Loving (and feeding!) my "Senior" Dog

So I took Ramona into Center City Vet Hospital so Dr. Cohen (best vet ever!) could finally take care of her extensive dental issues. Because of all her separation anxiety, she broke almost all of her teeth over the last few years trying to break out of crates, and knawing a hole through my front door. Phew. Now that we have the anxiety pretty much under control, I thought it would be a good time to look into relieving some of the almost constant tooth pain I'm sure she was in. She also had a weird growth in her mouth, and Dr. Cohen wanted to remove it and get it tested. I got a good tax return this year, and decided to finally spend the money to help Ramona. Part of the reason I decided to take the plunge was Ramona turned 9 this month, and although small dogs can live quite long lives, she is no longer the spring chicken.

Thinking about her age made me wonder, am I providing the proper nutrition for her at this time in her life? She's my best friend, and anything I can do to give her a longer life with the best quality, of course I'll do it! I started looking into the nutritional needs for senior dogs, and what kinds of foods and supplements I can get to keep her as healthy as possible as she ages.

The first (and most unexpected) thing that I learned is that, contrary to popular belief, senior dogs should NOT be fed a diet that is lower in protein. I, along with the majority of the pet food industry, it seems, always thought they needed less protein as they aged to keep less active pets' weight down and protect their aging kidneys. Research done in the last 15 years has proven almost the exact opposite! Older dogs actually benefit from a protein-RICH diet, due to the fact that their systems are less efficient at using all that protein. If you're worried about their kidneys, be assured that in research done on dogs with chronic kidney failure or only one kidney, feeding higher protein levels caused no ill effects.

Even if your pet has liver disease, a high-protein diet is better because protein is actually required for a healthy liver. (There are some exceptions to this... you should always check with your vet.)

And as far as lowering protein to promote weight loss, that's a complete myth. You have to replace the protein with something, and usually that ends up being non-digestible filler fiber or carbohydrates. Carbs and protein both have 4 calories per gram, so replacing protein with carbs doesn't reduce calories, but it does reduce nutritional value. Dogs have NO nutritional need for carbs. Too many carbs can actually cause inflammation, which increases arthritic pain. Dogs can convert protein into energy and muscle much more easily than carbs, which usually just turn into fat.

Instead of lowering protein levels, it makes more sense to continue to feed a less active older dog less of his normal diet to control his weight. You can limit the dietary fat, but don't feed a low-fat diet because dogs need those healthy fats for many reasons.

I carry quite a few foods that fit the traditional lower protein, lower fat Senior/Overweight model, and I will continue to carry them even after finding out about this new research because every dog is different, and some dogs have done really well on these foods. But if you're looking for a food for your senior dog that has a higher percentage of animal protein but a moderate amount of fat, you may want to look into Merrick's Senior Medley (26% protein, 11% fat) or Verus Fish (24% Protein, 12% Fat). Solid Gold's Barking at the Moon (45% protein, 22% fat) is a good choice if fat is less of a concern and you want to stick with a grain-free diet. Sojos Freeze Dried Grain Free Raw Diets (24/25% Protein, 8/9% Fat) would be great as well, and might be more appetizing for a picky older pup. All of these foods get their proteins from good quality animal sources rather than less digestible glutens and other plant-based proteins.

As far as supplements, older dogs can almost always benefit from joint support vitamins, especially those with arthritis. We carry Nupro Joint Support powder and Ark Naturals Joint Rescue pills. It's good to start with a high dose of the Glucosamine to see if it helps your dog, then slowly wean down to see if you can maintain the improvement on a lower dosage. If you don't see any change, that particular supplement may not be the right one for your pup.

Antioxidants are another great supplement for older pups, as it can help reduce the risk of cancer. We carry Ark Naturals' NU-Pet in tablets and powder.

As always, come by and we can discuss your particular dog's needs, and I can help you pick a great food and some supplements to try out! We can't make them live forever, but we can sure try...

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