We all know how essential it is to eat right to stay healthy, but the impact of nutrition on senior dogs' health is ever more significant.
Just ask Dr. Barbara Royal, a veterinarian with over 25 years of experience who has seen many cases of canine heart disease during her career.
She says that when older pets are fed diets high in fat, they can develop heart disease much earlier than dogs of the same age fed low-fat diets.
This is why Royal strongly recommends that owners of senior pets follow these six nutrition tips to help their best friend lead a healthier life:
Feed lower-calorie, high-quality dog food.
We all eat too much and often eat the wrong things. The same is true for our pets, although most of us may not realize it in the case of our dogs and cats since they don't overeat in an attempt to clean their plates.
Instead, many overfeed their pets out of love or habit. Fancy that! That's why Royal recommends following these simple steps when shopping for senior dog food.
Select healthy treats for dogs
Royal believes that treats should be limited to 10 percent of a pet's daily calorie intake, so the fewer, the better! Instead, she recommends using table scraps as rewards during training sessions because many owners are less likely to reward their dogs with unhealthy snacks.
Take your older dog to the vet regularly
Royal recommends that owners have their older dogs examined by a veterinarian twice a year, at least.
That way, any health problems that are developing could be caught before they become significant issues.
It's also essential to bring your dog to the vet whenever he seems sick or has recently changed his regular behavior pattern.
Obesity can lead to numerous health problems, including arthritis and diabetes. Senior dogs are at greater risk of becoming obese because they usually have less energy to burn extra calories. That's why Royal recommends learning more about portion control and training games.
Don't allow your senior dog to eat cat food
Because cats are obligate carnivores, they require diets high in protein, challenging for dogs' systems to digest.
Avoid fatty table scraps and corn-based treats.
Senior dogs can suffer from various health problems, and corn and table scraps don't contribute to the solution.
Table scraps can lead to stomach upsets, food allergies, and obesity because owners often dole out too much for their pets.
While we may enjoy feeding our pets leftover chicken, it's also vital that senior dogs not eat meat that has been cured or preserved with sodium nitrites, such as bacon and ham.
Royal says that dogs can't digest salt or meat preservatives very well at all. That's why she recommends sticking with fresh meats rather than cooked meats when cooking for your pet.
Here are some additional things to consider with senior dogs:
1. Keep a close eye on your dog's weight - A dog is considered obese when she weighs more than 20% of her ideal body weight.
Consult with your veterinarian about how much you should feed your dog each day, and get help from a pet food advisor if necessary.
If your dog is overweight, you can try switching to a lower-calorie food.
2. Introduce new foods gradually - Adding new flavors and textures too quickly may cause gastrointestinal upset in your older dog, so look for small changes that are less likely to be noticed by your pet.
3. Add natural supplements - If your senior dog is having trouble getting around, the addition of joint-support supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can help.
4. Be watchful for anemia - An anemic dog may be lethargic and may tire more easily. Anemia in dogs can be brought on by several factors, including blood loss due to wounds, the ingestion of toxins, or internal parasites.
5. Check for gum disease - Your dog's gums may be red and inflamed if she has a periodontal infection, leading to a loss of her teeth and a painful death by starvation since chewing is too painful. If you're unable to brush your dog's teeth yourself, consult your veterinarian about a safe and effective home care program to manage your dog's periodontal disease.
6. Watch out for urinary tract infections - A common sign of a urinary tract infection in dogs is frequently urinating, often in the house. In addition to frequent potty breaks, watch for an unwillingness to play or romp as well as visible pain when your dog begins to urinate.
7. Exercise is essential - Even if your senior pooch has slowed down, she still needs regular exercise to keep muscles toned and joints healthy. Gentle walks are best for aging dogs, so use a leash to assist her in climbing or jumping activities.
8. Take care of your dog's teeth - If your dog's constant chewing has caused painful dental disease, you may need to consult with an oral surgeon.
9. Just like us, dogs need medical care throughout their lives - Don't neglect regular checkups or necessary vaccinations just because your dog is older. Disease and illness don't discriminate based on age, so keep her healthy and happy throughout her life.
10. Consider pet insurance - Pet insurance generally costs between $9 and $15 per month and can save you money in the long run if your dog does require expensive medical care.
How to read dog food labels properly?
