Proper Diet and Nutrition in Older Dogs

Senior Dog

Dogs start showing visible, age-related changes at about seven to twelve years of age. There are metabolic, immunologic and body composition changes, that occur during that age span. Some of these are unavoidable. Others can be managed with a proper diet.

Since smaller dogs tend to live longer and don’t experience age-related changes as early as bigger dogs, size is used to determine when it’s time to feed your canine a senior diet:

  • Small breeds/dogs weighing less than 20 pounds—7 years of age
  • Medium breeds/dogs weighing 21 to 50 pounds—7 years of age
  • Large breeds/dogs weighing 51 to 90 pounds—6 years of age
  • Giant breeds/dogs weighing 91 pounds or more—5 years of age

The main objectives in the feeding an older dog should be to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and minimize or improve clinical signs of diseases that may already be present.

As a dog ages, health issues may arise, including:

– deterioration of skin and coat

– loss of muscle mass

– more frequent intestinal problems

– arthritis

– obesity

– dental problems

– decreased ability to fight off infection

Older dogs have been shown to progressively put on body fat in spite of consuming fewer calories. This change in body composition is inevitable and may be aggravated by either reduced energy expenditure or a change in metabolic rate. Either way, it is important to feed a diet with a lower caloric density to avoid weight gain, but with a normal protein level to help maintain muscle mass.

Avoid “senior” diets that have reduced levels of protein. Studies have shown that the protein requirement for older dogs does not decrease with age, and that protein levels do not contribute to the development or progression of renal failure. It is important to feed older dogs diets that contain optimum levels of highly digestible protein to help maintain good muscle mass.

Talk to a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian about increasing your senior dogs GLA intake. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid that plays a role in the maintenance of healthy skin and coat. Although it is normally produced in a dog’s liver, GLA levels may be diminished in older dogs. Does your older dog’s diet contain GLA?

Aging can affect a dog’s intestinal bacteria, which can result in symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Senior diets for dogs should promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene help eliminate free radical particles that can damage body tissues and cause signs of aging. Senior diets for dogs should contain higher levels of these antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants can also increase the effectiveness of the immune system in senior dogs.

Routine care for geriatric pets should involve a consistent daily routine and periodic veterinary examinations to assess the presence or progress of chronic disease. Stressful situations and abrupt changes in daily routines should be avoided. If a drastic change must be made to an older pet’s routine, try to minimize stress and to realize the change in a gradual manner.

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Arthritis Conditions in Pets- Managing a Painful Condition

Dog Arthritis

It is perfectly normal for our dogs and cats to slow down a bit as they age.  But when they begin having difficulty walking or even lowering their heads to eat, they may be exhibiting signs of arthritis, a disease that can be debilitating but one that can be managed.

Pets who suffer from arthritis generally walk stiffly, limp or favor certain legs. They may experience pain when touched in specific areas or be hesitate to jump, run or climb stairs.  Cats with arthritis may sometimes have difficulty grooming themselves; thus ratted fur can be an indication of arthritis.

While it can be painful, arthritis can also be managed.  One method to treat is by having one of our veterinarians prescribe medications to help ease pets’ discomfort. There are some risks associated with long-term use of these medications, however, so pet owners should talk to a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian to make sure they understand how to administer the medications and what problems to look for.

In addition to medications, emphasis should be placed on having the pet perform low-level exercise. This can reduce the pain from arthritis, but be cautious as to allowing too little or too much movement or exercise.  Be sure to consult with a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian regarding the amount of exercise that would be ideal and which type would work best for a particular pet.  Additionally, pet’s that are overweight may be able to lose some pounds leading to reduced pain and reducing the risks of diabetes and heart disease.  Some arthritic pets may even benefit from physical therapy, such as swimming or walking on underwater treadmills.

Along with a pain management plan from one of our veterinarians, a pet owner can comfort their pets using soft bedding, gentle play, massages, and by grooming areas that are hard for pets to reach.  If necessary, provide access ramps to make it easier for pets to get up or down from higher places.

If you suspect that your pet may be showing signs of arthritis- be sure to contact a Lange Animal Clinic veterinarian to be examined.


For over 45 years, Lange Animal Clinic has provided veterinary services in Pekin, IL and the surrounding areas for over three family generations. Our expert staff of Veterinarians, Veterinary Technicians, and Veterinary Assistants are trained to ensure the best quality medical care for your beloved pets-whether it be as a routine medical examination to more complicated surgical procedures. We are a small companion animal clinic providing services for dogs, cats, and exotic pets.

Dr. Colleen O’Rourke, owner and senior Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, takes great pride in making certain that every patient’s experience is handled with the utmost care, compassion, and economically in the best interests of our clients. Visit us at www.langeanimal.com.  

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