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Physical Changes in Senior Dogs
Aging… no one wants to hear this word. When my Bichon Frise, Toby, was getting into his senior years it was hard for me to admit the reality. Our dogs go through a similar aging process to us. Typically, a dog is considered to be a senior dog around the age of 7. They may not be as active as they used to be, start going grey around the muzzle and not want to play with us as much as they used to. They also may even have accidents around the house or forget their favourite trick you once taught them. Toby was slowing down a lot, not as active and sometimes he took longer to complete his favourite trick. Whatever the changes may be, we need to be aware of them and ensure we do the best for our furry friends.
Hearing Loss- Dogs can lose some of their hearing as the get older. They may sometimes bark for no reason, fail to come when they are called or respond to their normal commands. I remember as Toby got older he would bark and whine for no reason and when I called him, he didn’t always hear me. I was extremely patient with him and gently went up to him to let him know I was there.
Vision Loss- Sometimes our dogs may exhibit signs of vision loss. Toby had a hazy growth over his eyes as he got older and he was diagnosed with cataracts. He sometimes would be startled when something came close to him and he was sometimes unsure of his surroundings. As his owner, I was aware of this and guided him when he needed it.
Dental Problems- Some dogs may exhibit gum soreness, plaque and tartar build up and tooth loss as they age. Having this oral discomfort can decrease their appetite. It’s important to visit the veterinarian on a regular basis for regular checkups and cleanings. Toby had horrible breath so we took him to the vet and gave him a cleaning, which was definitely needed!
Weight Gain or Loss- As our dogs age, their metabolism begins to change which can cause them to gain or lose weight. A study showed that young dogs body fat content was between 15% to 20% and older dogs body fat content was between 25% and 30%1
. It’s important to always measure your dog’s food and keep an eye on their weight. Check out the Purina Body Condition Score
to help manage your dog’s weight and be sure to visit your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Mobility Problems- Arthritis can be an issue in older dogs, which causes stiffness and pain in our dogs’ bones and joints. They may have a tough time climbing the stairs or getting up and down. Be aware of these issues and exercise your dog according to their ability and needs. Some formulas will have added glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids to help with joint health and mobility.
Brain Changes- As our dogs get older, the glucose metabolism in their brain begins to change which can affect things like memory, learning and decision making. They may not be as alert as they used to be and may even forget their favourite trick so be sure to be patient with them as they get older.
Nutrition and Senior Pets
Energy- A dog’s energy needs tend to decrease with age as they are less active as they age. A Nestlé Purina study showed a 25% decrease in energy requirements in dogs that were an average of 11 years of age compared to dogs of the same breed at 2-to-5 years of age2
. This suggests that older dogs need fewer calories to help avoid unwanted weight gain and they may benefit from diets that have a higher nutrient-density to compensate for lower energy intake.
Protein- Older pets tend to show a decrease in lean body mass as they age. High quality protein from a complete and balanced diet will help maintain lean body mass as well as be used when dealing with illnesses as proteins are used to make antibodies for immunity and protection.
Fat- Since older dogs are less active, lower fat in their diet can be of a benefit. The type of fat is also important! Senior dogs benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA which has been shown to help with joint health and mobility. Nestlé Purina discovered that MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) from enhanced botanical oils can be used as an additional energy source for the brain, promoting alertness and mental sharpness in dogs 7+3
Antioxidants- Antioxidants are important for dogs especially those that are older to help support a heathy immune system. Vitamins E and C are examples of antioxidants that are often found in dog foods to help prevent damage to cells and tissues in the body.
Feeding Routine- I always fed Toby two meals per day and it is recommended to feed your dog 2-3 meals per day. Our dogs rely on a routine so ensure you have a regular schedule for feeding and try to stick with it. Ensure that fresh water is always available at all times so that your dog stays well hydrated.
So, when it comes to our older dogs, be aware of the physical changes that might occur and be sure to find a complete and balanced formula
to meet your dog’s nutritional needs!
1. Meyer, H. Stadfeld, G. Investigation on the body and organ structures of dogs. In Anderson RS, editor: Nutrition of the dog and cat, J Nutr 124:2622S, 1994.
2/ Laflamme, DP. Martineau, B. Jones, W. et al. Effect of age on maintenance energy requirements and apparent digestibility of canine diets (abstract). Comprend Contun Educ Prac Vet 2000:22(Suppl 9A):133.
3. Pan, Yuanlong et al. Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. Br. J. Nutr. 2010. 103(12):1746-1754.