Why Your Senior Dog May Not Need a Senior Food

More on PawNation: Dogs, Nutrition, Senior Pets

Do you feed your older dog a senior dog food, or are you planning to do so when he reaches a certain age? If so, you might be interested in a few facts about dog foods that are ostensibly designed for the canine senior citizens among us.

old basque shepherd dog lying resting

Credit: Thinkstock

First of all, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has not developed specific nutrient recommendations for older dogs. Pet food manufacturers can pretty much call any food they make a "senior" diet so long as it complies with AAFCO's adult maintenance guidelines. Pet food companies often tout what makes their senior dog foods special (e.g., enhanced antioxidant levels, added omega-3 fatty acids, and the presence of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to promote joint health), but taking a closer look at the labels shows just how similar senior and adult maintenance foods are.

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Here are examples of two ingredient lists taken from the labels of a well-respected pet food company's adult maintenance and senior foods:

Adult Maintenance

Chicken, Brown Rice, Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Barley, Brewers Rice, Chicken Fat, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein Concentrate, Dried Beet Pulp, Flaxseed, Chicken Liver Flavor, Lactic Acid, Vegetable & fruit blend (Green Peas, Apples, Cranberries, Carrots, Broccoli), Potassium Chloride, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Phosphoric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Natural Flavors

Senior

Chicken, Brown Rice, Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Barley, Brewers Rice, Yellow Peas, Chicken Fat, Chicken Meal, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Liver Flavor, Lactic Acid, Flaxseed, Vegetable & fruit blend (Green Peas, Apples, Cranberries, Carrots, Broccoli), Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Taurine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Phosphoric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Natural Flavors.

Pretty similar, aren't they?

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When we look at the nutrient profiles of the two foods, some differences do become apparent. For example, the adult maintenance food is 22.5 % protein and 17.6 % fat, while the senior food is 20% protein and 15% fat, but that begs the question, "Should all older dogs be eating less protein and fat than what they were eating when they were younger?" or more generally, "Do all older dogs have the same nutritional needs?" Of course they don't.

A lower protein food might be beneficial for a dog with compromised kidney function; a low fat food could help an older dog stay slim; and both kidney disease and weight problems do become more common as a dog ages. But the reverse does not necessarily hold. What if an older dog has great kidney function, is active, but doesn't have the greatest of appetites? That individual might actually need a food that is relatively high in protein and fat.

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I don't mean to imply that senior dog foods are bad. I'm simply saying there are times when an adult food might be more appropriate for a senior dog, or even times when a senior food might be a better choice for a younger dog. Owners and veterinarians need to evaluate an individual dog's nutritional needs and pick the best type of food to meet those needs ... regardless of his or her age.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

"Why Your Senior Dog May Not Need a Senior Food" originally appeared on PetMD.com.

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