As we get older our metabolism and dietary needs change. The same is true for dogs, who have a lifespan averaging from 10 to 20 plus years, depending on breed. Canines can develop some of the same diseases in later life as humans do, such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. That is why, in addition to regular veterinary checkup, vaccines and daily exercise, it’s important to provide a senior dog with the correct type of food.
How Do We Classify “Senior” Dog?
When can we classify a dog as an elder? Pet dogs don’t officially become senior citizens, they don’t apply for Social Security or special memberships benefit or discounts, so just when is a dog a senior? Again, this depends on what type of dog.
According to a breed chart on the Pet Place website, the sturdy, large Golden Retrievers’ golden years start at about 7 years of age, whereas a small breed like Chihuahua doesn’t start still 11. The last years of their life span are as important as their first as a puppy to make their later years as active and comfortable as their youth. Frequent daily exercise and a nutrition rich diet can make a big difference.
According to an NBC News article, consumers should look for an endorsement by the Association of American Food Control on the pet food label to ensure that the brand has been endorsed for nutritional adequacy. Recently, dog foods claiming to be “grain free” were supposed to be superior to feed a dog. The premise was that canines feed on meat in the wild, so this was getting “back to nature”. This NBC article, though, busts a myth about “grain free” food being automatically better for dogs. They cite that according to a 2018 study conducted by the FDA, a strictly grain free diet has been linked to a condition known as Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Before starting or continuing a grain free diet, it is best to check with your veterinary health care provider for the best advice on whether it would be a risk factor for your dog. Like humans, some dogs are more “prone” to heart problems and it would be tragic to contribute to a health challenge albeit with the best of intentions.
So Many Brands
There are many different “formulas” of dog food. There are blends with fish oil and Omega 3 for healthy coats, calcium rich foods for teeth and bones. Soft food, crunchy chunks, all sorts of food. For a dog parent, that endless stream of packages in the pet food aisle can seem overwhelming. TV commercials tell us that their brand is best; however, during a trip to the pet supply store there are brands you may not have seen regularly on TV.
One brand that does get an occasional mention on Animal themed TV programs is Hill’s Science Diet, and it is quite popular and endorsed by veterinarians. Visit just about any veterinary office and you will find the Hill’s Brand displayed on the shelves. Hills does have an impressive website with valuable information about pet care, including blogs about caring for senior dogs. Hills Science Diet is said to be based on biology. For older dogs, there is a variety of crunchy and soft brands for dogs with arthritis, dogs with weight problems and just about any health challenge. Look for discounts on the website as well, as many major brand dog foods offer nice discounts via online coupons.
Another new trend is “fresh” dog food that doesn’t come in a can or box. Its wrapped up like hamburger meat and found in the pet aisle freezer. Many dogs love the flavor, yet some don’t like cold food so it will take a little time to warm it up before serving.
Just Say No to People Food for Pets
Ask any vet and they will say “no” to a diet of people food for dogs. Some dog owners think it is just pampering or “spoiling” their dog a bit to feed them some of their human food The fact is that people food is often cooked in oils and contain fats, sodium and sugars which can lead to obesity, diabetes or kidney problems. For pet owners with small children, it’s important to monitor whether or not they are slipping half their dessert to their best friend under the table. Make no mistake, dogs love sugar, fat and salt just like we do and will gobble it up and look for more. Once a dog gets the taste for people food it’s hard to stop bad habits like begging.
Yes, But I’m On a Budget
Often, pet owners have big hearts but have to budget the dog food along with the family’s grocery bill and It’s true that specialty dog foods can come with a very special price tag. Some options are to buy in bulk, keep an eye out for sales, find coupons in print and online, and spend less on dog treats and more on meals. Dog food does have an expiration date through, so before you stockpile, think about how much your dog will actually eat. If your dog won’t reasonably consume a giant bag of food in the next month or so, consider splitting the cost and bag with a friend or neighbor who also has a doggie whose up in years. Having a senior dog owner buddy can help encourage more dog walks and less stress about keeping up with the feeding bill.
Be sure to store dog food properly to keep it fresh and free of pests. Once a bag of dry food is opened, be sure to store in an air tight container. If it is wet food be sure to keep refrigerated. Make mealtime, whether it is once or twice a day, a special bonding time and follow up with a brisk walk to aid digestion.
Wet food can contain an incredible amount of water. Watery dog food usually costs far less as it provided far less nutrition. Yes, water is an important part of a dog’s diet but unless a dog has trouble chewing, it’s best to feed dry and mix in a little wet as a special treat unless instructed otherwise by a veterinarian.
Treat Older Dogs Differently
Yummy treats should be a very small part of a dog’s daily diet. You can feed your dog the healthiest food available; however, they can easily bulk up on training treats, dog biscuits etc. Obesity is the main health challenge in older dogs. Like we humans, weight gain can lead to heart disease, joint problems, even cancer. Try giving your dog an extra walk or time outside chasing a ball. The best treat of all for a dog is time spent with their loving human.
Some dog’s appetite decreases with age. It might be necessary to try a few different brands to find one that your picky eater finds delicious, although most dogs, even picky eaters, will eat just about anything when hungry. That’s why humans have to be strictly in charge of feeding them right.
It’s critical to check labels. Compare what you like about the expensive brand and see if you can find a comparable substitute that has what you’re looking for considering your pet’s needs. A good balance of protein vs. carbohydrate is essential. Also, look for food that is rich in vitamins and low on additives. Bright colors do not always mean it’s full of actual vegetables, it may be dyes to make the food look appetizing (to you, of course, the dog couldn’t care less) which your dog can do without.
Dogs won’t tell you, but their bodies will know (and show) the difference as time goes by. Be willing to cut back on luxuries to feed a dog well, just as you would a child. They are depending on their owners to comparison shop, read labels and do the research.
All dogs get old, and yes, they go to heaven sooner than we would like; however, their golden years can be their best with the right diet and care.
When in doubt, bring your pet food label to the vet and ask his or her opinion. Beware of vets who only endorse one particular brand and won’t offer any substitutes. Be honest about what you can afford. A caring vet can surely come up with ideas to help you give your pet a nutritious diet. Loving pet owners want the very best for their canine friends and if a veterinarian is stuck on just one brand and only one brand, you might need a new veterinarian, not a new brand of dog food.