As dogs age, their health and stamina slowly decline. Their bodies lose the ability to repair themselves, maintain normal body functions and adapt to the stresses and changes in the environment. In addition, around age 7 for most dogs and age 5 for giant breed dogs, metabolism slows down and older dogs require fewer calories.
The proper diet is very important in the care of an aging dog. However, there is no best food to feed a geriatric dog; the best food depends on the specific problems or nutritional requirements of the individual animal. Most foods for older dogs are lower in protein, sodium and phosphorus to help their aging hearts and kidneys. Increased amounts of certain vitamins have also been found to be beneficial in the senior dog.
Obesity is a very common problem of older animals and should be taken seriously. It directly correlates to a decreased longevity, and may contribute to other problems. For the best health care, provide your older dog a good quality food that is appropriate for his specific needs, and do not allow your dog to gain excessive weight. Try not to give table scraps, and stick with a consistent diet.
Dogs that are arthritic have a far more difficult time moving and may require strong anti-inflammatory drugs to ease their discomfort. Weight loss in these animals may have great impact on improving their quality of life. Your veterinarian can prescribe or recommend special lower calorie, high fiber diets that make weight loss easier.
Additionally, through the geriatric work-up, special nutritional requirements or restrictions may be recommended. These diets attempt to either slow the development of the disease process, or improve specific organ function. Special diets for many diseases (even in the early stages), including kidney, liver, gastrointestinal, heart, dental and skin disease, are available. Diets for diabetes and cancer may also be recommended.
Proper nutritional management is a very important part of the care for your geriatric dog, especially since it is something that you have control over.