We’re accustomed to the phrase “you are what you eat.” The health and well-being of senior dogs also is reflected in their diets. Nearly all of the veterinarians recently surveyed in a study sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health and The lams Company concurred that nutrition is a key factor in the health of aging dogs. And they further acknowledged that the nutritional needs of dogs change as they age.
While obesity is a common health problem for all dogs, older canines are more likely to be overweight due to decreased activity and reduced daily energy needs. Obesity increases the risk of serious diseases and health problems, such as diabetes, and cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders.
Although some medical conditions (especially metabolic diseases) can cause obesity, over-feeding generally is the culprit. As a senior dog’s metabolism slows, caloric needs decline. If you do not adjust the food intake of your older dog, weight gain is likely to result.
If your senior dog is already overweight, a weight loss program should be considered. First, however, have him thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian to identify any other problems that could be causing him to gain weight.
Generally, treatment of senior animal weight loss is very similar to recommendations for humans seeking to lose weight. Program steps include:
- limiting the amount of calories consumed,
- feeding two or three small meals (vs. one large meal) daily to increase the amount of energy used to digest food,
- increasing exercise to burn more calories, and
- modifying behavior to prevent regaining the lost weight.
A daily or weekly log of exercise duration and dog weight yields the best results. Selecting a food for your senior dog has been made easier thanks to recent advancements in senior nutrition. Dog foods are now available that have been formulated with fewer calories, more protein, antioxidants and vitamins to meet the specific nutritional needs of senior dogs.
A simple walk in the park may be just what your senior dog needs to help control weight and stay in shape. Exercise increases energy use and promotes more efficient calorie burning, as well as toning muscles. Before starting any exercise program with your senior dog, check with your veterinarian to make sure your plans are suited to your pet’s physical condition. Then begin slowly, by walking your dog on a leash for 10 minutes per day. After a week, increase the daily walks to 15 minutes. Depending on your dog’s condition, you can increase the daily walk length each week until you are up to 30 minutes a day.
And don’t forget: your dog’s exercise program can reap health benefits for you, too!