The percentage of adult and senior dogs is on the rise. This development has been aided by better nutrition, healthier lifestyles, and advancements in senior dog preventive health care.

Although old age is not a disease in and of itself, the changes in the body that accompany it make older dogs more susceptible to medical issues and illness. The most common causes of death in dogs (especially senior dogs) include cancer, kidney disease, and heart disease, but a well-balanced diet can help reduce the risk of these ailments and illnesses.

How old is a senior dog?

When dogs reach half of their expected lifespan, they are mature, and when they reach the last quarter of their expected lifespan, they are known as seniors. For a long time, all dogs were considered to be senior once they reached eight years of age. 

Now, since we know more about differences in lifespan in comparison to size, the age when a dog is considered a senior has slightly changed. Since small breed dogs generally live longer than large breed dogs, large dogs are considered senior between the ages of 5 and 8, while small breed dogs are considered senior between the ages of 8 and 10. When a dog lives longer than the average lifespan for her breed and size, she is then considered a completely different term known as geriatric.

Nutrient profiles change in senior dog food

A nutrient profile is a mixture of protein, starch, fat, vitamins, and minerals that is unique to your individual dog. A senior dog's nutritional requirements will be much different than when they were once a young puppy. It will also vary depending on the dog's size and health. For example, the nutritional profile of a senior dog who is healthy will differ significantly from that of a senior dog with cancer.

Protein adjustments

Older dogs often require more protein in their diet than puppies or signs of atrophy could begin to occur. Senior dogs' protein stores deplete more quickly than younger dogs', and dogs, like humans, can lose muscle mass as they age. Extra protein provides amino acids to compensate for this loss, keeping aging dogs healthier and more mobile. As a result, senior dog diets should contain at least 75 grams of protein per 1,000 calories. 

Keep in mind, phosphorus concentration tends to increase with the amount of protein, so if your dog has any type of kidney problems, you should find ways to reduce phosphorus intake.

Less fiber in the diet

Senior dogs can go one of two ways either needing more fiber or less fiber in their diets. It's important to note that fiber is divided into two types: soluble fiber, which acts as "food" for bacteria to ferment, and insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to the stool but is not broken down by bacteria. 

Mixed fibers, such as psyllium, combine the two fiber types and can be used for GI support. A high-fiber diet can help senior dogs who suffer from constipation stay regular. On the other hand, some senior foods may contain less fiber than normal, possibly due to the fact that fiber reduces the absorption of essential nutrients. 

Modifying fat intake

Some senior dogs have trouble maintaining their weight. If your dog is losing weight, consult your veterinarian about any underlying medical problems that might be affecting his appetite, calorie requirements, or digestion. 

If your dog is losing muscle mass (i.e. experiencing signs of atrophy), a high-protein diet is essential; if your dog is losing weight for another cause, your veterinarian will recommend a higher-fat diet. A senior dog suffering from obesity, on the other hand, can benefit from a low-fat diet.

Calorie restrictions

Senior diet guidelines often recommend less calories since certain dogs lose muscle and gain weight as they age. Depending on the dog, the amount of calories taken away varies.

In general, older dogs are less energetic than younger dogs. Obesity and other unnecessary health problems can result if calories are not limited.

On the other hand, if your senior dog starts to lose weight, your veterinarian would likely recommend calorie supplementation. What matters in this case, though, is where the calories come from. Your veterinarian will evaluate the condition and make recommendations as to what to add to the diet specifically. This may be organic single-ingredient treats or other kinds of senior dog supplements, rather than an increase in commercial dog food.

Keep in mind that this is merely a suggestion. Some dogs will maintain a healthy weight if they are given the same amount of calories as they have always been given. Again, this is dependent on your dog's unique body, activity level, and underlying medical conditions (if any). 

Other nutritional considerations for senior dog health issues

If your dog has joint health problems, glucosamine supplementation might be recommended by your veterinarian. This form of senior dog joint care can help relieve discomfort and improve mobility. 

As dogs age, they can lose hair or experience unusual skin problems that they didn't have before. In these cases, your veterinarian may suggest supplementing with omega-3 fatty acid sources. Fish oil, krill oil, and fresh fish sources all contain these essential fatty acids.

If your dog has dental problems, you might want to avoid dry dog foods entirely. Move to a softer dog food, such as wet canned dog food or fresh delivered dog food, which both contain a lot of moisture. This allows your dog to eat without discomfort or pain in many cases, even though he or she has missing teeth or sensitive gums.

Staying observant is the key for senior dog care

Just because your dog is getting up there in age, there may not be any reason to adjust his diet. It's all about keeping an eye on your dog and watching for any changes in muscle mass, skin and coat health, and overall health. 

When it is time to switch, you can discuss the signs and symptoms you have been noticing in your senior dog and they (or a canine nutritionist) can help you modify your dog's diet as necessary. 

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