I get many questions regarding dogs reaching senior status. Most people want to make sure their companions are getting the best care. They want to ensure their comfort and make sure they are getting everything they need. So let’s look at an overview of diet considerations, common senior health problems and supplement suggestions for seniors.
The most common question I get on older dogs is about diet. Many people believe they need to feed a senior diet that is lower in protein and fat. Many commercial dog food companies make senior diets, with just these components. The truth is that senior dogs need higher protein in their diet, and a moderate amount of fat.
High quality protein is essential to organ health, muscle tone, good coat and skin. This is probably more important to older dogs. As dogs age, their ability to maintain good muscle tone and keep a strong immune system is lessened. This is due partly to inactivity, partly to metabolism and some due partly to the aging process. Senior dogs that don’t get enough quantity and quality of protein are more prone to be less disease resistant and have less body mass. So don’t skimp on the protein! Don’t feed your senior dog a reduced protein diet. Be sure to feed a good quality protein, preferably with all or some being fresh animal based protein, either raw or home cooked. http://www.iams.com/iams/pet-health/body-condition-in-senior-dogs.jsp “This research is contrary to conventional opinion that senior dog foods should contain lower protein levels than adult maintenance formulas in order to avoid progressive decrease in kidney function. However, senior dogs that were fed a high-protein diet had stable renal function and a lower death rate than those dogs fed a lower-protein diet” http://pets.yahoo.com/dogs/health-and-nutrition/134/nutritional-needs-of-older-dogs/ “A diet rich in protein is especially important for older dogs. Senior dogs appear less efficient at metabolizing protein, so they require additional protein in their diets to help compensate. In fact, research has shown that healthy older dogs may need as much as 50 percent more protein than normal young healthy adult dogs.“
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Fat is important for seniors. It is what makes food taste good and when fat is reduced, the dog may crave more food, usually looking for fat. If you have a senior dog that needs to lose weight, do not substitute carbohydrates (vegetables, grains, starches) thinking you are doing your dog a favor. Carbohydrates can also be fattening, and will cause increased hunger (craving fat), increased stool size and gas. Generally it is recommended to reduce quantity of the diet by 10%, but keep the animal protein amounts high and the animal fat at moderate levels, not low levels. Here is an article that will give specific instructions on weight reduction, written by Christie Keith: http://www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/pudgy-pups/ And remember, if your dog has chronic dental problems or breath odor, it may be a good idea to switch over to a homemade diet with no grains or starches. Dogs do not have the capability to break down sugars as they have no amylase in their saliva like we do. These remain on the teeth and cause decay. Moving a dog with teeth and gum problems to a diet free of grains and starches will improve breath odor and teeth. Look to the low glycemic diets listed below. One health consideration with weight gain in seniors is hypothyroidism. If you have a dog that won’t lose weight by food reduction or increased appetite, it is probably a good idea to get a full thyroid panel on your dog. Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain and other health problems. http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/dog-hypo.htm http://autoimmunedisease.suite101.com/article.cfm/canine_hypothyroidism
Health Issues for Seniors
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Arthritis is probably the most common complaint for dogs as they age. Joint inflammation and pain can affect dogs in many ways. They may become less active; they may show pain upon rising or after activity or it can even affect their appetite. Any time you have a dog that shows pain in a joint or the spine, it is important to see a veterinarian and get a full blood panel, urinalysis and radiographs. Many things can cause pain and lameness, including arthritis, pinched nerves, and muscle or tendon sprains, renal issues, pancreatitis and Addison’s disease (rear end weakness and muscle loss). In order to treat effectively, a diagnosis is paramount, don’t try and guess the problem. If the problem is arthritis, there are several approaches to try. The first is a combination of glucosamine, hyraluronate, bromelain, manganese and boswellia. The glucosamine helps to lubricate affected joints while the hyraluronate helps fight inflammation and get the glucosamine to the affected areas. Manganese is a mild muscle relaxant and boswellia and bromelain are anti-inflammatories. Generally if this product works, you will see results in two to three weeks. Flexile Plus can be given continuously without any side effects. EPA fish oil softgels are also effective, as the omega 3 fatty acids found in this animal based oil helps reduce inflammation. Additional benefits from omega 3 fatty acids include improved coat and skin and it is also renal, heart and liver protective. Tasha’s Herbspirin (use Willow Bark Liquid) is a natural pain reliever, derived from white willow bark. This comes in a liquid tincture and can be dosed in the gum line or food. Do *NOT* give Herbspirin if you are already giving a NSAID (Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc). I have used this for my senior dogs during seasonal arthritic pain commonly caused by weather changes. Yucca Intensive is also helpful to relieve inflammation, and is given at one drop per ten lbs of body weight once or twice daily. Lastly, try to reduce the amounts of grains and starches in the diet, as these can aggravate inflammation and pain. A good homemade diet is the low glycemic diet, found here: http://www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/low-glycemic/ Or, you can add animal protein and fat to a high quality kibble, this will help reduce the carbohydrates found in dry diets: http://www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/mixing-fresh-food-with-kibble/
