– the final ‘wrap–up’ column
After more than 45 years of veterinary practice and participating in dozens of ‘refresher’ courses which share the latest knowledge in animal health matters, it has become clear to me that pet owners, over the years, still ask the same questions relative to the best nutritional regime for an elderly pet. Here are three of the most common requests for information:
What are the changes and ailments to be expected in an ageing dog?
As dogs age, they may experience several different types of changes. They may undergo behavioural changes associated with old age cognitive dysfunction (creeping senility). They may not be tolerant of small children, and may have restless sleep, as well as ‘accidents’ in the house (urinary incontinence). Their vision may begin to fade a little and they may have difficulty seeing in low light situations.
The development of cataracts seems to go hand in hand with ageing in dogs. They also may have a loss of hearing and may be easily surprised or startled. Many senior dogs will not have the muscle strength or mass that they had as young dogs. They are going to be less active and need a comfortable bed.
Their teeth are going to be worn and (along with the gums) be prone to dental/oral disease. In addition, as they age, they might start to develop symptoms such as kidney failure or heart disease. Arthritis seems to be a common ailment of the elderly canine. For all of these reasons, special care must be given to their diet, which is why we spent so much time writing about the diet of the elderly dog in the most recent TPCs.
My elderly dog seems not to eat as heartily as before. How do I get my elderly dog to eat?
Some older dogs do suffer, not from obesity, but from the other extreme – weight loss (or at least lack of weight gain) and a disinterest in food. If your dog is getting thin and not eating well, it should have a complete clinical veterinary exam to rule out any possible emerging disease problems. If everything seems normal and the body functions are otherwise unimpaired, then we have to look elsewhere for the cause of the inappetence. For example, if a dog normally eats dry food, he may have decreased food consumption because of dental problems which prevent chewing of large kibble. By feeding small pieces of kibble or moistening the food with water, it will be easier for ingestion and swallowing. Adding canned food or broth to the food could make it more appealing. Some dogs prefer cat food and will eat that readily, but this is often quite high in protein, and I would prefer that you avoid introducing this if possible. Small amounts of canned cat food may be mixed with the dog kibble to provide more flavour.
Should I feed my old dog supplements?
As mentioned several times during our recent columns on the diet for older dogs, ageing dogs have special nutritional needs, and some of those can be supplied in the form of supplements. Feeding a daily supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin, may help support joints. If your dog is not eating a complete specially formulated balanced diet, then a vitamin/mineral supplement could be recommended to prevent any deficiencies. As mentioned in an earlier TPC, a fibre product such as wheat bran may help to reduce the incidence of constipation. Since most elderly dogs tend to be more prone to suffer from some degree of constipation, we must ensure that some fibre (3-5%) is in the diet. You could always add wheat bran to regular dog food, if the specialized (geriatric) commercial ration is not available.
Talk to your veterinarian about increasing your senior dog’s GLA intake. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid that plays a role in the maintenance of healthy skin and coat. Although it is normally produced in a dog’s liver, GLA levels may be diminished in older dogs, and therefore supplementation may be necessary.
Ageing can affect a dog’s intestinal bacteria, which can result in symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Diets for senior dogs should contain certain chemicals especially FOS (fructooligosaccharides) to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. This may sound complicated, but it is not. It is just that new research yields results and terminologies to which we are not accustomed. Speak with your vet; he/she will make it simpler.
Antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta-carotene help eliminate free radical particles that can damage body tissues and cause signs of ageing. Diets for senior dogs should contain higher levels of these antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants can also increase the effectiveness of the immune system in senior dogs.
Some dogs can tolerate a small amount of milk or eggs added to their food. Homemade diets of boiled rice, potatoes, vegetables and chicken or hamburger with correct vitamin and mineral supplements seem to work well. Ask your veterinarian which homemade diet recipe would be best for your dog. Do not try to formulate one yourself, as the vitamin and mineral levels are critical, and you may not know the dosage.
So, I think we have exhausted this topic. Next week, we might decide to deal with cancers.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-Heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.