As dogs age, changes occur in the way their bodies function, so it makes sense that what they eat also might need to change. The following list of health issues might be more common in aging pets.
- Decreased immune-system function
- More frequent intestinal problems
- Decreased mobility
- Dental issues
Special Nutrition for Special Needs
Decreased Immune System Function
Throughout a dog’s life, a process called peroxidation occurs. Peroxidation is a normal process that the body uses to destroy cells that outlive their usefulness and to kill germs, parasites, etc. This process, however, also can destroy or damage healthy cells. As your dog ages, the damage caused by peroxidation accumulates, which, in turn, increases the risk of certain problems, such as infections.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients that help maintain overall health by neutralizing the peroxidation process of cellular molecules. Some antioxidants, such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein, are naturally occurring nutrients.
Recent research sponsored by The IAMS™ Company found that dogs fed a diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E, lutein, or beta-carotene had improved immune responses and vaccine recognition. This might be especially important in senior dog care; IAMS research has found that as dogs age, immune responses can decrease.
More Frequent Intestinal Problems
Older 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 (e.g., diarrhea).
Feeding a diet containing fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a unique fiber source that helps nutritionally maintain healthy intestinal bacterial populations, promotes growth of beneficial bacteria. Beet pulp, a moderably fermentable fiber source, also helps maintain intestinal health by providing energy for the cells lining the intestine and promoting small, firm stools.
Signs That Your Dog Needs Senior Food
Different dogs show signs of aging at different times, and much of this variation is associated with size. Larger dogs generally appear "old" sooner than smaller dogs. The table below lists the age at which various groups of dogs should be transitioned to senior foods, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus.
Dog Weight and Transition to Senior Food
|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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