Dogs age faster than humans, and as they age their bodies undergo a variety of changes, which we as owners need to look out for and manage. One of the main ways in which we can support our dogs through this transition and give them the best quality of life in their old age is to ensure that they are getting everything they need from their diet. This potentially not only requires providing balanced, age-appropriate food, but also the provision of supplements. Read on to find out if your dog may be in need of some extra help in his diet.
Of course, a well-balanced diet is required for dogs of any age, but as dogs age the balance of nutrients required also changes. Generally speaking, a senior dog needs larger amounts of higher quality protein in his food than a young dog of the same or similar breed or size. However, with older dogs generally becoming less active and thus requiring less energy from their food, less fat and carbohydrates should be necessary. Therefore, a higher protein diet, with less carbohydrates and fat, should help to keep your senior dog strong, lean and functioning at his best.
Portion control and exercise are obviously also important in maintaining a healthy weight in these senior dogs, who are by nature less active than before. [end box]
It must also be recognised that as dogs age, it is common for the absorption of nutrients from the food they eat to decrease. This can be because of poor dental condition or other medical reasons affecting, for example, the intestinal wall. This means that often minerals, vitamins and other vital nutrients are required in higher quantities than previously, for the same levels to be absorbed into the body from the digestive system.
When to supplement
The right food and supplements for your senior dog are really the cornerstone of healthy ageing. Many of the foods out there for senior dogs will already provide everything your senior dog needs, taking into account the new nutrient balance and lower absorption rates. But if your dog’s diet is homemade or he is a fussy eater, he may require some additional supplementation. In addition, if your dog has a medical condition like osteoarthritis or seems to be slowing mentally, it is also worth considering additional supplementation on top of that provided by the complete food. If you are unsure as to whether supplementation will be beneficial in your case, please discuss this with your vet.
As humans get older, they start to consider using supplements. Many of these supplements can also be beneficial for the older dog, although, as always, it is vital to consult with your veterinarian before adding any supplements to your dog’s diet. The supplements listed below are all worth considering, and if you are interested in using any of them for your dog, discuss suitable formulations with your vet or animal nutritionist.
Antioxidants can be very beneficial for the older dog. Research has demonstrated that, when combined with behavioural enrichment, antioxidants can improve both memory and cognitive functioning in the senior canine. Antioxidant supplements such as vitamins C and E can be added to your dog’s food, in the correct formulation and quantities, or you can consider giving your dog fruits and vegetables that have a high antioxidant content as treats or snacks. Berries, such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, and apples are all safe for your dog and can also help the digestive system by adding some fibre. Just be aware that not all fruits and foods are safe for your dog, so do your research before adding anything new to the diet. Food like avos, onions and garlic is toxic for your dog.
Essential fatty acids
Long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are great for older dogs with either arthritis or cognition difficulties, as they help to reduce inflammation and to stabilise cell membranes. They can also be of benefit in strengthening the immune system. These fatty acids are derived from fish oil, krill oil or algae oil, and there are many dog-friendly supplements containing these acids on the market.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate
Glucosamine and chondroitin are both substances found in the healthy cartilage of the joint. Ageing dogs with osteoarthritis experience joint pain when the cartilage is broken down and joint fluid is lost through wear and tear. Providing supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can be hugely beneficial for these dogs. Glucosamine has anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce the pain and aid in cartilage regeneration, while chondroitin sulphate helps to keep the joints lubricated. These supplements work brilliantly for osteoarthritis and are especially useful if given with fatty acids.
We must remember that frequent check-ups, a high-quality diet and enough stimulation and exercise are important for all dogs, but especially seniors. Consult with your vet to determine which supplements will best serve your older canine companion and monitor your dog’s response. We want to keep your dog by your side and healthy for as long as possible.