Why should I admit how old they really are? These twolook great for their age, meeting my gaze with cloud-free eyes thanks to daily Milk Thistle supplements. Theywalk with a spring in their step afterregular adjustments from the veterinary chiropractor. And while Sheba has significant “frosting” (white hairs) about the muzzle, Tiki hardly has any at all.
I guess I’m just not quite ready to admitthe fact that, at “13-plus,”my two sweet seniors are really getting up there in the age department. But there aretimes when even Iwillingly face this sadfact: Meal times.
Dogs really are what they eat. Adjusting their diet according to their changing nutritional needs as they age is the right thing to do.Don’t worry – feeding them a senior formula diet isnot an early death sentence; it can actually promote youthfulness and longevity in canine seniors. Believe it or not, feeding senior pets the right foodwill help them live longer and stronger.
Recently, whenI placed my usual orderat the pet-supply store for an assorted-flavorcase of canned dog food, I got Wellness Senior Formula mixed in (perhaps it’s because the orangelabel isn’t that different from the label on the Turkey can). Rather than schlep those cans back to the store, I figured we’d giveSenior Formulaawhirl – and promptly discovered that not only did my seniors love it, buttheir much younger packmates showed a healthy interest in it too!
Finding canned food flavors that Tiki doesn’t flat-out refuse can be a challenge. He takes a bitter-tasting cancer-prevention medicine called Neoplasene with every meal, and the canned food I hide it in must be extremely palatable, or I have a hard time getting him to finish what’s in his bowl. So the fact that Tiki actually devours Senior Formula faster and – I kid you not – with greater gusto than he ever ate the other flavors is a surprising testament to its tastiness.
So, when does a dog officially become a member of AARF (the American Association of Retired Fur-Persons)? According to Dr. Edward Moser, board certified veterinary nutritionist, it all depends on the dog’s size.
“What really hangs up a lot of people is, ‘When should I switch my dog to a senior or geriatric-type diet?’, because it’s not the same for every dog,” Dr. Moser says. “The onset of what we call old age correlates to adult body weight. So, small dogs under 20 pounds become geriatric at 11 or 12; for medium dogs 20-40 pounds, geriatric onset happens at 10 years; for 40-60-pound dogs it’s 9; and for dogs 60-100 it’s more like 7. Little dogs mature relatively quickly, so they become adults earlier in life and age gradually, whereas large and giant breeds don’t mature until much later, so they become geriatric more quickly.”
Regular visits to the vet are important to assess dogs’ physical condition as they age. “Because you see your dog every day, you don’t have a good appreciation of whether they’re gaining or losing weight,” Dr. Moser explains. “One of the key things about health in older animals is what’s happening with their body weight, and that really will determine what diet to feed.”
Thirty percent of animals seen by vets are overweight – and 30 percent also happen to beseniors. “It’s not an accident,” Dr. Moser says. But some senior dogs are underweight, and that’s not good either.A handy chart helps assess dogs’ body weight. “What you want,”Dr. Moser says, “is a number 3.”
Weight isn’t the only issue to address in a senior dog. The right diet can also correct dry, dull hair, ease the pain of arthritic joints, and supportGI functionwitheasily-digestable ingredients. “Most senior diets have extra fiber in them, in the form of rice bran, tomato pomace, vegetables and/or flax seed,” Dr. Moser explains, “which moderates the rate at which the food flows through the GI tract, and also makes the foodless energy-dense, so the pet feels more full after eating.”
That’s important, because anyone with a senior pet knows that reproachful “I’m starving” look you sometimes get treated to as soon as an hour after feeding! With anefficient,fiber-enhanced food, that guilt-inducingglance is much less likely to happen even though the dog has taken in fewer calories.
As for why my younger dogs are so attracted to their senior packmates’ bowls, that’s easy: “The first four ingredients of Wellness Senior Formulaare chicken broth, chicken, whitefish and liver – that’s a pretty palatable combination,” Dr. Moser says. Many senior dogs go off their food, so how good a diet smells and tastes is important in getting them to dinewith enthusiasm.
“Feeding a senior formula is a great place to start when a dog gets to a certain age,” Dr. Moser concludes. “But you should be a critic of your dog’s diet, regardless of the moniker it might have. Keep a record of how much he eats, what his skin looks like, and what his stool quality is, to see if you’re getting the results you expect.”