Are There Any Dietary Restrictions for Senior Dogs?

Are There Any Dietary Restrictions for Senior Dogs?

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Apr 11th 2022

The fact that our dogs are getting older is a reality each parent has to face. Over time, the canine body changes and its dietary needs change with it. The body moves slower, metabolism moves slower, they lose teeth, and muscularity. But does a senior dog body require a different food? Is there such a thing as "senior dog food?" And what defines a senior dog in the first place? Today's article aims at answering all of these questions and helping dog parents ease their dogs' transition to older age with appropriate support.

Age is just a number and just because the dog is in double digits now, does not mean a call for fundamental changes in your dog's diet. The concept of senior dog food is marketing. Focusing on purposeful supporting dietary adjustments will be enough to make your dog's diet senior dog-appropriate.

By feeding the Volhard diet, you will be able to maintain hydration, lower blood pressure, introduce Omega-3 fatty acids, and provide quality proteins, enzymes, antioxidants, and fresh, natural digestible nutrition. The Volhard AM/PM diet suggested is a separation diet (meaning that carbohydrates and protein are separated into different meals to allow easy digestion) and low in phosphorus and sodium. The benefit of the AM/PM diet is that it is very kind to senior dogs, and the digestibility is very high. The AM/PM diet allows the dog's body to focus digestion on types of food separately, allowing the body to produce the enzymes needed and break down the carbohydrates in the diet at a separate time from the protein. Different Macronutrients are digested at different rates, and when fed together, some ingredients will push through the GI tract much quicker than the nutrition can be absorbed. Feeding fruits and vegetables separately in the day allows them to have a chance to be well on their way out of the body before you introduce the protein for the day.

How Do We Define a Senior Dog?

Both in dogs and humans, age is more than just a number. Similar to humans, if you don’t allow your pets to get overweight or obese and if you keep them active, they can look and act much younger than their true age would suggest. Several factors influence the canine aging process, from breed, diet, and environment. It is generally believed that large and giant breeds are not with us as long as smaller breeds are and, therefore, reach senior age faster (i.e., at the age of five), whereas small breeds live longer and, therefore, reach senior age slower (i.e., at the age of eight). And there is some truth to this belief—larger breeds wear off their bodies faster. However, age itself is not enough to define a senior dog.

In her book, Wendy Volhard, our founder, cites a study claiming that 80% of dogs are classified as geriatric at the age of five. But five years in dog age is only 35 years in human age! At this age, dogs are only expected to fully mature, not to become senior dogs. Instead of excessively focusing on age, dog parents must analyze the canine aging process from a holistic perspective and understand the importance of diet in the way your dog reaches old age.

Health Issues With Senior Dogs

Don't assume changes or problems are due just to age. Pet owners tend to attribute a decrease in appetite, thirst or activity, changes in personality or bathroom habits, hair loss, weight shifting up or down, or even obvious pain to "just old age." Warning to all dog owners: if you see any changes in a senior pet, never assume it's not a medical problem. The culprit may be metabolic problems like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, or Cushing's or Addison's disease, as well as canine brain aging, arthritis, dental disease, and other conditions mistaken for "just old age" that, once diagnosed and treated, can return a dog to normal life! Diet changes can bring dramatic results. Ask our Volhard canine nutritionist about specialized diets that help senior dogs' cognitive health and activity levels. This is important because, at age 7, the glucose metabolism in a dog's brain begins to change in ways that can affect memory, learning, awareness, or decision making.

Senior dogs, especially those with dental issues, have a hard time chewing and digesting kibble. Instead, what your senior dog needs is a hydrated, natural diet that, when swallowed, digests easily and quickly. As the older dog's needs change, feeding smaller, more frequent meals may be a way to increase digestibility and manage glucose throughout the day.

Now that we have a better understanding of senior dogs and the medical issues they face, let's take a look at the main nutrients of your dog's diet and learn how to balance them for a senior dog.

