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Nutrition and Care for Your Senior Dog

Older dogs have special nutritional needs. Feeding mature dogs a diet that is specifically designed to meet these needs will help them live longer and healthier.

Changing Energy Requirements

During the adult years, your dog’s required calorie intake will very likely decline. Feeding a diet that has less fat and fewer calories will help maintain a healthy body condition.

L-carnitine is a vitamin like nutrient that has some marvelous effects within the body. Not only is it responsible for helping to regulate blood sugar, it helps the body convert fat into energy. This is beneficial for helping your older dog stay lean and fit.

In recent studies, lean body condition throughout life is directly linked to the length of life and to the quality of life. Keeping your dog lean will help him live longer and healthier. Follow the feeding guidelines on the package closely and take into account all extras, such as biscuits or table food or chew treats. Make sure you subtract the calories included in these extras from your dog’s daily energy requirement. Your veterinarian will be able to help you calculate your dog’s daily calorie requirement.

Protecting the Body from Aging Change

Antioxidants have captured a lot of media attention recently. As our pets metabolize the food that they consume, their bodies produce free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen particles that have an electronic charge attached. As our pets get older, the formation of free radicals increases.

The problem with the increase in free radicals is that these pesky particles charge around within the body and damage healthy cells. While we are unable to stop the aging process with antioxidants, we can counteract some of the damage being done by free radicals. Antioxidants are very effective at neutralizing the free radicals, making them unable to damage the healthy cells.

Two of the most prominent antioxidants in pet nutrition are vitamin E and selenium. Feeding a diet that contains both of these important antioxidants is beneficial for your maturing dog.

Controlling Arthritis Pain

Another ailment that commonly plagues our mature dogs is arthritis. There are many medications that can help relieve the pain of arthritis, but there are also some effective natural therapies.

Glucosamine and chondroitin have been studied and proven to be effective in alleviating the discomfort of mild arthritis. These naturally occurring compounds help block inflammation within the joints and help keep the joint fluid healthy, providing proper cushion within the joint. Feeding a diet that contains glucosamine and chondroitin may allow you to improve your dog’s mobility without administering a daily supplement.

Heart Healthy

We already mentioned L-carnitine and its ability to help the body convert fat into energy, promoting a lean body condition.  Another feature of this nutrient is its ability to help the heart muscle work more efficiently, which is particularly important in older dogs.

Taurine is an amino acid that is required by cats. We have recently learned that some dogs may also have a dietary requirement for taurine.

Dogs manufacture their own taurine from two other amino acids, cysteine and methionine. Some dogs are less efficient at using these two amino acids to make taurine, and may require more of these two amino acids to make enough.

Lamb is lower in cysteine and methionine than other protein sources. So, when you have the combination of a dog that is inefficient at manufacturing taurine and a diet that is made from lamb, you may end up with a taurine deficient dog. Taurine deficiency in dogs causes the same type of heart disease that it does in cats, dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM.

The Magic of Fatty Acids

Fatty acids play a role in several aspects of ideal nutrition. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in all pet foods, contributed by the primary fat source (such as chicken fat). Omega-3 fatty acids have to be provided by a special ingredient, and because they are not listed as a required nutrient by AAFCO, many pet food companies do not add an omega-3 fatty acid source.

Flaxseed is a natural plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. This ingredient should be added at the appropriate level to produce the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This ratio lies between 5:1 and 10:1.

Many people know that fatty acids help keep the skin and the hair coat healthy. What people often aren’t aware of are the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on other systems within the body. Omega-3 fatty acids can control inflammation in the skin that is associated with skin allergies. They also can help control joint inflammation associated with arthritis, promote healthy kidney function, and may have a role in the prevention of some cancers.

A Healthy Gut

A dog with a healthy gastrointestinal system will enjoy better overall health. The right types of fiber in the right amounts will help your mature dog have a healthier gut.

Dried chicory root and beet pulp are also known as prebiotics. The digestion of prebiotics produces short chain fatty acids, or SCFA’s. These SCFA’s serve as the energy source for the cells in the intestines as well as for the beneficial bacteria throughout the digestive tract.

As dogs age, their ability to digest certain nutrients may be compromised. With the inclusion of ingredients such as dried chicory root or beet pulp, mature dog formulas will help your older dog have a healthier digestive system.

Feed Your Senior Dog for Optimal Health

Protect the health of your maturing dog with good nutrition and good veterinary care. Senior check-ups are recommended at 6-month intervals. Your veterinarian will be more likely to detect a health problem and correct it before it becomes more serious if you are taking your pet in for a veterinary visit at least two times a year.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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