Caring for a Senior Dog with Fresh Foods and Other Tips

caring for a senior dog

Written by Hilary Wilkie

Hilary is a qualified canine nutritionist, who is passionate about educating dog parents on optimal ways to feed their dogs so they can thrive.

16 December 2022

As a dog parent to a senior dog, it is difficult to imagine the day that our girl will no longer be with us. Jessie, just like all senior dogs have earned the right to enjoy their golden years comfortably and with dignity.

 As your dog ages they need special care and attention; and looking after their needs will be rewarding for you both. Your senior dog has stuck by your side with extreme loyalty, so we’re providing you with some tips to enable you and your dog to enjoy their retirement years as best you can.

Signs that my dog is getting older

When your dog gets older many dog parents may not know what to look for and are unsure how to support their dog. One or more symptoms that may arise include:

  1. Increased sleeping
  2. Urinary or bowel accidents and/or leakage
  3. Inability to climb or descend stairs
  4. Increased irritability
  5. Increased anxiety
  6. Increased pain, whining, moaning, shaking
  7. Seeming “lost” and confused

How to care for a senior dog

Supporting your dog in their senior years can be broken into three parts:

  1. Physical
  2. Cognitive
  3. Emotional/Mental

A 2018 study on the aging of dogs funded by Mars Petcare found dogs experience changes similar to humans as they age in relation to inflammation and other physiological damages.

Senior dogs are prone to arthritis, mobility issues and weight gain. Keep your dog at a healthy weight to relieve some discomfort that is associated with arthritis and mobility.

In addition, it is important to continue to exercise your senior dog. The type of exercise they do may differ to what they did in their adolescent years. If you use to run 10km with your dog, that may change to walks at shorter distances a few times a day instead of one big outing. Or, if they loved to jump and fetch, but their joints don’t support that investigate taking them for a swim for a gentle full body workout.

Feeding your dog, a species appropriate may help them with common ailments. Aim to feed your dog a diet that is rich in quality protein, healthy fats, and functional carbohydrates. Replacing even 10% of their kibble-based diet with fresh whole foods will make a difference.

The addition of supplements can help you and your dog work through the symptoms of aging without your dog suffering in silence. Work with your integrative or holistic veterinarian to see if a supplement for aging joints and or brain health will benefit your dog. Bear in mind the supplement sector is an unregulated industry for both humans and dogs.

Additional tips to care for your senior dog’s physical changes include:

  1. Consider the use of ramps
  2. Take steps to prevent injuries
  3. Ensure your dog has a comfortable place to sleep
  4. Look for signs of pain; and
  5. See your veterinarian twice a year

It’s not just your dog’s physical decline that is a worry as they age, it is also their cognitive abilities that decline too. Supporting your older dog with functional foods can help their brain as they age. Functional foods that are shown to improve cognitive function in the aging canine brain include foods rich in vitamin C and E, Omega-3 fatty acids, small amounts of fruits and vegetables, coconut oil and milk thistle.

Protein for senior dogs

Contrary to belief, increasing the protein intake for senior dogs is vital to their health and well-being.

Healthy older dogs need more protein – about 50% more protein – due to an age-related decline in protein synthesis and an increase in protein turnover.

Diana Laverdure-Dunetz

Author, Canine Nutritionist, Canine Nutrigenomics

Protein does so much for your dog. It is the source of amino acids which is responsible for muscle and tissue repair. It supports the growth of skin, hair, nails, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscle fibre. It also supports the immune system.

If your older dog’s diet does not contain sufficient amounts of high-quality protein, then their body will steal it from their low body mass (LBM). By increasing the amount of dietary protein your senior dog is fed will slow the loss of low body mass, therefore potentially extending your dog’s life.

If your dog is fed poor quality carbohydrates, that may increase inflammation in their body. Ideally, replace it with protein from fresh whole food sources. Take steps to eliminate, or at least, minimise, the amount of ultra-processed foods they eat.

Antioxidants and senior dogs

A key player in your dog’s longevity is antioxidants. Antioxidants rid the body of toxic free radicals that harm healthy cells and tissues, thus reducing oxidative stress and damage, which is a very good thing. Studies have found that a diet rich in antioxidants for older dogs is beneficial.

While commercial dog foods may contain antioxidants, they often are from synthetic sources which your dog will not absorb as well as those antioxidants sourced from fresh whole foods.

Instead, feed fresh whole foods. Foods rich in antioxidants include, but are not limited to:

  1. Broccoli,
  2. Carrots
  3. Peaches
  4. Carrots,
  5. Green leafy vegetables
  6. Strawberries
  7. Nuts and seeds
  8. Watermelon
  9. Tomatoes

Feeding your senior dog, a species appropriate diet may help with:

  1. Arthritis
  2. Constipation
  3. Tooth and gum disease
  4. Senility

The eating habits of a senior dog

As your dog ages you may see changes in their eating habits. Dr. Judy Morgan, nationally renowned author and veterinarian, suggests that senior dogs no matter what type of diet they are fed may prefer their meals warm, rather than cold.

According to Chinese medicine, food that is cold or frozen may lead to stagnation in the digestive process, which is especially damaging for senior dogs. Therefore, ensure food is at room temperature or warmer when feeding your dog. This can be done in a few ways:

  1. Pour hot (not boiling) water over their food; allow to cool slightly before feeding it, so your dog doesn’t burn their mouth or tongue.
  2. Pour warmed bone broth over their food; again, allow to cool slightly before feeding it, so your dog doesn’t burn their mouth or tongue.
  3. Heat the meal in a double boiler

At the end of the day feed what works best for your dog. Modify their diet based on what your dog is telling you and what they need.

The important thing is to feed your senior dog for optimal health. One of the best tools to support your aging dog is feeding them a variety of fresh whole foods.

But the most important tool is your love for them. You loved them from the first day you brough them into your life, love them to their last day no matter how difficult it gets.

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