An issue that may affect senior dogs is leaking urine. This may be due to a weakening of the urinary tract muscles, but be sure to contact your veterinarian first to test for a urinary tract infection. This would be determined by a sterile urine culture and sensitivity test. This is done in house at your veterinarian clinic to capture sterile urine. This sample is sent off to a laboratory to see if any bacteria should result. This test will not only identify the bacteria, but will also determine the correct antibiotic needed if there is an infection. If there is an infection, generally a four week course of antibiotics is needed. Then ten days after completing the antibiotics, another urine culture should be done to ensure the infection is gone. A UTI (urinary tract infections) can cause incontinence. http://vettechs.blogspot.com/2005/05/so-your-dog-has-struvites.html Diet changes can help. Often diets high in grains or starches (dry dog food, or home made diets with more than 25% of the diet being made up of grains, potatoes, carrots, etc.), may make incontinence worse. Removing the high amounts of sugar and fiber can help in many cases. http://www.auntjeni.com/incont.htm I would suggest trying both of these methods before pursuing prescription incontinence medications. They may be needed, but I would rule these out first. Often a dog with a urinary tract infection is thought to have renal problems. Whenever an older dog is found to have elevated BUN, creatinine and phosphorus levels, be sure to check for a UTI, have a leptospriosis blood titer done, ACTH Stimulation test (Cushing’s and Addison’s disease) and a tick borne disease blood panel. Old age doesn’t cause renal problems. It is wise to run these tests to either find the source of the problem, or at least to rule them out. With Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease and leptospirosis, liver enzymes values may be high as well. More information on diets for dogs with renal issues can be found here: http://www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/kidney-diet/
Skin Problems and/or Odor
Some senior dogs may develop dry or itching skin and dry hair coat. These issues may be taken care of by the diet discussion in the beginning of this article. Increasing quality and quantity of animal protein in the diet may help. And if you are using a senior dog commercial diet, change to an adult diet (higher fat) commercial food, or a home cooked or a raw diet. Fat quality is also important for good skin and coat. I have often found homemade diets reduce odor in dogs, as oftentimes the fats in dry foods can cause body odor. Adding EPA fish oil softgels (one per ten to twenty pounds of body weight daily) will help due to the omega 3 fatty acids. If the dog has mouth odor, be sure to have a complete check up on the dog’s teeth and gums. Often teeth in poor condition or gum disease will cause this. Again, removing grains and starches will often help keep teeth cleaner and reduce the need for dental procedures. Dogs do not have the ability to break down starches in their saliva, and this in turn causes tooth decay and gum disease. Weekly baths with a good quality oatmeal based shampoo (such as the Pure Pet Oatmeal Shampoo) will help skin and odor, and rinse with a solution of ¼ white vinegar and ¾ water. If the skin problem persists, be sure to have your veterinarian do a skin scraping, to check for bacteria, yeast or mites. Both bacteria infections and yeast can cause skin odor. For more information on skin care: http://www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/skin-care-remedies-and-tips-2/
Additional Health Problems of Senior Dogs
Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease are both adrenal disorders, caused by either too much or too little cortisol production, which either can create a major health crisis. Both diseases can be vague in the symptoms and these health problems are often over looked and simply attributed to ‘old age.’ Cushing’s disease is an over production of cortisol and symptoms often are mistaken for other ailments. These can include sudden onset of thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, development of a pot belly, poor hair coat and/or skin, dark spots on the belly, more prone to infection and lack of energy. If any of these symptoms occur, have a complete veterinarian evaluation. For more information: http://www.kateconnick.com/library/cushingsdisease.html http://www.canismajor.com/dog/cushings.html http://www.vetinfo4dogs.com/dcushing.html Addison’s disease is caused by under production of cortisol and there are three types, primary, secondary and atypical. Like Cushing’s disease, the symptoms can mimic other problems and are often over looked or confused with other health problems. These symptoms include diarrhea, lack of appetite, rear end weakness, loss of energy, shaking and depression. Both Cushing’s and Addison’s disease, if not treated can result in death. Your veterinarian can test for either of test with an ACTH Stimulation test. For more information on Addison’s disease: http://www.addisondogs.com/ http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2097&aid=520 http://www.marvistavet.com/html/body_addison_s_disease.html
Daily Supplement Suggestions
Two good supplements for senior dogs include the EPA Fish Oil Softgels and the Bertes Immune Blend. The Fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids, which help with skin and coat and are renal, heart and liver protective. Recommended dose is one capsule per 10-20 lbs of body weight daily. To this I would add the Bertes Immune Blend, which contains the antioxidants vitamin C and E, and also a B complex (good for nerve and eye health), L-Glutamine (helps slow down muscle atrophy and helps with digestion); digestive enzymes and Probiotics (help keep the good flora and fauna in the digestive tract). On a final note, it is always important to keep your senior dog in good condition. This means daily walks and including them in other activities as their age and mobility permits. Good nutrition, bi-yearly wellness checkups at your veterinarians and keeping your senior physically fit and mentally active will lead to a long and healthy life!