5 Ways to Help Your Old Dog Feel Younger
This article is written by one of our in houe veterinarians, Dr Teagan Lever BVSc.
With advances in veterinary care, our dogs are living for longer than ever before. Unfortunately along with old age comes conditions such as arthritis, muscle wastage, hearing and vision loss and cognitive decline. Traditionally most pet parents have taken for granted that all old dogs 'slow down' to some extent, but this doesn't have to be the case!
|Lifestage||Small Breed||Medium Breed||Large Breed|
|Adult||10 - 12 months||12 - 14 months||18 - 24 months|
|Mature||5 years +||7 years +||8 years +|
|Senior||8 years +||10 years +||12 years +|
Ageing changes the way your dog's body and mind uses food
As dogs age, a number of changes start to occur within their bodies which influence their nutritional needs. Overall there is a decrease in metabolic rate linked to a decrease in the amount of muscle tissue and an increase in the amount of body fat, in many cases meaning the body needs less energy than it did before.
Along with changed energy requirements, advancing age can also see changes to your dog's capability to digest their food effectively and efficiently, leaving them more susceptible to tummy upsets. Dogs may also have a reduced appetite as they age, and can also begin to develop health problems such as kidney and liver dysfunction.
The brain cells of young adult dogs utilise glucose from the bloodstream in order to carry out their functions, such as memory, learning and decision making. Research has shown that over time as dogs age, their brains become less efficient at utilising glucose as an energy source which in turn causes signs of cognitive decline.
Signs of cognitive decline in dogs
- Sleeping more
- Less interested in playing or other enjoyable activities
- Appearing lost or disoriented in familiar places
- Night time restlessness
- Loss of toilet training
Tailored nutrition can help your senior dog feel better in body and mind
Adapted protein and energy levels
Feeding a diet with higher levels of easily digestible protein can help to reduce muscle wastage and ensure your senior dog is consuming enough calories without contributing to excessive weight gain. Moderate calorie formulas are the way to go as weight gain and obesity can have detrimental effects on many body systems and reduce your dog's overall life expectancy.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a class of essential fatty acids, meaning they can not be synthesised by the body and must be consumed in the diet. Omega fatty acids, particularly the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, offer a wealth of benefits for our pets. They have been demonstrated to have an anti inflammatory effect which can be beneficial for kidney, skin, heart and joint health. DHA also has a protective effect on brain cells and studies in humans suggest it may help to improve cognitive function and memory as well as preventing the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
Although the exact effect of DHA on the canine brain is as yet unknown, a study where senior dogs were fed a diet enriched with DHA, combined with mitochondrial cofactors and antioxidants found there was significant impact on age related behavioural changes and improved a number of behavioural attributes such as agility and recognition of family members.
Enhanced Botanical Oils
Recent advancements into the study of senior dog nutrition have identified that certain enhanced botanical oils (also known as medium chain triglycerides) can be utilised by the senior brain as an extra energy source. By providing the brain with an alternative source of energy to glucose, senior dogs become able to think like they are young again.
Free radicals are a byproduct of normal metabolic processes and are highly reactive, causing damage to cells throughout the body. It is assumed that over time this damage of cells in the brain contributes to signs of ageing and cognitive decline. Antioxidants help to minimise this damage by disabling free radicals, thus helping to protect body's cells, including those in the brain. Studies have demonstrated that feeding dogs a diet enriched with antioxidants can help facilitate more successful learning of complex tasks and also reduce the signs of cognitive decline in senior dogs.
Antioxidants include nutrients such as selenium, caretenoids and vitamins A, C and E and can come from a number of ingredients including fruits and vegetables, as well as high quality, antioxidant enriched commercial dog foods.
Adding wet food to your senior dog's diet can help tempt fussy eaters and also keeps their water intake on track to support optimal hydration, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of urinary stones and kidney issues. Water intake in dogs can be lowered if their mobility is reduced due to arthritis or other health conditions, as they are less inclined to make their way to the water bowl for a drink. You can help by making sure that your senior dog has multiple bowls of fresh water around your home which are easy to access.
While not all dogs will go on to develop arthritis as they age, it's important to make sure that your senior dog's joints are well supported while they rest to help minimise any stiffness or pain. A dense, supportive mattress or cushion bed will help your pooch to feel rested and ready to go when morning comes around.
Our senior pets can really feel the cold as they age, it aggravates existing joint pain or stiffness and can result in loss of condition due to the extra energy required to keep warm. A well fitted coat, jacket or jumper will keep your pooch feeling cosy - with the added bonus of looking pretty stylish too!
Once your pooch has qualified as mature aged or senior, it's time to get in the habit of 6 monthly check ups with your vet. Because we know our pets age much faster than we do, and health problems occur more commonly with age, regular checks mean problems can be caught earlier and managed better to keep your dog happy and healthy for longer.
It's a good idea to consider some basic blood and urine screening tests for your dog at least annually once they hit the 'mature' phase of life. Not only could these pick up early signs of organ dysfunction or other illness, they also provide a valuable baseline for your vet to refer back to as your pet ages. Changes in certain blood test results over time can be very valuable in detecting early signs of disease.
Your 6 monthly check up with the vet is also a great opportunity to keep an eye out for some of the common health issues we see in older pets, such as obesity and dental disease. We know that these conditions can predispose to other health issues and impact on your dog's quality of life, and being vigilant can help manage these much more effectively.
A long and happy life together
By being aware of the changes affecting our dogs as they age and taking a few simple steps to address them, you can help your dog to live their best life well into their autumn years and beyond. If you have specific health conncerns about your dog, make sure you seek veterinary attention sooner rather than later, it could make the world of difference!