Our pets are living much longer than they did 30 years ago. There are many factors that contribute to this, such as better veterinary care, the fact that most of our animals are now inside and the fact that we know so much more than we used to about their nutrition.
The number one fact is that our pets have moved from the backyard into our living rooms. They are now such an intricate part of our lives; we take them to the park, we play with them while we watch TV and we see the changes that happen as they are aging and want to keep them comfortable and happy.
Dogs and cats are no longer animals that live outside to keep away pests and vermin. They are now truly members of our families and become even more so as our two-legged children grow up and go away to college. As we see our pets starting to age, we are concerned. We want to keep them active and part of our lives. One of the ways we can do this is by better nutrition. As we age, our nutritional needs change and our dogs are no different. Each dog is different as well and we as dog owners have to make decisions about their diet. So where do we go, as pet parents, to get the information that we need to make sure our dog’s needs are being met? There are so many differences between breeds: small breeds, large breeds and giant breeds. There also differences between each dog. How do we, as pet parents, adjust their food and nutrition needs?
The first thing you should do is answer a couple of questions:
- How active is your dog? Just like people, each dog is different. Some dogs will become lazy or inactive as early as three or four years old while other dogs will remain active past 10 years, so you have to look at your dog to make that decision. Is he or she high, medium or low activity?
- Is your dog experiencing any discomfort? I have a dog that is 15 years old, I would still rate her as medium activity. However when she first gets up and starts to move you can see the stiffness in her back legs. She doesn’t have the strength that she used to have in her hind quarters, but she can walk 3 miles if the terrain is flat. I exercise her more often, but not as long.
- Is your dog overweight? As they age, many dogs develop a weight problem, just as many people do. Take a good look at your dog; is she on the pudgy side? Are you willing to increase her exercise or do you need to adjust her diet to help take care of some of those pounds? Be honest with yourself, if you’re not willing to increase the exercise, then you must cut the number of the calories. A note of warning here: so many of the foods that are considered lite on calories actually cut nutrients and use fillers that are high carb. I would rather see you use vegetables to increase the bulk but keep the nutrients still on a high level. One more note on vegetables, if you are using canned vegetables make sure you are using low sodium vegetables.
- Is he or she showing any other problems of aging? Incontinence, pain, loss of hearing, loss of eyesight and irritability may or may not be able to be controlled with nutrition, but the first thing to remember is to provide a dog the best food that you can afford. Do not trust the labels alone, food manufacturers have learned to disguise labels when the food is really not as good as they would like you to think. I hate to say this but also do not rely on your veterinarian. Though your vet is a wonderful resource for many things, you need to do your own homework on nutrition. After you have done your own research, have a conversation with your veterinarian and see if he or she has a problem with what foods you have decided on.
- A good website to do research is: Dog Food Advisor
- Keep it simple. Natural additives can sometimes be the best. There are many drugs that can help with arthritis but there are also natural additives that you could use such as fish oil, flaxseed oil and fresh salmon. If you keep to natural ingredients you don’t have as many worry to the side effects.
- Think outside the box. Again, you don’t always have to put your dog on a chemical medication to relieve arthritis pain. Look into acupuncture, massage, and exercise. In my mind medication should be the last thing that you turn to in keeping your pet pain free.
These questions are really good idea at any stage of your dog’s life, not just seniors. Whenever you realize that your dog is going into another stage of life these are just a few basic questions you need to go back to review. A couple of other things that you need to take into consideration are how much time you want to take preparing food and exercising your dog.
With the Internet there is an endless source of really good information on nutrition for your pet whether it be a dog or cat. However as you search the Internet for information there is one thing I’d like to warn you about. You need to look out for who is sponsoring each website. One of the red flags that I look for is if there are food manufacturing companies sponsoring the website. I always look for a website that does not accept advertisements from the manufacturers. Just don’t get taken in by a flashy website a lot of propaganda. Some of the large manufacturers have wonderful commercials that would lead you to think that they love your pet as much as you do, but after you do your research you may find that where they buy their products would give you nightmares.
As your pet ages you will need to make adjustments to his food depending on how your individual dog is doing. Be very careful if your dog is overweight and you’re looking to get a lite dog food. Many of the well-respected manufacturers of dog food have introduced specialized dog foods, like foods for seniors or for overweight pets, and a lot of these foods are lacking in the nutrients that any dog needs for a healthy life. Do your homework; it takes a lot of time but is well worth it. We want to keep our pets with us for as many years as we can and we want them to be healthy and an active part of our lives. Please remember I am not a veterinarian or an animal nutritionist; you have to do your own homework and then team up with your veterinarian to make the right choices for your pet.
Stay healthy, and have fun.