There are many vets who believe the nutritional needs of the senior dog can be met by buying senior dog food. There are also many vets who believe they can’t!
I personally don’t believe there is a “one size fits all” answer to canine nutrition, nor do I believe every food labelled “senior” is guaranteed to be the best diet for your dog. I also believe it’s important to know your dog’s health status and whether or not there are some ingredients you need to avoid.
Educating yourself is key. In my experience the wonderful vets I’ve gone to weren’t as helpful when it came to nutrition as I would have expected. Plaques on the wall informing us of their staff’s experience in nutrition were awarded from pet food companies, and the recommendations were of those same brands – none with ingredients we could understand.
There is no shortage of articles on senior dog nutrition, so the best place to start is by reading differing points of view about what is, and is not, considered a good diet, and why. Take note of who the authors are, and their associations to pet food companies, if any.
Check back here as well as I will be adding to the dog nutrition section.Should every senior dog eat senior dog food? Let's find out!! Click To Tweet
So what’s changing that makes us turn to senior formulations?
While some seniors do remain as active as they ever were, many tend to start slowing down. They don’t get as much exercise as they once did, their metabolism is not as fast as it once was, and the chances of weight gain and obesity become all too real.
Sense of smell and taste can fade, along with the ability to chew as effectively. Smaller kibble size can help, as can smaller chunks of food. Higher meat content improves palatability.
What are the characteristics of a senior diet?
- lower calorie to compensate for a decrease in activity level and slowing down of the metabolism, helping your dog avoid weight gain
- easily digestible higher quality protein, to maintain muscle mass and improve palatability of the food
- higher fibre for gastro intestinal health, and because older dogs are more prone to constipation
- added supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, for joints, and antioxidants
How do I know if this is what my senior dog needs?
Not every senior dog has a weight problem, and a calorie restricted diet wouldn’t be the best thing for dogs who have trouble eating, aren’t interested in eating at all or are high energy.
The protein debate
More protein? Less protein? Depends who you’re listening to! It seems to be less about the quantity of the protein, and more about the quality.
This is what I’ve discovered, and to be frank, it makes a lot of sense
There are highly digestible proteins that your dog’s body can easily absorb, and those that it can’t.
Animal parts like beaks, feet, and tails are 100% protein, but not at all digestible.
Soy is high in protein and a very popular dog food ingredient, but is believed by many to be an inappropriate source of protein. It is seen as just an inexpensive way for pet food manufacturers to increase the protein content of their food.
From what I understand, the recommendation for lower protein diets in seniors came as a result of how the pet food industry made its’ food 50-60 years ago. Slaughterhouse waste was combined with discarded vegetables and grains, that were not suitable for human consumption.
Because the quality of protein (and of course the food in general) was so poor, it was difficult for dogs (and cats) to digest it, causing strain and stress on the liver and kidneys. As a result, senior pet foods were introduced and as a pet aged, vets recommended them for their lower protein content.
On the flip side, many vets believe protein is particularly important in aging dogs.
Be advised the protein they’re referring to is high quality, easily digestible.
Does that mean a raw diet?
Yes, to many it does!
Raw food in its’ natural state, is considered by many to be the most digestible form of protein. It is full of moisture with nothing added. Because manufactured food has been dehydrated, pets must drink a lot of water to rehydrate, stressing an older dog’s organs. I know many people who swear by a raw diet, and have seen noticeable changes in their dogs.
What about the need for added fibre to prevent constipation and aid in digestive health?
Although higher fibre causes dogs to poop more, too much fibre can block the absorption of healthy nutrients.
Well, as is the theme throughout this article, plenty of vets believe senior formulas contain the right amount of fibre, while others believe there are healthier ways to get that much needed ingredient.
Supplements like digestive enzymes and probiotics can be added to the diet, which is exactly what I add to my dog’s condition specific food. After discussing it with my vet, of course!
Healthier ways to add fibre
Psyllium husk powder, dark green leafy vegetables, and canned 100% pumpkin are just a few examples.
Supplements in the food
You read about all the wonderful supplements being added to our cereals, juices, even skin care products. Then you read how they are actually present in such miniscule amounts, as to have no positive effect at all. Many believe the same can be said about supplements added to dog food.
Omega 3, for example, is sensitive to heat and light, so while it may be technically present in the food (so it can be listed as an ingredient on the label), the manufacturing process has made it useless. It’s best to supplement the diet with a good source of fish oil.
Joint supplements are another additive, but the quality and amounts are unknown. Once again, using a glucosamine or other appropriate supplement would be heaps more effective.
Read this→ Supplements For Dogs: A Whole Foods Approach
The beginning of the end of our confusion
I know the whole “what to feed my dog” issue can be confusing, but I think it would be a whole lot less confusing if we approached it from a different angle.
Rather than checking out the hundreds of dog food brands (are there hundreds, or does it just feel that way?), and trying to figure out which one to buy, let’s do this…
Step one would be to take your dog to the vet for a health check. Then you’ll have your starting point. Are there medical concerns? Things his body needs more of? Less of? You may have to schedule a separate visit to discuss your dog’s nutritional needs.
If you like the sound of a raw diet, or are interested in the benefits of adding some natural supplements to a branded food, talk it over.
Once you have an understanding of your dog’s specific nutritional needs, you will find it much easier to assess the brands available, and choose the one best suited.
For example, my dog is on condition specific food, but I do add probiotics, joint and liver support. I also don’t feed her cookies anymore, just chew bones made from vegetables or rice, and some cooked vegetables added to her meals.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this post my golden oldie Red has been seeing a holistic vet. I wasn’t happy about the amount of drugs she was taking, and there were periods when she wasn’t doing well. I was moving and had to find a new vet anyway so… Long story short, she has been on a tailor made, home cooked, whole foods diet and she’s loving it! It consists of specific measures of boiled chicken, brown rice, quinoa, cooked broccoli, raw carrot, raw apple and olive oil.
Should Every Old Dog Eat Senior Dog Food – conclusion
There are many factors, besides age, that should be used to assess the suitability of a particular dog food. That’s why I don’t believe that just because a dog turns the age he is considered “senior” he should automatically be switched onto senior dog food.
What is your opinion? Is your dog on senior food? Are you happy with it? What made you choose that particular brand/type? Please share your story in the comments section below or on my Facebook page.
If you’re interested in learning more about guidelines and regulations in the pet food industry, here are two resources to start you off.
FDA regulation of the pet food industry