Feeding the senior dog
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When's a dog a 'senior' dog? Well generally, if he's supposed to be living 15 years then I'd say once he hits 10, he's 'senior'. Or if he's a bigger dog and is only expected to live 10 years, then when he's 7 I would say he's senior. Dogs in the urban environment live for a lot longer than their wild cousins. Now just because he's reached his senior years doesn't mean that we suddenly have to cut down on his caloric intake because he's supposed to be 'slowing down'. As with people, a little common sense is required to determine how much food and exercise an individual dog needs. Every dog is different. I know some dogs who are still 'puppy like' in their enthusiasm for life and bounce about like they were a teenager, others are content to just lounge around all day and watch life pass them by.
Let's first look at the changes that occur in a dog as it ages. Joints and muscles aren't what they used to be with the wear and tear, so senior dogs tend to have arthritis. A lot of them also lose cognitive function - they start waking up and pacing at night, they start to have accidents in the house, they may seem vague at times and some will develop cataracts and lose their hearing. Some will have lost teeth and others will have more serious conditions which involve their heart or kidneys. Often due to arthritis and lower energy levels, senior dogs tend to put on weight. Don't for a moment think that just because a dog is reaching his senior years that being overweight is acceptable. An overweight dog loses in many ways - it increases the pressure on the joints, it makes them have to work harder to get anywhere, it predisposes them to diabetes and a whole host of other diseases. Keeping your senior dog fit and maintaining a healthy weight is the single most important thing you can do that will increase his quality of life.
Most senior diets tend to be lower in calories, ie the protein and fat content are lower and the fiber content is higher. You can opt to switch your dog to senior diets or to keep your dog on its adult formulation and just reducing the quantity he gets daily. Some owners find that reducing the quantity of adult dog food means their dog ends up hungry all the time, so they try to bulk up the meal with vegetables. Fiber is essential in your senior dog's diet as it prevents constipation.
What about supplements? As mentioned above, a lot of senior dogs have arthritis so a supplement of chondroitin and glucosamine is helpful in alleviating symptoms. Some senior diets have this incorporated in them already. Some owners will swear by anti-oxidants and will routinely give their senior dog an anti-ox supplement. I think it's a great idea. Ensuring that your senior dog has the best nutrition possible would certainly ensure that his immune system is in tip top shape to give him the best chance of fighting off disease and living a long happy life. Needless to say, it's best to schedule annual veterinary check ups (or more often if he has a pre-existing medical condition that requires additional monitoring) just so you can catch diseases early on and to ensure that he is in the best of health.
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