Nutritional considerations owners should look for to help their dogs move into old age

Geriatric Health Nutrition Your Questions Answered

Ageing dogs share many of the attributes associated with ageing in humans… an increase in aches and pains, arthritis, poor digestion and failing senses. So how do we best protect our companions against these ravages of time?

Cutting edge research suggests significant changes occur in the gut microbiome as animals grow old. To gain some idea of the significance of this, is to recognise the gut microbiome contains about 150 times the number of genes as contained in the body. In other words, genetic input into the day to day wellbeing of the dog is mostly due to the influence of these microbes. Science has known for some time that most metabolic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, senile decay, diverticulitis and Crohns disease (metabolic diseases), all result from changes in the animal’s microbiome. What’s more, many of these significant changes in the microbiome appear to be as a result of the aging process.

As we read in December’s blog “How much impact does the food you feed your pet have on their health?” there is a clear understanding of the relationship between exercise, microbial structure and obesity. As our animals become less active, the microbial balance changes and the weight increases. As exercise increases, the microbial structure reverts, and weight is lost. This means one of the best things we can do for our aging pet is to maintain the level of exercise and keep the body weight under control.

One of the major limiters to exercise in older dogs is joint health. Believe it or not, this too is associated with changes to the microbiome. Arthritis is an inflammatory response disorder, so it is of major importance to ensure our canine diet is not excessively reliant on carbohydrate, nor excessively reliant on high levels of protein. In a perfect dietary world, obesity is caused by an abundance of protein. Now I know this flies in the face of popular belief, but when the food contains excessive protein, that excess protein is converted to fat, whereas if there is surplus energy in the food, it will work to quell the dog’s appetite. This effect is entirely due to the animal’s natural requirement to maintain energy equilibrium in the body. Joint health supplements can be of great assistance for older dogs, but a far better approach is to feed for health throughout life, so the inflammation is not there in the first place.

Perhaps the single biggest issue with feeding the older dog is to allow for the inevitable deterioration in gut digestive efficiency. Whether the loss of efficiency is due to the changes to the microbiome or as a result of the system simply wearing out is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, an appropriate course of action is always to feed an increasingly dense diet, and highly digestible food as the vagaries of age grow. The trick here is to ensure the food is created specifically with this nutritional requirement in mind. Quite often we see older dogs being fed puppy food as a way of keeping some condition on their frail bones, but a better way to go is to feed a food that is designed for muscle maintenance rather than a diet structured for growth. The nutrient ratios are significantly different in the latter as compared to the former.

But, perhaps an even better approach to ageing, is to simply not grow old. Good luck with that one!


About the author… Bill Wiadrowski is a consulting nutritionist who has worked in the field of performance animal nutrition for over 50 years. His latest development is the LifeWise range of next generation foods that are rapidly gaining acclaim for their ability to repair common gut and skin sensitivities issues in domestic canines.

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