Jack Russell lying next to food bowls

Looking after them in later life

A dog’s needs change throughout their life and as they enter the autumn of their years should you be looking at changing their diet?

During periods of rapid growth, puppies will need three times more calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals per kilogram of body weight than adult dogs of the same breed.

But when dogs enter the senior life stage their needs change again as their energy levels reduce and they risk developing age-related health issues. It is just as important with senior dogs as puppies to give them the correct diet for their stage of life.

What makes senior food different?

The aim of senior food is to help prevent or manage age-related disease while also promoting long life. Some brands of senior food will include fewer calories to help with weight management – which can be more of a problem in some ageing breeds than others.

There are senior foods that cater for specific health issues by including supplements known to provide benefits. For example, dogs with arthritis can enjoy food that includes ingredients such as glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulphate and omega-3 fatty acids that are known to help mobility.

At what age does a dog become a senior?

This is not a straight-forward matter as different breeds of dog age at different rates. For example, the life expectancy of a small breed like a Yorkshire Terrier is 13 years compared to just seven years for a giant breed like a Great Dane.

Being overweight can also prematurely age a dog and reduce their life expectancy, meaning they reach the senior life stage earlier than a dog of their breed at a healthy weight. In the majority of cases, a dog will become senior between five and eight years old.

Signs of a senior dog Dogs are very good at hiding signs that they are getting old, with many managing to convince their owners they are eternal puppies. However, there are some things you should keep an eye on as your dog ages that point towards them benefitting from a switch to senior food. These include:

  • Eating patterns - have you noticed your dog eating more or less?
  • Drinking patterns - have you noticed your dog drinking more or less?
  • Toileting - are they going more or less often?
  • Weight - have they lost or gained weight?
  • Sleeping patterns - have these changed at all? Do they wake in the night and seem unsettled?
  • Cognitive health - do they ever seem vague or confused? Do they have difficulty recognising people or surroundings? It could be an early sign of canine dementia.

Choosing a senior food

Make sure you read the label and look for meat as the first ingredient. Look for lower levels of carbohydrates like wheat and maize. Brown rice or potato are easier to digest. Ingredients that aid digestion include yucca extract or to support joint health look for glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane).

As with any change of diet, you should transition your dog gradually to avoid an upset stomach.

Start by introducing just a small amount to their old food and slowly increase the amount of the new food.

Making meal times enjoyable

It is not uncommon for older dogs to become a bit fussy with their food or begin to find it harder to eat. To ensure they are eating enough for optimal health there are a few things you can try to make meal times more appetising.

  • Try feeding your dog smaller meals more often during the day so they are not daunted by a big amount in their bowl.
  • Try warming up the food as this will help your dog to be able to smell and taste it better if their senses are diminishing.
  • If your old dog is lacking in teeth or has trouble chewing, choose a softer option or soak kibble in warm water first.
  • A big dog might find bending their head down to a bowl uncomfortable as they get older. You could raise their bowl or choose one of the special raised feeders available.
  • Older dogs will often take their time to eat and will appreciate a bit of peace while doing so. Make sure you feed your dog in a quiet place in the home and give them space to enjoy their food.