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Golden Years: How to Support the Health of Senior Dogs Naturally

ProDog Canine Nutritionist Alison Frost discusses improving and maintaining the health of senior dogs in this expert article. She shares valuable advice on nutrition, lifestyle, and holistic healthcare for helping old dogs age gracefully.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Golden Years: How to Support the Health of Senior Dogs Naturally

It’s common knowledge that senior dogs are prone to various health issues. After all, as the body ages, it’s natural for its various systems to decline, right? Actually, not as much as you might think. 

What if I told you that it’s possible for old dogs to remain healthy well into their final years? With the right diet, an active lifestyle, and a little extra support, this is absolutely possible, even for dogs who are already showing signs of slowing down. I’ve experienced this personally on more than one occasion; my two large breed standard Labradoodles, Hector and Archie, lived to be 15 and 16 and remained in good health and stayed active throughout their lives. I’ll explain how you can help your senior dog enjoy their golden years in this article.

Nutrition for older dogs

Natural nutrition options for older dogs

As dogs age, certain health issues may present themselves[1]. This is especially true for senior dogs who have eaten processed food all their lives: the secrets their bodies have been hiding all those years eventually come to light. However, it’s not too late to start them on foods that will benefit their condition, even those who appear to be “too far gone.” Turning their health around is absolutely possible with the right ingredients, which I’ll be discussing in more detail later.

The right nutritional support can allow old dogs to remain healthy into their golden years. Species-appropriate meals made from fresh, whole foods provide essential nutrients that dogs require for their bodies to retain health, no matter their age. Feeding them raw, meat-based diets with the appropriate ratios of these nutrients serves to restore balance within the gut, which then radiates out to other systems of the body, allowing those to begin functioning more optimally as well. 

Read our Raw Feeding Guide for more details on how to help your senior dog through species-appropriate nutrition.

Natural nutrition additions for senior dogs health 

Whilst the basis of any healthy canine diet should be high-quality animal protein, senior dogs , contrary to standard advice, actually require higher ratios of protein to retain muscle mass as they get older. Protein is rich in essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that contribute towards healthy muscles, optimal organ function, and balanced immunity; each of which are vital to older dogs in particular. 

Another helpful dietary addition to support healthy ageing in dogs is plant fibre. Whilst many dogs may already be consuming small amounts of this in their daily meals, old dogs require increased amounts due to their slowing metabolism. This contributes to slower digestion speeds, and can lead to constipation in senior dogs. Increasing their plant fibre intake will minimise constipation risk, as well as help to keep the gut biome in balance [2].

Raw diet and nutrition supplements

Benefits of a raw diet for senior dogs

Species appropriate, meat-based diets benefit all dogs, as it’s their natural way of eating. The essential nutrients dogs need for optimal health are all contained within this diet, allowing their bodies and brains to function the way they were intended to. However, when senior dogs reach a certain age, their health needs may change; creating an increased need for nutritional support. Raw diets consisting of lean animal proteins, healthy fats, organ meats, bone and plant fibre create a perfectly balanced combination of essential nutrients which enable the canine body to thrive. 

Senior dogs that have eaten kibble (or other forms of processed food) their whole lives tend to age faster than raw-fed dogs, as their bodies have been forced to function in the absence of these vital elements they require. This is why it’s so common to see old dogs with joint problems, skin issues, digestive upsets, and various other health concerns: their gut health, immune health, and overall condition is a result of their lack of nourishment. 

To discover more about the health benefits of raw dog food read our guide, The Benefits of Raw Dog Food.

Whilst raw-fed senior dogs can also experience health issues, they typically take longer to present and will often be less severe. Though the passage of time is inevitable for every species, the canine body simply functions better when the nutrients it needs are provided.

