As your dog matures, his body functions change. He might have decreased immune-system function, deterioration of skin and coat quality, and more frequent intestinal problems. So it makes sense that what a mature dog eats might also need to change.
Decreased Immune-System Function
Throughout a dog's life, a process called peroxidation occurs. This is a normal process the body uses to destroy cells that outlive their usefulness and to kill germs and parasites, but this process also can destroy or damage healthy cells. As a dog ages, the damage caused by peroxidation accumulates and, in turn, increases the risk of certain problems such as infections.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring components in the body (but also can be acquired through diet). They help maintain overall health by neutralizing the peroxidation process of cellular molecules.
Research sponsored by IAMS™ found that dogs fed a diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E had improved immune responses and vaccine recognition. This might be especially important for mature/senior dogs, because IAMS research has found that, as dogs age, immune responses can decrease.
Deterioration of Skin and Coat Quality
Eating a complete and balanced diet with omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in vitamin-rich fish oils, also helps rejuvenate dry skin and develop a healthy, lustrous coat.
More Frequent Intestinal Problems
Aging dogs might have higher numbers of unfavorable bacteria and lower numbers of beneficial bacteria in their intestines, which can result in clinical signs of gastrointestinal problems (such as diarrhea). A diet with a moderately fermentable fiber source such as beet pulp can help maintain intestinal health. Beet pulp provides energy for the cells lining the intestine and promotes proper stool formation.
How Do I Know When My Dog Needs a Mature Diet?
Different dogs show signs of aging at different times, and much of this variation is associated with size. Larger dogs generally appear mature/senior sooner than smaller dogs. The table below can show you when your dog should start a mature diet with a food such as IAMS ProActive Health™ Mature Adult.
Dog Weight and Transition to Mature/Senior Foods
|Weight Range||Age to Begin Transition|
|More than 90 lbs||5 years|
|51 to 90 lbs||6 years|
|21 to 50 lbs||7 years|
|Up to 20 lbs||7 years|
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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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