Contrary to popular belief, senior dogs require more or the same amount of protein in their diet as junior dogs, according to veterinary nutritionists, 25% of their calorie intake should be composed of protein.
The idea that geriatric dogs require low protein intake in their diet is associated with the belief that high protein diets overwork the kidneys leading to kidney and liver failure, this is attributed to various studies in the past that demonstrated a decrease in kidney diseases in pets that were fed lower amounts of proteins, however, recent studies have proved otherwise indicating that a protein diet does not alter the severity of kidney disease or slow down it’s progression but rather reduces the number of symptoms associated with the disease itself.
This myth led many pet food companies manufacturing senior dog feed containing poor quality protein using low digestible products, fillers and grains that are high in carbohydrates and low in calories.
When it comes to diets designed for senior dogs, it should aim at maintaining a healthy and optimum body weight, slow down development of chronic diseases and minimize or improve symptoms of diseases if present. Proteins help to maintain muscle tissue including body organs, promote good bone health and ensure optimal functioning of the immune system.
As dogs age their protein requirements increase, inadequate intake of protein results in loose of muscle mass due to the breakdown muscle tissue to supply the body with proteins and amino acids which are required to drive body physiological processes. The loose in muscle mass (mostly observed on the hind limbs or along the spine) causes a decrease in muscle strength which is usually seen in a dogs reluctance to move, jump or climb stairs and is more pronounced in dogs suffering from arthritis or neurological conditions.
Lack of optimal intake of proteins also decreases production of amino acids which are required for tissue repair after physical trauma, disease or stress. Proteins are also essential in cell energy metabolism. Cells involved in immunity also require proteins and amino acids to produce antibodies and anti-inflammatory chemicals, a deficiency in these nutrients prevents an effective immune response yet at this age dogs are susceptible to infections and need a strong immune system.
Proteins are also essential for good bone health, they form the framework on which calcium and other minerals intertwine for good bone strength and density of which a lack thereof would otherwise predispose them to osteoporosis.
In conclusion, geriatric dogs do require a diet containing highly digestible proteins, they help to maintain good muscle mass, repair damaged tissues from disease or injury, supports an effective immune system and for good bone health. Low protein diets only decrease the symptoms associated with kidney disease but do not decrease severity or progression of the disease. Senior dogs require the same or a higher amount of protein than younger dogs especially if they are active.
Owners of senior dogs should therefore be keen when purchasing kibble ensuring they get their share of good quality proteins, it is also wise to consult your veterinarian before embarking on a high protein diet especially if your pet has a history of kidney or liver disease, for proper guidance on how much to give.