Natural ingredients and supplements for senior support

There are various nutritional support options that can help with keeping senior dogs healthy. These natural ingredients and supplements promote health in all dogs, but as old dogs often require more attention to their health, I definitely suggest providing the following:

Probiotics

Probiotics work to balance gut bacteria, help restore intestinal lining, and are vital to healthy immune function and hence overall health. Beneficial bacteria within the gut  contributes to effective digestion and a healthy gut environment that is intrinsically linked to the body’s other systems. Adding fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, and kefir are great natural ways to naturally boost good bacteria in the gut. Supplements can help also, such as soil based  Kiki Body Biotics recommended for long-term use and gut health maintenance; especially helpful for senior dogs.

Read our article,……..,to learn more about the importance of the gut to your dogs’ health.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes help dogs digest and assimilate their food more effectively, and as dogs age their body produces fewer enzymes naturally. This means all senior dogs benefit with a little extra support. A lack of enzymes can lower resistance to stress and enlarge the pancreas and smaller organs, including the brain in senior dogs. 

ProDog’s Digest supplement not only contains digestive enzymes, but the extra fibre, prebiotics and antioxidants to help support all aspects of their digestion, to ensure they are gaining all the nutrients from their diet to thrive. 

Colostrum

Colostrum is also known as the “first milk,” and is humanely sourced from mother cows, freeze dried to maintain the nutrients to be utilised as a dietary supplement. It’s loaded with health-promoting properties that are great for senior dogs, such as growth factors, peptides, protein, antibodies, and lactoferrin (a prebiotic). These contribute to balanced gut health, strong immunity, and managing the inflammatory response, which are crucial to maintaining the health of old dogs.  I highly recommend ProDog’s Colostrum supplement for senior dogs.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3s are key to maintaining health in senior dogs, and all dogs for that matter. These essential fatty acids are responsible for a host of health benefits, such as cognitive function, balanced immunity, and regulating the inflammatory response, which is particularly helpful for joint health. 

Whilst Omega 3s can be found in a fresh, whole food diet, additional supplementation is especially helpful for senior dogs. ProDog’s Flexx,  joint and mobility supplement contains the perfect balance of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids to aid in fluid mobility and joint health.

Bone broth

Bone broth has been used by humans for centuries as a natural health-promoting tonic, and it’s also great for dogs. Its nutrient content includes collagen, calcium, magnesium, and key amino acids, among others. These work together to support digestive health, liver and kidney function, joint health and mobility, skin health, and aiding the body’s natural detoxification process. Bone broth is also great for old dogs who have become picky eaters: it makes everything smell and taste more appealing! Check out ProDog’s range of bone broths for your senior dog.

Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are gaining popularity in the field of canine health, and their benefits are quite impressive. From immune support to liver health, cardiovascular health and digestive health, they’re a great addition to the senior dog’s diet. However, there are some species of mushroom, and not all are canine safe, though Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Maitake are some of the safer and most beneficial options. ProDog’s Protect and Boost supplements include medicinal mushrooms amongst their other health-promoting ingredients.

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Antioxidants and longevity

How antioxidants contribute to longevity

Antioxidants are another helpful dietary addition that contribute to health and longevity in senior dogs. They do this mainly by minimising the presence of free radicals, or molecules that oxidise and damage cells within the body. Free radicals can be held responsible for damaging a variety of important bodily structures such as the immune and nervous systems, can cause premature ageing, and contribute to various chronic health issues in dogs. 

Older dogs are more vulnerable to these issues due to build up of free radicals in the body over time. Therefore, antioxidants are essential in your senior dog’s diet. Thankfully, they can easily be found in various foods like common fruits and vegetables, which I’ll discuss in a moment. 

Due to their natural free radical-fighting properties, antioxidants are helpful in various ways. They promote the formation of iron and calcium, help tissues to regenerate themselves, and support the ever-important adrenal glands. They also aid in balancing the immune response, contribute to eye and brain function [3], boost mental health, and help to regulate the inflammatory response.

 As you can see, your senior dog can greatly benefit from adding these to their diet!

Antioxidant-rich foods and supplements

Greens

Green vegetables are an excellent source of antioxidants. Examples include broccoli, kale, spinach, and spring greens. These should all be lightly steamed or sauteed in butter or  coconut oil to promote digestibility.

