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Pet Owners Confused About Best Food for Old Dogs

Survey Shows Many Owners Aren’t Sure About Nutritional Requirements for Aging Pets
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WebMD Pet Health News
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

March 18, 2011 -- Dog owners exposed to the ads of pet food companies touting their products as the most nutritious, safe, or appropriate for aging canines apparently are baffled about what their pets really need.

A new Tufts University survey finds that the nutritional content of dog foods marketed for old dogs varies as widely as owners’ perceptions about what their animals need for optimal health.

Researchers polled more than 1,300 people online about their perceptions about various dog foods and correlated their answers with the actual nutritional content of nearly 40 commercially available foods sold for “senior” dogs.

The survey shows that:

  • 84.5% of respondents felt older dogs had different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs.
  • 43% fed older dogs a “senior” diet, but only a third of them did so based on the advice of a veterinarian.
  • 63% said ingredients are the most important factor when selecting a food for a senior dog.

No Set Guidelines for Old Dogs

Neither the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the National Research Council has set official dietary requirements for aging dogs. And that means that products marketed for “longevity” or mature, senior, or old dogs do not have to adhere to a standard nutritional profile, beyond minimum standards set for adult dogs by AAFCO.

Most survey respondents felt that senior dog foods were likely less energy dense, even though caloric content of foods aimed at older dogs varied widely -- from 246 to 408 calories per cup.

Some dogs gain weight but others lose weight as they age, which means the large range in calories might prove problematic for owners of older dogs, Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, of Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says in a news release.

Choosing the Right Amount of Sodium

Most respondents also felt that food for senior dogs contained less fat, protein, and sodium, Freeman says, but all three measures also varied widely among senior dog foods sampled.

“If an owner, for example, had a senior dog with heart disease, they might be inclined to feed them a senior food, thinking that it had less sodium,” Freeman says. “Instead, they might replace a diet that had a perfectly acceptable amount of sodium for one that is considerably higher.”

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