Whether you’ve always been a fan of raw food or consider yourself a curious observer, you might find yourself wondering what diet your dog should be on as they enter their senior years and if raw is right for your older dog.
I know firsthand the importance of choosing the right diet for an older dog. My dog, Mia managed to come out the other side of her cancer battles in part because her diet kept her fit and lean, and her body was able to process the toxins much better. I have no doubt about this because the diet was designed to help the liver process toxins easier.
But that was a little over two years ago. Now, her body is changing once again and what was always a settled diet for her now isn’t and I find myself looking at alternatives to try and help create stability again.
I’ve always been a fan of raw food for my younger dogs, but I know older dogs shouldn’t have the same quantity of proteins as younger dogs because the body finds it more difficult to process as it once did, so I find myself wondering if there’s a raw option for Mia who’s now 14?
Luckily, Sue Armstrong, Veterinary Surgeon and Homeopath was able to share her veterinary expertise to help me learn more, and I hope it will help you too.
Why it’s important to change a dog’s diet as they age
As dogs’ age, they may be subject to more wear and tear issues, such as arthritis, but that's only one example of the changes their body will go through.
Older dogs are more likely to have less efficient organs, such as the kidney, liver and immune system, so the food needs to be adapted to these potential changes.
Sue tells us, “Many of these things lead to a reduction in the level of exercise and activity, which also changes the dogs’ calorie requirement. It is very individual, just as it is in humans, and this is where routine health checks in old age to check organ function can be a great help in assessing the dietary needs of your dog.”
The key difference between an adult dog diet and an older dog diet
Sue tells us the best diet for elderly and geriatric dogs won’t just reduce protein but will change where it gets its protein from, favouring white meat proteins over red meat proteins.
She says this is because the protein from white meat is easier for the liver and kidney to handle, adding: “Bone content and certain minerals such as salt can be reduced whilst other components such as glucosamine and chondroitin may be increased in level to aid joint function, for example.”
How to choose the right diet for your older dog
Now we know what protein sources and vitamins and minerals we should be looking for, Sue tells us the diet should crucially be well-balanced and high quality.
“It is important to match the diet to your individual dog's needs and ranges such as those produced by Natural Instinct will have a range of fat percentages, protein types and bone contents to allow owners to select the most appropriate combination for their individual ageing dog’s circumstances."
Senior recipes often have added glucosamine, chondroitin and vitamin C to support the ageing joints and a slightly reduced meat and bone percentage to reflect the metabolic changes in the ageing dog.
So when should you transition to a diet more suitable for older dogs?
You may expect to judge when your dog switches from an adult to older dog based on your dog’s breed and their average age expectancy.
Sue says the decision of when to transition is yours and should be based on your dog’s overall health and activity levels, rather than an age set in stone.
In my case with Mia, the average age of her breed is 8. She’s now 14. However, I would consider her adulthood transition to an older dog to have taken place at around 7, based on her fitness and general health.
Not all dogs will suit all diets and before switching foods you should assess your dog fully. For example, sick dogs or very old animals might not transition too well from a processed diet to a raw diet if they are currently stable on the diet being fed.
She suggests a routine blood screen at 7-8 years of age to assess how your dog’s body is working telling us they can be an excellent benchmark.
“You can monitor how fit your dog is on the inside as well as the outside. If your dog is still active and healthy there is not a set age when we would recommend senior diet.”
Is there a way to transition a senior dog’s diet for success?
After weighing up the pros and cons of raw dog food, if you feel your dog will benefit from a change she tells us when you have fully assessed your dog’s health you will know what to look for in a diet.
“You need to know what your dog’s needs are so you can make sure the diet is right. For example, an older dog prone to pancreatitis will need lower fat formulations, arthritic dogs will need higher glucosamine content and will need particular attention paid to not becoming overweight due to their reduced activity levels so may need less than the average feeding rate.”
Sue continues, “Our advice for those who do wish to convert is to slowly transition over a two week period and support the dog with probiotic during this period. The body needs time to adjust to a completely different diet and this may take longer in older animals – slow is best to allow adjustment to take place and prevent constipation or diarrhoea during the switch over period.”