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Senior Dog Food: Meeting Aging Canines’ Nutritional Needs

Experts give advice on caring for your senior dog’s nutritional needs.
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What health problems can affect a senior dog’s diet?

If your dog has medical problems in its later years, you may need help from a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to plan a proper diet. “Older pets with specific conditions, like diabetes, kidney failure, or liver disease may require special veterinary diets to assist in the treatment of their conditions,” Metzger says.

Dogs with heart disease may need lower-calorie senior dog foods to help keep weight down as well as lower-sodium formulations.

“The goal of a diabetic diet is to delay absorption of a food," Nunez says. That's important for dogs with diabetes. When foods are absorbed slowly, blood sugar tends to rise more slowly.

Lower-fat, higher-fiber foods are best for diabetic dogs, Nunez says. Consult your veterinarian about which type of food to buy.

Some senior dogs also have trouble with constipation, so a higher-fiber diet will help them stay regular.

Many senior diets have higher-quality protein sources than standard foods. This helps to maintain body weight and muscle mass without putting too much strain on the kidneys.

Should senior dogs take supplements?

Many older dogs struggle with arthritis and joint pain. To address this problem, many senior dog foods contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which Nunez says may help the joints.

Metzger also says that owners who decide to give their dogs glucosamine and chondroitin supplements should use veterinary formulations, not human ones.

Although such supplements may be useful, dogs with joint problems and arthritis benefit more from slimming down, Nunez says. “People think glucosamine is the best thing, but the very best thing is weight management.”

What should an owner do when a senior dog won’t eat?

It’s common for older dogs to have reduced appetite, Nunez says. Causes vary. For example, some dogs have gastrointestinal problems that bring on nausea, while others lose their appetite because of cancer.

“When a dog won’t eat,” Metzger says, “make sure your veterinarian rules out any underlying health problems, such as dental disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer.” He also says that when dogs lose interest in dry food, adding warm water, chicken broth, or a small amount of canned food can make it more appealing.

Home-cooked meals can be enticing, too. “That extra smell and that extra TLC can get the dog to eat,” Nunez says. Some owners feed their dogs combinations of foods, such as cooked chicken and barley or cooked lamb and rice.

Pet stores also sell bottles of flavor enhancers that owners can add to food. “Also, as a last resort, there are medications -- appetite stimulants -- that can help dogs eat," Nunez says.

But these treatments should be used only after veterinarians have ruled out serious diseases, Metzger says.

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Reviewed on May 01, 2010
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