Feeding Your Old Companion Dog Well
In the same way that we humans get old and have different needs as we age, our companion animals need different care when they get older. Elderly dogs, as a group, are characterized by the normal signs of aging, as well as often dealing with age-related illnesses and diseases. Dog health, like human health, is very much tied to the quality of their diets, and people who are interested in helping their dogs live their best lives into older age, nutrition is a key point of attention. The purpose of this study was to outline key issues older dogs deal with, and to identify how nutrition may play a factor.
Why do older dogs merit special attention as a group? Demographic data indicates that the number of “geriatric” dogs in the U.S. is increasing, with both the proportion of older dogs and their age seeming on the rise. A 2012 survey of more than 50,000 people revealed that 33.2% of dogs were 6-to-10 years of age and 14.7% were older than 11. Comparing those numbers to the previous five years, it shows an increase of 9.1% in the number of dogs in that age bracket.
Of course, as the study notes, “the age of transition of dogs from adult to senior or geriatric is variable and subjective,” with vets, people, and food companies all having slightly different definitions of what makes a “senior” dog. Lifespan can help in such estimates, and the researchers found that, based on 2012 data, the average life span of one population of dogs was 11 years. Some dogs are considered senior from about the age of five onward, though for other breeds it may be as old as eight or more.
These fine-grain details notwithstanding, the study proceeds into a discussion of the various impacts of aging: on nutrient absorption, gut microbiota, the brain, immune health, gene expression, and more. This discussion is set in the frame of the fact that “the ideal nutritional profile of a diet for senior dogs is not agreed on,” that there are no regulatory standards for what senior dog diets require. The authors speak in broad terms, noting that, as they get older, dogs have lower energy requirements, higher protein requirements, less phosphorus, and that sodium intake needs can vary from dog to dog. Finally, they offer a broad selection of nutritional interventions for various ailments.
For animal advocates, especially those dealing with companion dogs at home, or in shelter settings, the study shows some key ways that nutrition has an impact on the health of older dogs, and gives some practical suggestions to apply to different contexts. As with humans, nutrition is one of those factors that we tend to ignore until there is a problem. This study shows the importance of food and nutrition for aging dogs, not just as reactive treatment, but as preventative medicine.