What Should I Feed My Dog: Feeding Our Senior Pets

“What do I feed my Senior dog?” Age depends on many factors including breed, genetics and health problems so to keep things simple for this discussion, a senior dog will be defined as any dog over 7 years of age. We must remember that age is associated with a variety of disease conditions and nutrition is a key component to maintaining a good quality of life, so before switching your pet’s food to a “Senior Diet” have your veterinarian perform a good physical exam and make sure the recommended lab work is normal.

So you have now confirmed that you have a healthy senior pet and your veterinarian has recommended that he should be on a Senior Diet. Now you are at the pet store and are being bombarded by all the labels and don’t know what to do. Keep in mind that there is no established AAFCO nutrient profile for a senior life stage. If you have read the previous blogs you know that there are only 2 statements: “for all life stages” which is for growing and lactating pets and “for maintenance” which is for our adult pets.

So here are some helpful hints:

1. Narrow your choices down based on the company’s reputation not the pretty marketing design of the bag, and don’t be fooled by.

2. After choosing a reputable company, be sure the food label states that the diet is “formulated for dogs over 7 years of age.”

3. Do not choose a food with a reduced protein because in healthy older pets this is not recommended, protein requirements actually increase with age. Keep in mind that optimal protein level for healthy senior pets has not been scientifically established and is still controversial likely because of all the variables with breed, size, health etc.

4. Most of these diets are lower in calories. This is important especially if your pet has become less active or is overweight. If your pet is losing weight, be sure to inform your veterinarian right away as this can be an early sign of a disease process.

5. Additional supplements, vitamins and minerals added to these senior diets have been shown to be beneficial for our aging pets. For example, Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) have been shown to help with kidneys, joints and skin; chondroitin and MSM are helpful with arthritis and joint changes. If you think your pet may benefit from a supplement discuss it with your veterinarian to help determine if that provided in the diet is adequate or if additional supplementation is warranted.

Dr. Nicky Polson is the veterinarian owner of Animal Care Hospital of Morris.