Diet is the single most important factor affecting your dog’s health and longevity. The great thing is that you’re the one controlling what he eats, so you can do a lot to keep him well and happy. Here are some senior nutrition tips for keeping your dog healthy and young at heart during his golden years.
1. Don’t tip the scales
It’s important to keep your canine senior citizen at a healthy weight. There are many reasons he can become overweight, the most common of which are improper diet and lack of sufficient exercise. Weight gain may also be due to a hypothyroid condition, so if you’ve been reducing your dog’s caloric intake over time and notice no weight loss, it’s important you take him to the veterinarian and get his thyroid function checked. Once any medical reasons for obesity are ruled out, the other reasons for weight gain need to be addressed.
As dogs age, we love them more and more and may tend to give them lots of treats. While our unconditionally-loving canine companions deserve the best, over-treating generates weight gain. This doesn’t mean your dog can’t enjoy treats; simply change what he eats to healthier fare.
One large wheat-based biscuit contains 500 calories – over a meal’s worth of calories for a small dog. It’s easy to create treats from foods that are both healthy and delicious. Many dogs love broccoli stems or slices of apple, pear or watermelon. Freeze-dried chicken breast makes a welcome and low calorie treat.
Vegetables such as asparagus, carrots, string beans, broccoli, yams and sweet potatoes can be very lightly dribbled with olive oil and baked at a low heat until they are golden brown and then cooled. There are so many options that even finicky seniors will have their favourites.
2. Go for good quality
It’s important to learn how to decipher quality ingredients by reading pet food labels. Many manufacturers use corn and corn gluten as a cheap alternative protein source. Corn is not a natural food source for dogs and contains eight grams of carbohydrates to every gram of protein. Avoid foods with corn, meat by-products and animal digest.
I don’t recommend special weight loss diets since they typically include substantial quantities of low quality fibre such as soy mill run, peanut hulls and wheat middling. It’s better to look for foods with quality fibre sources such as pumpkin seed, flaxseed and fresh vegetables. Healthy carbohydrates to look for include oats, barley, sweet potato and brown rice.
3. Watch the protein
Traditional recommendations are to reduce the protein content in an older dog’s meals. The best way to do this is by making up the difference by adding vegetables to his diet.
Adding more fruits and vegetables along with sweet potatoes to his food will give him the special phytonutrients (compounds in foods that both prevent disease and improve health) his cells need to eliminate toxins and stay in top form. Most dogs love steamed veggies with a bit of olive oil or butter on them. If your dog shies away from this, try adding a small amount of Parmesan cheese to the mix.
If you want to try home cooking, you can easily adjust protein levels in your dog’s diet and add lots of healthy produce to his meals. If you’re used to feeding a canned or dry food and are concerned about the home cooking commitment, know that you don’t have to cook every day and can alternate with the packaged food if you wish.
4. Up the antioxidants
When it comes to senior nutrition, antioxidants are extraordinarily important for maintaining good health. They deter aging by helping your dog’s cells and organs resist damage. They inhibit the destructive effects of oxidation, a process that begins when toxic substances in the environment cause damage to cells. Freshly cooked vegetables are filled with healthy antioxidants.
The antioxidant vitamin E occurs naturally in grains, nut oils and dark leafy green vegetables. Kale is an excellent vegetable for it contains not only vitamin E but also special phytonutrients that dump toxins and carcinogens out of cells ten times faster. Vitamin E is even more effective with vitamin C (another antioxidant); they create a powerful one-two preemptive punch against cancer and other chronic diseases.
Fat-soluble vitamin A is found in animal fats, egg yolks and cod liver oil. Carotenes are the water-soluble form of vitamin A. Beta-carotene is found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables have been found to decrease cancer risk in humans by 30% and it’s no different for dogs. Variety is the key.
Feeding your dog healthy organic vegetables and fruits, free range eggs, and lots of variety will give him anti-aging antioxidants every day.
In many ways, senior nutrition requirements are similar to the needs of a younger dog. But the older your canine gets, the more important it becomes to watch his diet and weight, and make sure he’s getting quality balanced nutrition. It’s one of the simplest – and most important – ways to ensure he’ll be by your side for many more years to come.