It's essential to learn how to discern high-quality ingredients from inferior ones for dogs. You can do this by reading the dog food labels and reaching out to your veterinarian if you don't understand something.
Most people assume that the most expensive dog food is automatically the best one.
However, this isn't always true! It can be challenging determining which dog foods are good and which ones are not so great!
Many pet parents will want to feed their senior dogs a specific brand because they have heard good things about it or because it's on sale.
Here are some tips to help you determine what food is best for your dog:
1. Manufacturers of low-quality dog foods will use the term "animal digest" in their ingredient lists, but it can be hard to decipher what this means.
Rendering begins by cooking whole dead animals over a very high temperature and under tremendous pressure, which often results in the breakdown of tissues into smaller particles - this process is called hydrolysis.
Hydrolysis does not require the presence of heat to break down protein or fat molecules. This means that meat can be cooked at lower temperatures and processed into protein and fat particles.
2. Another term to look out for is "meat byproduct." This vague term can refer to any part of an animal that can be used, including the feet, intestine, spleen, etc.
3. The FDA mandates that all ingredients must be declared according to weight before mixing during the manufacturing process. The most significant ingredient will be listed first and so on in descending order of weight. Ingredients are listed by weight from greatest to least. So if a dog food lists chicken meal as its primary protein source, followed by rice or maize, there is more chicken meal than rice/maize in the food.
4. Watch out for the word "meat." This term refers to animal tissue and can include any or all parts of an animal once alive (i.e., muscle meat such as chicken breast, organ meats such as liver, etc.). However, there are only specific USDA inspected facilities in the United States that can process and package meat, and the regulations only allow for the use of certain parts. Hence, many dog food manufacturers will include this term on their ingredient list but won't back it up with a USDA facility that performed the processing.
5. Look for whole meat as one of the first ingredients in your dog's food. Ingredients are listed by weight. If natural beef appears as one of the first ingredients, there is more whole meat than any other ingredient in the food.
6. The terms "forage" or "plant material" are sometimes used on dog food labels to denote fibrous plant material such as cereal byproducts and vegetables. This type of ingredient is more challenging to digest and can cause intestinal upset in some dogs.
7. Avoid the term "bone meal." This is a rendered product that consists of ground-up bones, which are typically sprayed with mercury-based chemicals before being sterilized by cooking.
8. Dog food manufacturers LOVE to put fruits, vegetables, or other plants on their ingredient lists. This is great for marketing but not necessarily good for the dog! Fruits are highly digestible to dogs - they're basically pure sugar.
9. Avoid food that includes corn, wheat, or soy as the main ingredient, even if it's "maize." These ingredients are problematic for many dogs to digest and can also cause allergies or intolerance.
10. When reading a label, look at the order in which ingredients are listed. Ingredients are required by law to be listed with the heaviest ingredients first and so on in descending order of weight. Manufacturers often use meal products as their main protein source. The meal is a dry rendered product that is typically made from animal tissue or plant material.
11. The carbohydrate content of dog food is often placed near the end of an ingredient list as a means of "tricking" the consumer into thinking that this food does not contain any carbohydrates. However, some manufacturers will include their fiber source (beet pulp or chicory root extract) within the first five ingredients. Others will consist of their carbohydrate content within the first five ingredients.
12. Note that the carbohydrate source is included in the ingredient list as well - some manufacturers will separate their fiber content from their carbohydrates. In contrast, others will divide them up equally amongst each other.
13. Manufacturers are required to disclose any of the minerals and vitamins that they use, but they have the option of using a nutrient that is then turned into a vitamin or mineral in the body. For example, brewers' yeast contains Vitamin B, but manufacturers are only required to list "brewers yeast" on their ingredient label - not the actual vitamins and minerals within it.
14. Note that many ingredients included in pet food (glycerin, whey, lecithin) may come from animals. If you're a vegetarian, be careful when reading pet food labels!
15. Manufacturers are not required to provide the caloric content or any other nutritional information on their labels for those who wish to make our homemade diets.
Feeding your senior dog healthy fresh veggies and fruits, as well as a high-quality diet specific to your dog's life stage, allows for balanced nutrition. Supplementing their health regimen, along with keeping an eye on your dog's teeth and gums, can help keep your senior safe throughout their later years.