happening with your senior dog.

Heed Your Vet's Advice

Your vet knows a lot more about your senior dog’s general health than you, so pay attention to the advice they give you. The vet also needs your input. Along with a cursory exam, your vet will typically ask these questions about your dog:

  • Any appetite and eating changes?
  • Any noticeable changes in hearing and vision?
  • How is their agility, mobility, and playfulness levels?
  • How is their disposition, alertness or temperament?
  • Any sleep pattern changes, such as where they sleep, when and for how long?

Pay attention to your vet’s advice and pay attention to changes in your dog.

In Conclusion

When caring for your senior dog, be sure that you feed your senior dog correctly for their age, body weight, breed and health. Exercise your dog correctly according to its size, health, and fitness. Schedule regular vet exams and follow the vet’s recommendations. Above all else, savor every day with your best friend, there will never be another just like the one offering a paw to you now.