Older dogs can also have trouble maintaining their lean body (muscle) mass, and some senior dog foods contain less protein than those designed for young adults. I assume this choice is based on the misguided assumption that lower protein levels will protect an older dog’s kidneys from damage. In fact, many dogs actually need a little more protein in their diet as they age if they are to maintain a healthy lean body mass. Avoiding excess protein is important if a dog is in kidney failure, but research has shown that feeding reduced protein foods to older dogs “just in case” is a mistake.
Look for the following characteristics in diets designed for older dogs:
- High quality ingredients to maximize digestibility and nutrient absorption and reduce the formation of potentially damaging metabolic byproducts
- Antioxidants (e.g. vitamins E and C) to promote immune function
- Fish oils or other sources of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids to maintain brain, skin, and joint health
Because of the variability in senior dog foods, there is no guarantee that the first one you try will be the right one for your dog. If after a month or so on one diet you are not pleased with your dog’s response, try another… and another… and another, or ask your veterinarian for help picking out the right food for your dog.
Dr. Jennifer Coates