Monday, January 5, 2009

Nutrition for the aging dog

Older dogs have special nutritional needs. Feeding mature dogs a diet that is specifically designed to meet these specific needs will support your efforts to have your aging dog live longer and healthier.
When considering the changing energy requirements keep in mind that as the adult years pass by, your dog’s required calorie intake is likely to decline. Feeding a lower calorie diet with less fat should help maintain a healthy body condition.
L-carnitine is a vitamin like nutrient that has some great effects within the body. Besides being responsible to help regulating the blood sugar level, it also helps the body to convert fat into energy. As a result the older dog will stay fit and lean.
In recent studies, a lean body condition throughout the entire life is directly linked to the length and quality of life. Lean dogs live longer and healthier. For this reason it is important that you follow the food manufacturer provided feeding guidelines on the package. (Contrary to what most pet owners seem to believe, they are most definitely sufficient. Also, I always like to remind everybody that the feeding recommendations typically refer to ideal and not actual body weight. This means if you dog is over weight to begin with, feeding him or her according to the actual weight is not going to help you in your efforts to trim weight). Furthermore it is important that you take into account all extras, such as for example table food given while you’re eating your own dinner and, often and typically not considered, treats. Remember, it’s like with us humans. We may eat our regular food following all dietary restrictions all day long, if we don’t count those deserts into our overall intake, it’s hard to make progress. Make sure you subtract the calories included in these extras from your dog’s daily energy requirements. Tables with calorie requirements for your dog are available on many websites (example: Calorie Requirements for Pets) or from your vet.
Another key consideration is protecting your dog’s body from aging change. Antioxidants have captured a lot of media attention recently. As our pets metabolize the food that they consume, their bodies produce free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen particles that have an electronic charge attached. As pets get older, the formation of free radicals increases. The problem with the increase in free radicals is that they charge freely within the body and damage healthy cells. It is impossible to stop the aging process with antioxidants. However, we can counteract some of the damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are an effective method to neutralize free radicals. Once neutralized, they loose their ability to damage healthy cells. Two of the most prominent antioxidants in pet nutrition are vitamin E and selenium. Feeding a diet that contains both of these important antioxidants is beneficial for your maturing dog.
Another ailment that commonly plagues our mature dogs is arthritis. There are many medications that can help relieve the pain of arthritis, but there are also some effective natural therapies.
Glucosamine and chondroitin have been studied and proven to be effective in alleviating the discomfort of mild arthritis. These naturally occurring compounds help block inflammation within the joints and help keep the joint fluid healthy, providing proper cushion within the joint. Feeding a diet that contains glucosamine and chondroitin may allow you to improve your dog’s mobility without administering a daily supplement.
Earlier above I mentioned L-carnitine and its ability to help the body convert fat into energy, promoting a lean body condition. Another feature of this nutrient is its ability to help the heart muscle work more efficiently, which is particularly important in older dogs.
Taurine is an amino acid that is required by cats. From recent studies we have learned that some dogs may also have a dietary requirement for taurine. For this reason, many of today’s better quality premium foods now include taurine in their ingredients. Dogs produce their taurine on their own from two other amino acids, cysteine and methionine. Some dogs are less efficient at using these two amino acids to make taurine, and may require more of these two amino acids to make enough. Lamb is lower in cysteine and methionine than other protein sources. As a result, when you have the combination of a dog that is inefficient at manufacturing taurine and a diet that is made from lamb, you may end up with a taurine deficiency. A taurine deficiency in dogs causes the same type of heart disease that it does in cats, dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM. The Veterinary Services Department at Drs. Fosters & Smith says about heart diseases the following: “In people, the phrase "heart attack" is generally used to mean coronary thrombosis (a blockage of the blood vessels in the heart with fatty deposits). Dogs and cats very rarely get this type of heart condition, although, they do get other cardiac diseases. The most common form of heart disease in cats is called "cardiomyopathy." This is a disease of the heart muscle itself. In the past, one type of cardiomyopathy (dilated cardiomyopathy (A heart condition in which the heart enlarges, but the heart muscle becomes thinner.)) was more common because cats were not receiving enough of the amino acid called taurine. Now, most cat foods contain sufficient taurine to prevent this type of cardiomyopathy. Dogs can also get cardiomyopathy, but are more prone to diseases of the valves of the heart. The valves of the heart are located between the different chambers of the heart (atria (The two chambers of the heart that receive blood. The right atrium receives blood from the body. The left atrium receives oxygenated blood from the lungs. ) and ventricles (The chambers of the heart that pump the blood to the body or lungs)). They prevent the blood from flowing backward through the heart. Diseases of the valves often result in heart murmurs.
Fatty acids play a role in several aspects of ideal nutrition. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in all pet foods, contributed by their primary fat source (such as for example chicken fat). Omega-3 fatty acids have to be provided by a special ingredient, and because they a. are more expensive, and b. are not listed as a required nutrient by AAFCO, many low end pet foods do not contain any omega-3 fatty acid sources. Flax seed is a natural plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. This ingredient should be added at the appropriate level to produce the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which is between 5 to 1 and 10 to 1.
Most pet owners know that fatty acids help keep the skin and the hair coat healthy. However there are additional benefits to omega-3 fatty acids affecting other systems within the body. They can help controlling skin inflammation associated with skin allergies. They are helpful in controlling joint inflammation associated with arthritis. They promote healthy kidney function and even may have a role in the prevention of some cancers.
Dogs with a healthy gastrointestinal system will enjoy better overall health. The right types of fiber in the right amounts will help your mature dog have a healthier gut. For example, dried chicory root and beet pulp are also known as pre-biotics. The digestion of pre-biotics produces short chain fatty acids, or SCFA’s. SCFA’s serve as the energy source for the cells in the intestines as well as for the beneficial bacteria throughout the digestive tract. As dogs age, their ability to digest certain nutrients may be compromised. With the inclusion of ingredients such as dried chicory root, beet pulp or other pre-biotics, senior dog formulas will help your older dog have a healthier digestive system.
As you see, it is relatively simple to feed your senior dog for optimal health, thereby making him/her enjoy their golden days. Protect the health of your maturing dog with good nutrition and good veterinary care. Senior check ups are recommended at 6-month intervals. Your veterinarian will be more likely to detect a health problem and correct it before it becomes more serious if you are taking your pet in for a veterinary visit at least two times a year.

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