Why is it that pet food manufacturers make a distinction between adult and senior pet food? Nutritionist Marjorie Chandler explains the importance of getting your dog’s diet just right.
As dogs get older, many things change – including their energy levels, calorie requirements and their state of health. Although your dog’s diet should always be planned to suit his individual needs and wellbeing, adopting the right nutrition for your dog’s life stage can help him live a longer, healthier life.
Dogs require 37 essential nutrients to keep them in good shape. These nutritional guidelines are set by European industry experts such as the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation), and are constantly reviewed as new research comes to light. ‘Complete’ and ‘balanced’ dog food formulations contain a combination of protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins, giving your pets all the nutrients they need in the right amounts and proportions. As a dog enters different life stages these requirements need to change, which is why some recipes are labelled ‘puppy, ‘adult’ or ‘senior’.
We’re also increasingly seeing new ‘functional foods’, which may improve a pet’s quality of life as they mature. These include ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids and New Zealand green-lipped mussel extract, which help to ease arthritis, or vitamins to promote better cognition and memory. The use of glucosamine and chondroitin to keep a dog’s joints healthy has also been studied – there’s no scientific proof yet, but some dog owners say they have noticed a difference.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t suffer from a ‘furring up’ of the arteries, so diet isn’t as closely linked to prevention of heart disease. However, if you know your dog’s breed may be at risk of heart problems then it’s a good idea to avoid treats with a high salt content. There’s also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help to keep a dog in better health if he has a heart condition.
Equally important is to make your dog’s mealtimes enjoyable by serving a nutritionally balanced diet that is palatable and easily digested. Dogs have a relatively long intestine, which means they can digest lots of different things. Their teeth are also very versatile – they can tear, shred and crush a wide variety of ingredients.
Your dog might become a little fussier with age, or may find it harder to eat as his teeth wear. But there are still ways to make mealtimes satisfying. Try feeding your dog smaller meals more often, and serving food at room temperature, or slightly warmer, to help your dog smell and taste it better. Older dogs will benefit from recipes with tasty, high-quality protein sources – such as lamb, turkey or rabbit – while smaller pieces of kibble or canned food may be easier to chew. High-quality, natural carbohydrates, like rice, potato and sweet potato, will also provide a good source of energy.
Think about how you serve your dog’s food, too – large breeds may need their bowl raised to a higher level, and older dogs that chew more slowly may appreciate a quieter, more peaceful eating area. With a little care, you can make sure your dog’s diet helps keep him happy and healthy for a long time.