Caring for your dog in the golden years

Moxie has been with you through it all: She wore your school's colors for your college graduation, waited for you patiently as you toiled long hours at your first job, walked you down the aisle at your wedding and then guarded your first child's cradle with aplomb. She's worn out her share of collars over the years, but she's still the same loving, loyal Poodle underneath all that aging fur. And while she still doesn't ask much of you, you know you need to do right by her and help her glow during these golden years. The first step is understanding how dogs age and finding strategies to keep her healthy during her senior years. Here's what you need to know:

Old Versus Antique

When you were a kid, you probably tried to figure out how old the family dog was in "people years" by multiplying her age by the number seven. Veterinarians, however, look at a dog's physiological condition. They find that most dogs begin to age at about seven years for small or medium breeds and around five years for large and giant breeds. The telltale signs may include a dull or dry coat, flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems, frequent constipation and loss of muscle. Simply put, these issues are symptomatic of the body's inability to rejuvenate its cells. And while genetics and the dog's environment play a large role in how quickly she'll age, her health is also up to you: By giving your pet a high quality premium dog food like Eukanuba Senior, you can actually help make up for her body's shortfalls. This is vitally important information given that many breeds can live up to 17 years. Good nutrition can help your dog:

  • Maintain muscle tone
  • Maximize digestion
  • Retain ideal body weight

The Senior Diet

Dogs of all ages need the same ingredients in their food, but those in the twilight of their lives need different quantities than younger pooches. Here's what you'll want to look for when shopping for a senior formula:

  • High Quality Protein: Much of your dog's food should be made up of protein. Make sure it is derived from an animal source — chicken liver, for example — rather than a vegetable. Protein is critical because it's used by the body to build and maintain muscle.
  • Fat: Choose a food with at least 10 percent fat in it. This promotes healthy skin and coat; it also provides the body's essential fatty-acid requirements. (Never eliminate fat completely.)
  • Fiber: Pick a brand that offers no more than 5 percent fiber. This is the optimal amount for a healthy gut. It enables excellent nutrient absorption and helps push small, firm stool through the intestines.
  • Antioxidants: These molecules protect the immune system by ridding the body of free radicals, which corrupt cell membranes and DNA.

The Importance of Palatability

As dogs age, many are less interested in eating. They might not be burning the same amount of energy, so their appetite decreases. Or they're suffering from gum disease or even loose teeth that makes it uncomfortable — even painful to chew. And if they're not eating much, they're not getting the nutrition their bodies need for healthy living. Thus, it is key to find a nutrient-packed formula that your dog enjoys. At Eukanuba, we've done extensive research with real dogs to see what they like to eat, and we've come up with an aroma, taste and texture they love. We've been careful, too, to use only natural flavor enhancers and colors so that you're assured your dog is getting our very best — and nothing more.

Timed Feedings for the Senior Dog

Because aging dogs generally eat less than their younger canine friends, it could be helpful to divide up their meals into two or three meals. Try a morning/evening schedule or a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way, the food in the dish isn't so overwhelming. Moreover, it is likely fresher and thus more appealing. Such timed feedings have the added benefit of increasing her metabolism, which will help her maintain her ideal weight. While the calendar might say that your dog is ready for retirement, her body needn't be. By feeding her a diet of premium dog food specially formulated for her age, you'll help keep her feeling young. After all, there's a lot of life left to be lived.