How to Feed an Older Dog

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Now a day’s dog are living to a much older age than they did 25-30 years ago probably due to better veterinary care and immunization and above all due to better nutrition (Anon. 2009). The New Guinness Book of records recorded the age of the oldest dog as 29 years 5 months for an Australian cattle-dog named Bluey, owned by Les Hall of Rochester, Victoria, Australia (Reddy, 2001). One of the sad realities for a dog owner is that your dog will probably reach old age long before you do. The older dog is undergoing many physiologic changes, and because of these changes, it is recommended that you feed them differently to accommodate the gradual slowing of bodily functions and overall weakening of organs and muscles (Anon., 2009).
Who is an old dog?
A dog is said to be ‘old’ if he is in the last third of his normal life expectancy. There are many exceptions to this rule of course and if a dog is active and in good shape, he should continue to be fed and exercised as a younger dog would. There are many 11-year-old dogs that can continue to be fed and exercised like three-year-olds. It is generally believed that a six-month old dog was equivalent to a 10-year-old child; a one-year-old dog to a 15-year-old, and a two year-
old dog to a 25-year-old human. By the time a dog is ten, it is approaching retirement age, and a 21-year-old dog would be celebrating its 100th birthday if it were human. Goldston et al., 1989 suggested the following ages to initiate geriatric health care programme in dogs (table 1).
Table 1: Age at which different sized dogs are considered to become geriatric

Weight category Geriatric age
Small dogs (0–9 kg) 11.5 years
Medium dogs (10–23 kg) 10.9 years
Large dogs (24–40 kg) 8.9 years
Very large dogs (> 40 kg) 7.5 years

Changes as a result of aging
The aging dog undergoes several physical, metabolic and behavioural changes. Many older dogs develop arthritis in their joints and spondyliti changes the spine. Geriatric dogs also show a decrease in muscle mass (Houpt and Beaver, 1981). They may not be tolerant of small children and may have restless sleep, accidents in the house (urinary incontinence). Their vision may begin to fade a little and they may have difficulty seeing in low light situations due
to cataracts. They also may have a loss of hearing and may be easily surprised or startled. Three common problems arise out of deafness. The first is a loss of control and ability to discipline the dog. Secondly, some deaf dogs may begin to bark uncontrollably. A third problem with deafness is the threat of automobiles. They also may have weakening of organs and muscles. Because of decreased activity, many older dogs will gain weight. Their teeth are going to be worn and be prone to dental disease. In addition, they might start to develop conditions associated with old age such as kidney failure or heart disease. For all of these reasons, special care must be given to their diet.
What should be features of diet of older dog?
As the dog become older, it will gradually become less active and slow metabolism so needs fewer calories per day. So feed a high quality, well balanced diet that is lower in calories, but still has adequate protein and fat, higher in fiber and easy to digest. For some older dogs, we can continue to feed their regular food, but in a smaller quantity. The diet of older dog should have 18% protein, but if the dog is suffering for renal failure the protein should be about 14%.
Lower fat usually means lower calories, so fat levels in senior diets should be around 10 to 12%. Older dogs are more prone to develop constipation, so the diet should have high fiber content i.e. 3 to 5%. You can add wheat bran, steamed fresh green beans or canned green beans, or pumpkin to regular dog food to increase the amount of fiber. As dogs age, their senses of smell and taste can fade a little, along with their ability to chew effectively. A smaller kibble size or moistening the food with water will help the dog get the most out meals and higher meat content can improve smell and flavour. You can also add canned food or broth to increase its flaour and make it more appealing. You can give a small amount of milk or eggs. Homemade diets of boiled rice, potatoes, vegetables, and chicken or hamburger with correct vitamin and mineral supplements works well with others. Older dog needs some special nutrients that can be added in the form of supplements. For example feeding of diet containing glucosamine and chondroitin may help support joints, Fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS) promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and reduces symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin E, which enhance the immune system function. Along with proper nutrition, you should see that your older dog receives regular, moderate exercise. Regular exercise helps to control the constipation, obesity and conditions which put strain on weakened muscles and tissues. If you follow the above rules on how to feed an older dog, your pet will be much happier and healthier without the burden of excess weight.
References
Reddy, D.V. (2001). Applied nutrition: Livestock, poultry, human, pet, rabbit and laboratory animal nutrition. Oxford and IBH publishing co. pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. pp. 269.
Anon., (2009). Nutritional needs of senior dogs. www.peteducation.com.
Goldston, R.T., Mosier, J.E. and Krawiec, D.R. (1989) The Veterinary Clinics of North America pp ix–84 Ed. RT Goldston. W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia
Houpt K and Beaver B. (1981) Behavior problems in geriatric dogs and cats. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 11 (4): 643-652.

Contributors

Mahima1, A. K. Verma2 and Amit Kumar3
State Veterinary Hospital, Heempur Deepa, District Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh
1- MVSc (Animal Nutrition), Veterinary Officer.
2- Corresponding author and Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary Epidemiology and
Preventive Medicine, DUVASU, Mathura
3- Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Immunology, DUVASU,
Mathura

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