Caring for Senior Dogs: Nutrients and Feeding Practices

#1: Proper Water Intake

Your senior dog's diet must start with proper water intake. Senior dogs are more likely to experience dehydration, which is why constant access to a fresh water source is imperative. Symptoms of dehydration in dogs include loss of skin elasticity, loss of appetite, vomiting with or without diarrhea, reduced energy levels and lethargy, panting, sunken, dry-looking eyes, dry nose, dry, sticky gums, and thick saliva. In case of noticing any of these symptoms, increase your dog's water intake and switch to the Volhard hydrated diet for optimal water intake! You can also check out the following resource on how to overcome your dog's dehydration.

#2: Protein

The canine body's relationship with protein changes with age progression. Researchers have identified a decrease in protein synthesis coupled with an increase in protein turnover in senior dogs. Other nutritionists point towards a correlation between old age and muscle loss. For these dogs, an increase in high-quality protein is welcome. However, protein levels must be analyzed simultaneously with nutrients, such as fat and carbohydrates, and exercise levels. Look for a lower fat, lower carbohydrate diet with a high protein quality if your dog spends less time outdoors and more time on the couch.

The exact opposite is true for senior dogs suffering from kidney disease. In their case, high protein foods do nothing but aggravate kidney disease as the kidneys gradually shut down. Your dog needs a diet that allows his gastrointestinal (GI) tract to break down the protein before reaching the kidneys, and the Volhard AM/PM diet is the best place to start!

#3: Fiber

Senior dogs require assistance with their slowed digestion process, and fiber is the perfect nutrient to get the job done. As the digestive system gradually slows down, senior dogs face a higher risk of constipation. With additional fiber in his diet, your dog will have no trouble passing stools in a healthy manner. Foods such as wheat bran, green beans, pumpkin, and bananas contain enough fiber to supplement your senior dog's needs. If you want a simpler way to feed fiber-rich foods to your dog, look no further than the Volhard Veggie Pak!

#4: Fat

Fats play a crucial role in your dog's healthy growth and development. They provide energy, assist in skin health and coat formation, transport fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, support cells and the nervous system, and help regulate body temperature. Although he receives plenty of fats from his natural diet, your dog won't say no to supplements such as krill oil, a rich source of polyunsaturated fats like Omega-3, ideal for proper neural development, reducing inflammation, and improving arthritis symptoms. About ¼ teaspoons of krill oil per 10 pounds of body weight are more than enough to balance your dog's fat intake.

#5: Chondroitin and Glucosamine Supplements

Chondroitin and glucosamine supplementation is recommended for treating joint issues in senior dogs. The natural aging process impedes the canine body from creating chondroitin sulfate, one of the building blocks of cartilage in both humans and dogs. Chondroitin and glucosamine supplements help relieve the joint stiffness and discomfort associated with old age and stimulate cartilage growth. The benefits of these supplements are backed by research pointing out dogs with osteoarthritis in the hip and elbow who successfully responded to chondroitin and glucosamine supplementation.

Unsure how to pick the best supplements for your dog? Check out the following website for the best joint supplements for dogs!

#6: Caloric Control

The right approach to proper caloric intake depends on your dog's activity levels: the more he exercises, the more calories he needs to sustain his energy levels. As a rule of thumb, senior dogs are fonder of the couch than the outdoors, so they need fewer calories in their food. Reducing your dog's caloric intake decreases his risk of obesity and other diseases, such as osteoarthritis, kidney disease, and cancer. Closely monitor your dog's activity levels and adjust his caloric intake accordingly.

#7: Watch Out for Excessive Phosphorus

Has your senior dog been diagnosed with kidney disease? It's time to address his phosphorus intake. Studies have shown that controlled phosphorus levels can slow down the progression of chronic kidney disease. Furthermore, research points towards the close relationship between phosphorus and protein intake; each gram of protein contains 13-15 milligrams of phosphorus. Canine nutritionists recommend a moderate intake of protein and phosphorus for dogs with chronic kidney disease (35 g and 750 mg per 1000 kcal). Foods such as sardines and beef are high in phosphorus and, therefore, should be replaced with low-phosphorus alternatives such as chicken, turkey, and eggs.

