One of the tricky things about dogs is that they don’t age at the same rate. Different breeds and types have vastly different natural lifespans. An Irish Wolfhound has a life expectancy of only six to eight years, and Bernese Mountain Dog can expect to live seven to ten years. But smaller dogs generally live longer. The tiny Chihuahua can live to be 17, while the always-on-the-go Jack Russell terrier can see 16. Some individuals exceed their life expectancy significantly. One Llasa Apso is reported to have lived until the age of 29, while a Beagle in the USA made it until 27. But whatever a dog’s life expectancy, every owner wants to see their beloved pet live as long and as well as possible.
Diet and exercise are the key to a long and healthy life for any of us, human, canine or otherwise. Our dietary needs change over the span of our lives, which is why dog food makers create different feeds for puppies, adults and seniors. One way to ensure your dog has the longest and best life he can is to transition him to the appropriate food at the appropriate time.
With puppies, it is easier to tell when the time is right to switch them. We know when they are about a year old, and we can see when they stop growing and mature into adults. But the transition into old age is more gradual and harder to notice. Our own denial can play a big part in that. We don’t want to acknowledge our best friend is getting old any more than we want to acknowledge our own aging process.
Because dogs age at different rates, it helps to know what signs tell you it is time for senior dog food. Also, if you got your dog from a rescue, his age is a guestimate. Many a dog owner has been surprised to learn their dog is actually a bit old than they initially thought (although some have found their dog is younger than originally estimated).
4 Signs Your Dog Probably Needs Senior Food
Any sudden or dramatic change in your dog’s behaviour or appearance is reason to visit your vet. Sometimes changes that look to be signs of aging are actually medical problems. It’s actually a good idea to take your dog to the vet for a check when you notice he is aging. A comprehensive physical can alert you to any pending problems before they get serious, and it also gives your vet a good baseline to measure against if you have concerns in the future. Many of these changes occur together, one issue can lead to another.
- Weight gain comes with age because the metabolism slows down. If you notice your dog slowly putting on weight while maintaining the same walking regime and eating the same, it could be a sign that it is time for a senior food.
- Stiffness is another part of the aging process for most of us. If the dog that once sprung into action and any suggestion of food or walks has begun to get more slowly and gingerly, a senior food that supports joint health can help.
- When you realize that the dog who once chased leaves blowing around the garden gets up slowly and saunters over to you for walk time, it’s a sign that you now have a senior dog. But if your dog suddenly becomes lethargic, an urgent vet appointment is necessary.
- Dental problems develop in older dogs. Talk to your vet about whether not a dental cleaning or other work would help. No food will magically restore your dog’s teeth, but worn down teeth and lots of accumulated tartar suggest that your dog is ready for senior food.
What’s the Difference between Adult and Senior Dog Food?
The purpose of changing your dog’s food when he enters his golden years is to meet his changed nutritional needs. But what are those needs? What can a good senior dog food such as Leader offer your dog?
Food for older dogs should include ample glucosamine and chondroitin as these nutrients support healthy joints, reducing pain and increasing mobility. Another key aspect of senior dog foods is digestibility. Older dogs need food that assists in good gut motility. It’s important too that the food is appropriate to the dog’s size. Small dogs need small pieces of kibble, especially as they age and their dental health becomes an issue.
How to Change Your Dog’s Food
Older dogs do not do well with any type of sudden change. Even if your dog is already eating Leader Adult food, you should not switch abruptly to Leader Senior food. At any age, dogs will do better having their food changed gradually, but it is especially important for older dogs.
For most dogs, a ten-day transition works well. For the first three days, feed one part new food to three parts current food. On days four, five and six, feed an equal amount of each food. Feed three parts new food to one part of their old food for days seven, eight and nine. On day ten, you can start feeding the new senior dog food exclusively. If your dog shows any sign of digestive upset or if he has a sensitive stomach, you can make the change even more gradual.
It can be distressing to face the fact that your best friend is getting older, but you have the power to make his golden years happy ones. Older dogs still need daily exercise, although they will eventually slow down and go for shorter distances. They might need to see the vet more often, and naps might play a more important role in their schedule. But they are as devoted to you as ever. And they deserve the best care you can give them. That includes gentle grooming, lots of pets and cuddles, slower daily walks and quality food that supports their aging body.