by Sophie Baldwin, vet nurse & owner of We Love Pets Stroud
Senior foods depending on the brand are generally aimed at dogs that are 7-8yrs or over. In the larger breeds like the Great Dane, St Bernard and Bernese Mt Dog they are classed as entering their senior years at around 5-6yrs old.
Diets aimed at the older dog will contain nutrients at levels that help reduce the workload on the kidneys. Fat levels are reduced as the older dog tends to have a reduction in exercise levels. Nutrients such as glucosamine and chondoitin sulphate may be added to help support the older dogs joints along with fatty acids to help joints, skin and coat condition.
Exercise helps maintain a healthy bodyweight, strengthens joints,muscles and provides mental stimulation.Overweight dogs struggle with exercise and can be at risk of having shorter lifespans. In studies it has been shown to be two years less.
Excess weight puts stress on the heart and lungs with fat building up around internal organs. Joints can become painful with the excess weight load. It really can become a viscous circle with the dogs exercise tolerance reduced and so they are less likely to want to go far on walks and as a result less calories are used.
Physical exercise helps maintain muscle mass which in turn will help support the joints. Little and often may be preferable for a very old dog ie 10 mins 3 x daily rather than 1 hr twice daily. The older dog will often also need more ‘toliet’ trips outside.
If your dog has slowed down or seems physically uncomfortable try not to just pass it off as old age. Your dog is uncomfortable for a reason and there is usually a treatment that can help ease aches and pains. It may mean your dog needs a visit to the vet for an examination. The vet may prescrible an anti- inflammatory to help with arthritic joints. This usually consists of a syrup that can go on the food just once a day.
Many dogs may enjoy hydrotherapy sessions to help keep them mobile and even acupuncture.These sort of treatment sessions give them mental stimulation as well. Walks may become more about the dog moving at their own pace. An older dogs’ hearing and perhaps eyesight may be fading but make use of the nose as their sense of smell is unlikely to be an issue!Popping your dog in the car and getting them to explore new areas with new smells once a week will help keep them stimulated.
Mental stimulation and social interaction with other pets and or people is good for your dog. Sticking to a daily routine can help reduce anxiety and worry. A dog that is worried is unlikely to play.
Think about the breed of your dog and what they were bred to do so you can tailer make playtime bringing out their natural instincts. This is good for all ages of dog.
Playing games such as ‘hunt the treat’ is not just for puppies. Provide quality time with your dog as most dogs are never to old to play. Dogs are social animals and it is good for them to play to help keep them young at heart.