As dogs age their immune system becomes weaker and are therefore susceptible to diseases and degenerative conditions, additionally their metabolic rate is slower and prone to gastrointestinal problems making it harder for them to break down food. This predisposes them to constipation, indigestion and diarrhea.
Small dog breeds tend to age slower (10 years) as compared to large breeds (5-7 years). It is therefore important to be keener about their nutritional and dietary needs to improve their quality of life and feeding experience.
As stated above, senior dogs have a slower metabolic rate coupled with susceptibility to bowel problems. Low calorie high fiber diets aid in movement of food in the gut, is more filing and prevents unnecessary weight gain and obesity especially in docile senior dogs.
It’s also important to note that at this age their digestive system is also sensitive to sudden changes in diet, if introducing a new diet, it’s wise to start with small portions and increase over time. Switching to commercial foods catered to senior dogs can help in providing essential nutrients needed at this time, however, owners should be aware of the ingredients and nutrients contained to avoid malnutrition. E.g. some commercial foods may prepare low protein foods yet senior dogs need their fair share of protein more than when they were younger, to avoid loose of muscle mass and to sustain body physiological processes. Sticking to a strict feeding schedule also helps to keep their metabolism stable and also at this age they are more comfortable with routine unlike in their junior years.
Ideally senior dogs should be fed small portions of food 2 to 3 times a day. This allows the gut to take time to digest without overloading or overworking the digestive system, however, factors such as level of physical activity, age and existing clinical conditions need to be considered.
For example, obese docile seniors should be on low calorie high fiber diet fed in small portions twice a day. Those with dental problems or few teeth can be put on soft / canned food to ease mastication. They should also be provided with an unlimited supply of water which aids in digestions, prevents urinary tract infections and dehydration. Antioxidants like berries, turmeric, dark leafy greens etc. help to boost immunity.
Feeding them omega 3 rich foods such as fish or using fish oils also improve immunity, reduces inflammation and promotes brain and heart health, at this age, senior dogs are also susceptible to joint degenerative problems. Food supplements rich in glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM can help reduce inflammation as well as promote bone health.
Feeding healthy treats such as apples, carrots, and green beans among other offers a better option compared to commercial treats which are packed with calories and not easily digestible. It is also wise to check with your vet in case you senior dog requires special dietary needs e.g. has kidney or liver problems to be able to provide them with the appropriate food.
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