Feeding the elderly dog

Continued from last week

I had promised last week to continue the discussion on the different types of commercial dog food on the market.

 Dry food

Mostly this type of food comes as dried kibble in a pelleted form.  Also, instead of dried pellets, the dried food can be in the form of a biscuit.  The ease of feeding dried dog (cat) food is perhaps what makes it so popular and appealing to pet owners.  Moreover, one does not need to refrigerate it.  Of course, here in the tropics where the environment is warm and where the moisture in the air is high, it is not surprising that the pelleted food – once the bag has been opened – is susceptible to fungus attack.  This means that whenever you open the bag of dry food, either seal it well after use or move the dry feed from its original bag into another air-tight container.  Also, check the expiry date.

Dry foods contain about 90 per cent dry matter and about 10 per cent water.  They are made by mixing together grains, meat and some butchery by-products. The end product of the cooking is then mixed with fat to increase palatability.  Afterwards, the entire mixture gets vitamins and minerals added.  During the cooking process, starch is converted into a more easily digested substance.  On top of that, the cooking kills bacteria and could destroy health threatening toxins.  The product is sterilized.  Dry food, besides having a lower relative cost to, say, canned (soft-moist) food, provides beneficial massage of the teeth and gums, thus helping to keep a healthy mouth and decrease periodontal disease.  I should remind you, though, that the dogs don’t chew too much; instead, they bite and swallow.  But even old dogs love gnawing on a big bone, and should be given a thigh bone of a cow ever so often.  Your butcher would surely accommodate such a request.

Canned food

pet cornerActually, canned food is a soft-moist food, but contains more water (68-78 per cent) and less dry matter (22-32 per cent) by percentage relative to the classical soft-moist food which contains 25-40 per cent water.  Indeed, if one were to switch canned dog/cat food to dry food, or even to classical soft-moist food, one would notice that the dog’s intake of water would increase.

Canned foods are offered in a “chunky” form or as a stew, the latter containing even more water.  It is always advisable to add some minerals and vitamins when feeding canned foods to older dogs.

Your vet will advise you as to how much.  Of course, canned food has a distinct advantage for old dogs/cats which have lost their teeth.

I should mention something that you already know, and that is that canned food is more expensive, and it has the advantage that you don’t have to refrigerate it.  However, once you have opened a can of the food, you should use it all up within one day.  I have found that older cats, in particular, seem to love canned food.  I should also mention that there is no need to give your elderly dog or cat (or even young adults) a ‘special treat’ of canned food on some special occasion (the cat’s birthday, for example).

They also don’t know about your celebration of, say, an Easter holiday or Thanksgiving which is usually accompanied with an abundance of treats and spicy food.  Dogs and cats can live quite happily with the same bland but balanced diet day in day out.  Also, it should be mentioned that once you change the type of food offered, the organisms in the intestines, which are geared specifically to help in the digestion of the same daily food, can no longer function optimally.  Indeed, as may dog owners know only too well from experience, a sudden change of diet can lead to all sorts of health issues and complications – even to vomiting and diarrhoea.

Finally, I would like to again draw your attention (see also March 16 column) to the time that elapses between the manufacture of the canned food and the moment your dog/cat gets its canned fancy feast.  You really don’t want to be offering your elderly pet year-old food – even if the “use by” date has not yet been reached.  And then there is the issue of storage.  These canned foods are brought from far off places to the tropics via containers which have been travelling on boats and stored on wharves which are subjected to tropical heat.  Need I say more?  When you open the canned pet food, look at the inside of the tin to see whether the colour of the can’s wall has changed, and whether the content has a bad odour.  Also, do not purchase for your elderly pet any can that is bloated or deformed.

 Soft-moist food

Here in the tropics, I do not advise clients to use soft-moist foods (SMFs), simply because they contain too many chemical additives.  Since SMFs do not need to be refrigerated, the makers add substances to control bacterial proliferation.  Also, SMFs are acidified with phosphoric and hydrochloric acids to further retard spoilage.  And, an old dog with some degree of mucous membrane (internal covering of the stomach and intestinal wall) damage surely does not need acid touching the stomach wall.

Finally, allow me to suggest that you can concoct your own home-cooked diet for your elderly dog.  For one thing it is cheaper.  Also, you know it is fresh and without too many chemicals.  The disadvantages are rather small and are related mostly to the time you have at your disposal for the preparation.  Also, it is clear that you will never be able to put together a nutritionally complete and balanced diet as the scientists have done, via intensive research, at the big pet food manufacturers.  But with the help of your veterinarian, you can come pretty close to a balanced formulation.

In all of the above the most important consideration is not to pamper your elderly dog/cat with special treats.  Your daily Tender Loving Care in addition to a balanced diet will suffice.

 

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