The sheer range of breeds and sizes of dogs means that the age they would be considered as senior varies considerably. Generally, smaller breeds will live longer than the average dog, and giant breeds shorter. As a very rough guide you could consider 7 years old and over as senior.
Why would an older dog need a senior food?
If you have a fit, active older dog with an ideal body condition then changing to a senior food may not be necessary. These dogs may be able to stay on the same adult food for life. There is no rule that says you must change your dog to a senior food. However, for some dogs there may be benefits.
Dogs, like us tend to become less active as they get older. To avoid weight gain they will need to consume fewer calories. You might find that adjusting the feeding amount is enough. However, if you keep reducing the volume of food you offer your dog be hungry. You will also be reducing levels of important minerals and vitamins.
Senior diets and light diets, such as Vet’s Kitchen Healthy Weight and Lily’s Kitchen Senior Recipe usually contain lower fat levels and fewer calories. This means that you can continue to feed the recommended amount without your dog gaining weight. Additionally, some of these diets may also have higher fibre levels which can help with satiety.
The protein conundrum
Traditionally, senior diets boasted low protein levels being of benefit. The theory was that reduced protein could help reduce the workload on the kidneys. However, there is little evidence to support the need for very low protein levels in food for healthy senior dogs. In fact, some sources suggest that older dogs may need diets higher in protein to prevent muscle loss and other age-related issues.
At the moment, there is not enough research to know what the optimum protein level for a senior dog is. Lower protein levels (from high quality sources) are recommended once a dog is diagnosed with kidney failure. For these dogs, a veterinary therapeutic diet would be best. Clinical studies show they can decrease symptoms and increase lifespan by 2-3 times compared to a normal food. Some senior diets may be suitable for very early-stage kidney failure.
Unfortunately, 80% of dogs aged 8 years and over have osteoarthritis. Pain relief should be priority for these dogs as it is a condition that causes chronic pain, for more information on this head to www.caninearthritis.co.uk. Joint supplements have not been shown to prevent osteoarthritis, but they may help reduce symptoms or slow down progression. One option is to add a supplement to your dog’s diet, however some senior foods contain added supplements and others, such as Vet’s Kitchen Protect & Care or Sensitive Care Senior contain higher levels of supplements than our standard adult dog foods.
Older dogs may develop problems with their heart, liver or kidneys as they age. In the early stages of organ failure, a senior diet may be useful. Senior diets tend to contain lower amounts of meat, fish and dairy ingredients. This can naturally reduce the fat, protein, sodium and phosphorus level in the food. However, the suitability of a senior diet for specific disease conditions will depend on the individual dog, the stage of condition and any concurrent health problems.