Some Herbs to Add to Your Dog's Diet

1. Catnip is a member of the mint family. Best known for eliciting a state of euphoria in cats, it also stimulates appetite, aids digestion, helps calm nervous animals, and encourages restful sleep. Catnip contains chromium, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium, and other nutrients, including vitamins A and C. It's also recognized for its ability to support the gastrointestinal system. Catnip tea stimulates bile flow and helps break down fats – steep two teaspoons of dried or four teaspoons of fresh catnip in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Catnip repels mosquitoes too!

2. Dandelion leaves are a richer source of vitamin A than carrots. The root is an excellent source of inulin, which encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Dandelion also contains vitamins C, E, and K and calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, and zinc.

Dandelion supports liver function, improves tooth enamel, and acts as a blood tonic. It supports the cardiovascular system and promotes healthy teeth and bones.

3. Garlic contains over 100 biologically useful chemicals, including compounds that act as antioxidants and demonstrate anti-carcinogenic properties. The most important nutrient in garlic is allicin, which has potent antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic properties. It supports cardiovascular health and the immune system.

Garlic is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, B1, B6, and C, copper, iron, protein, tryptophan, zinc, and selenium. It also has manganese, a co-factor of a variety of important antioxidant enzymes.

4. Ginger is recognized as the best anti-nausea herb and is well tolerated by companion animals. It acts as a digestive tonic, relieving stomach aches and intestinal gas. It also stimulates the digestive juices and helps expel worms.

5. Oregano is a herb often referred to as the "cure in the cupboard." It's a source of calcium, fiber, iron, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains the volatile oils thymol and carvacrol, which inhibit the growth of bacteria. Oregano contains more antioxidant power than apples and blueberries!

Oregano tea soothes an upset stomach and can help relieve muscle pain. Take two teaspoons of fresh or one teaspoon of dried oregano and steep in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp towel, or freeze in an airtight container.

6. Parsley is the world's most popular herb and one of the most concentrated food sources. It's rich in vitamins A, C, and K, iron, folate, and a variety of minerals. It contains various volatile oils, including myristin, which is thought to inhibit tumor formation, especially in the lungs. It also contains histidine, an amino acid that has also been found to inhibit tumor growth. Parsley is a "chemoprotective" food because it may help neutralize various carcinogens, including benzopyrenes in cigarette smoke.

To make parsley tea, steep four teaspoons of fresh or two teaspoons of dried parsley in one cup of boiling water. Keep parsley fresh by sprinkling it with water, wrapping it in a paper towel, and refrigerating it in a plastic bag. Or simply put stems of parsley in a glass of water and refrigerate.

7. Sage was introduced to China from Europe. The Chinese developed such a taste for sage tea that they traded their own precious tea for it. Sage was very popular in early medicine. Powdered sage leaves were sprinkled on food, just like pepper.

8. Slippery Elm is good for very young, old, or weak cats and dogs. It contains vitamins A, B, C, and K, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. It coats and heals inflamed tissues and is used for the stomach, ulcers, bowels, kidneys, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, and colitis. You can use it externally for wounds, burns, rashes, or insect bites and internally for the lungs, coughing, vomiting, and stomach and bowel cancer. Use slippery elm in convalescence. Just mix one teaspoon of the dried inner bark with a teaspoon of honey and water.

9. Thyme contains vitamin K, iron, manganese, calcium, and dietary fiber. Its primary active ingredient, thymol, helps inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. This herb also contains a variety of flavonoids which increase its antioxidant properties.

10. Turmeric gets its color from curcumin, an orange-yellow pigment. It's a perennial herb that belongs to the ginger family and is gaining recognition for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant impact. It has more antioxidant properties than vitamin E, and many studies have supported its potential as a cancer preventive. It increases bile production and flow and protects the stomach and liver. It is the perfect herb to sprinkle on your animal's food.

Some of these herbs are already present if you are feeding the Volhard diets, so you would have less work to do getting these into your dog daily.

A Parting Reminder

Age is just a number, and each dog reaches old age at his own pace. As much as they're promoted as adequate food for old age, senior dog diets do nothing but disrupt the already-instituted balance of previous diets. Each senior dog has his own nutritional needs, and it's up to you, the dog parent, to tweak his diet accordingly. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!

To help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods, Volhard Dog Nutrition and its nutritionists are now offering online consultations! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to check out our consultation page!

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