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Just like humans, our senior dog counterparts will need a change in their diet as they age. As life progresses, the vital energy and fluids that we were born with begin to be used up. The same process happens in dogs.
While there is no medically agreed-upon definition of what is considered a senior dog, there are general guidelines that can help you estimate which life stage your dog is in. For giant breeds (like Great Danes), senior age comes earlier, around 5 or 6. Small breeds tend to live longer, and may not be seniors until age 8 or 9.
One of the first things you might start to notice is some physical aging symptoms, such as:
- Vision problems
- Skin issues such as dry skin or lumps/bumps
- Less energy
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Bad breath or other dental symptoms
Tip #1: Softer Foods for Better Digestability
Not visible to the human eye, your dog's spleen/pancreas, stomach, liver and gall bladder may also be weakened due to advancing age. It might be difficult for them to digest the same healthy foods they used to enjoy before, such as brown rice or whole oats with hulls still intact. While this food might be more nutritious than their counterparts (rolled oats, hulled barley), the older dog might not be able to assimilate the nutrients. Thus, as they grow older, simpler cooked foods are best.
Tip #2: Avoid Red Meat
Studies show that diets high in red meat may increase joint pain and make arthritis worse by stimulating the inflammatory response of a substance called prostaglandins. High intake of red meat also leads to an increase in saturated fats, which impede circulation. Limit your dog's intake of red meat, such as beef, lamb or beef liver.
Tip 3: Provide Healthy Fats
Since the senior dog will become less mobile as they age, it's good to limit unhealthy fats (think animal fats such as chicken skin) and add in healthier fats, such as cod liver oil, vitamin E and olive oil to keep everything lubricated. If you are serving meats that tend to have fat on them, like pork or beef, boil them in clean water to allow extra fat to run out.
If serving fattier meats, like pork or beef, it's good to boil them to allow all the extra fat to run out.
Tip 4: The Best Dairy
If you would like to add dairy, it's best to serve goat's milk products as they do not create as much mucous as cow's milk. Choose products from free-roaming animals as they may have suffered less stress, and thus pass on fewer stress-related by-products in their milk.
Tip 5: Right Type of food (Warming Foods versus Cooling)
In Traditional Chine Medicine (TCM), which you will hear us refer to a lot in our blog, warming foods are used to aid circulation and digestion. This does not actually mean that food is warm to the touch as if you had heated it on the stove. Rather, it describes the feeling of internal warmth after consumption. Think about a hot bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon - a food that you would crave on a cold day in order to warm up.
Foods such as lamb, chicken, or oats are considered warming. They are best served to dogs who sleep in front of the heater or have cold feet or ears.
Cooling foods are thought to cool the body. For example, adding celery, millet or pork liver can help decrease internal inflammation or cool down dogs that are always hot. So if your senior is overheating easily, cooling foods may be of assistance in making them more comfortable.
Neutral foods are the best balancers. If your senior dog does not have an issue with being cold or particularly hot, then balancing neutral foods (such as potatoes, rice, pork, rabbit, and eggs) with hot and cool counterparts is advised.
Sample Senior Dog Diet
The sample diet is calculated for a 40/50 pound dog. You can thus adjust proportions to your own dog's weight.
Choose 1 or mix equal parts of Grains, Protein, and Veggies.
Grains: 1 1/2 cups cooked.
*Make sure the grains are cooked thoroughly and are extremely soft.
- White Rice (warming)
- Brown Rice (warming & less digestible)
- Rolled Oats (warming)
- Barley Flakes (cooling)
- Hulled Millet (cooling)
- Wheat Cream (cooling)
Protein: 1/2 cup
- Baked chicken breast (shredded into small pieces)
- 2 eggs (no more than 2 times per week)
- 1 to 2 oz liver (no more than 3 times a month)
Cooking Veggies: 1/4 cup
- String bean
Do not forget the calcium! Read our calcium post here.
When it comes to our aging canines, here are some major supplements I recommend. Ideally, you should give these together but you could start with a few of them and see what works best for your senior dog.
- Vitamin E - 200 IU
- Vitamin C - 500 to 1,000 mg
- Kelp Powder - 1/4 to 1/2 tsp
- Nutritional Yeast - 1 TBSP
- Lecithin Granules - 2 tsp
- Cod Liver Oil - 1 tsp
- Olive oil - 1 TBSP
Need More Help?
If your dog is suffering from specific conditions, such as arthritis, liver, gallbladder, stomach or kidney issues, we suggest you consider our 3-months or 6-month nutrition package to address any underlying issues and put together a diet plan. If you just want more information and a customized meal plan for your senior pet, choose the 1-month package option. Check them out here.