Mature Dog Food: The Best Food for Ages 6 and Older
Dogs hit maturity around 7 years of age (5 years for larger dogs). It's not uncommon for them to live as long as 15 years. As your pet enters his golden years, his activity level might slow down and common conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and kidney disease may arise. “It is so more important to monitor the eating habits of older pets,” stresses Tom Carpenter, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. “Generally, older pets do not need as much protein, sodium, and phosphorus. But your veterinarian needs to address this for your individual pet,” he says, adding that semiannual vet visits are recommended for an older animal.
Some mature dogs are prone to obesity. To test whether your dog is at a healthy weight, move your hands along his sides. If you can feel his ribs (but don't see them), he's doing okay. But if you feel a fat covering, or you visibly notice a rounded abdomen, he might be overweight. Exercise is still important for a senior dog, and if he's gained weight, you want to look for a low-fat weight-control food that contains vitamin-rich fish oils (IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Mature Adult is one good choice).
Other mature pets can become finicky eaters and lose weight as they age. "Very old pets may actually need a more calorie-dense diet," Carpenter says. Older dogs can lose their sense of smell and have a harder time chewing their food. To make mature dog food easier to eat, you can top their dry food with room-temperature wet food.
If your dog is gaining or losing a lot of weight, slightly decrease or increase his daily feedings. A sudden change in weight or appetite might be a sign of disease, so you should check with your vet. Water is also essential. "Older pets are at a higher risk of dehydration," Carpenter says. Provide a clean bowl with fresh water at all times.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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