For a long time, it was generally believed that one year of a dog’s life was equivalent to seven years in man. However, recent data compares a six-month-old dog to a 10-year-old child; a one-year-old dog to a 15-year-old, and a two-year-old dog to a 25-year-old human. By the time a dog is ten, it is approaching retirement age, and a 21-year-old dog would be celebrating its 100th birthday if it were human. As a dog ages, its basic need for good nutrition, exercise and attention remain the same. But fulfillment of these needs should be altered slightly to accommodate the gradual slowing of bodily functions and overall weakening of organs and muscles.
For instance, since a dog’s digestive system becomes less efficient with age, you should feed an older dog two or three small servings of food during the day, rather than one large meal at night. Also, spicy or greasy tidbits (ham or cold cuts) which your pet may have formerly relished may upset its stomach and have to be eliminated from the diet.
As your dog gets older, it will gradually become less active and need fewer calories per day. To allow your pet to continue to receive optimum nutrition and still avoid “middle age spread,” make an effort to introduce more meat and vitamins into the diet while slowly decreasing starchy foods and carbohydrates. If you are uncertain about the proper diet or weight for your pet, don’t hesitate to check with your veterinarian. The veterinarian can suggest a suitable weight range based on the breed background, temperament and current physical condition of your pet.
While a diet should be tailored to meet your pet’s individual needs, here are several general tips on how to feed an older dog:
Try to keep an older dog on a regular schedule; a change in routine or feeding time may cause it to refuse needed food or vitamins for several meals.
Introduce new foods gradually, so there will be less chance of upsetting the digestive tract.
Treats for your old dog don’t have to be eliminated entirely – just substitute nourishing tidbits for fattening ones. An occasional egg, some warm milk or custard pudding are much more desirable than chocolate candy or leftover bacon. With proper treats, you’ll supply needed fats to keep your pet’s coat shiny. And you’ll tempt its appetite without piling on empty calories that turn into surplus weight.
Nervous, high-strung pets use up more energy than quieter breeds. They may require a higher food intake in old age than a calmer dog of the same age and weight. Extra vegetable matter in the diet will have a laxative effect upon your pet, and may prove useful when it is bothered by constipation.
Also, remember the importance of always having clean, fresh water available, particularly in warm weather.
Along with proper nutrition, you should see that your older dog receives regular, moderate exercise. Schedule short walks or play periods. If you notice that your pet is beginning to tire, cut the exercise short, or at least rest awhile before walking home. Regular exercise helps control both constipation and obesity, conditions which put strain on weakened muscles and tissues.
If you follow the above rules on how to feed an older dog, your pet will be much happier and healthier without the burden of excess weight.