Berries

Berries are tiny nutritional powerhouses, mainly due to their high antioxidant content. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries are all great for senior dogs. Small amounts of elderberries and mulberries are okay, though mulberries must be ripe (both can cause vomiting if given in excess).

Other foods

Other high-antioxidant foods that are great for senior dogs include sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, and asparagus. I recommend lightly cooking these to promote digestibility whilst preserving as many nutrients as possible. 

To learn more about the foods beneficial to add to your dogs’ diet read our A-Z food guide, What Can my Dog Eat?

Supplements can also be very helpful for delivering targeted boosts of antioxidants to your senior dog’s diet. My personal recommendations for nutritional supplements include Digest , Perform and Revive supplements. Here’s a quick break down of their benefits:

Digest

Digest is designed to support, fuel and heal the digestive tract and gut microbiome, which is especially important for senior dogs. It not only contains digestive enzymes, which generally lack in older dogs, but digestive herbs and nutrients to help support fat digestion, pancreas, gallbladder and the microbiome. 

Perform 

Perform is designed to promote healthy muscle maintenance and weight gain, which can be crucial for senior dogs whose muscle mass is depleted, such as those with joint health issues. It also aids in healthy digestion, supports eye and brain function, promotes cardiovascular health, and helps to regulate the adrenal glands and nervous system. 

Revive

ProDog’s Revive supplement is excellent for energy support and recovery. It is high in antioxidants such as green tea and NAC , and promotes healthy immune function and detoxification, as well as regulating the body’s inflammatory response. Revive acts as a natural booster for the body’s innate recovery and healing mechanisms , especially fuelling the cognitive function of senior dogs, and helps to increase energy and vitality in senior dogs.

Flexx

For senior dogs seeking to sustain their mobility as they age, ProDog’s Flexx supplement offers a blend of joint-nourishing compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin. Additionally, ingredients such as turmeric, boswellia, and green-lipped mussel specifically address inflammation, aiding in the maintenance of mobility and flexibility throughout their golden years.

Mental and physical activity

Keeping older dogs active

Keeping dogs active is crucial for maintaining their health. Their muscles, tendons, and digestion all benefit from regular movement, as does their mental health. Encouraging physical activity throughout their lives serves them well, even as they get older. In fact, as they slow down, senior dogs should still be kept as active as is physically comfortable for them. For dogs with mobility issues, low-impact activities like gentle walks and swimming can be hugely beneficial to their health and state of mind.  

Mental activities are just as important, especially as old dogs find it harder to move their bodies. Keeping their minds occupied with problem-solving activities helps to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and provides a feeling of accomplishment along with a healthy boost of endorphins. Puzzle toys, raw meaty bones to chew, and slow-feeding mats all occupy senior dogs’ brains in a positive way. Even a walk around the garden at their own pace can provide multiple opportunities for sniffing, which also provides the above-mentioned benefits. 

You can read more about mental stimulation in our article, Enrich Your Senior Dog’s Life with Treats written by ProDog Canine Behaviourist Caroline Spencer.

Importance of regular exercise and stimulation

Like the majority of species, the canine body is designed for regular movement. Lack of physical exercise contributes to all sorts of undesirable consequences such as weight gain and its subsequent health issues, slowed digestion, boredom, depressed mood, and various behavioural issues. Whilst they may not be as sprightly as they once were, activity is important for old dogs, too; the less they move, the harder it will be for them to do so.

The same goes for mental enrichment: dogs require some form of stimulation in their daily lives for their mental and physical health. Anxiety, stress, and boredom create the potential for increased stress hormone production, which can wreak havoc on a dog’s body on various levels. Mental health is directly linked to physical health in dogs, and is just as important. This is especially true for seniors who may not be able to move around like they did in their younger years.

Holistic therapies

Alternative treatments and their benefits

Techniques such as massage, acupuncture, hydrotherapy and herbal therapy have been used for centuries to keep humans healthy and aid in the resolution of various ailments. These practices are also beneficial to dogs for a number of reasons. First, they utilise the power of a dog’s own healing abilities and work to bring them to the surface. Second, they avoid harsh treatments, chemicals, and anything that might create a new problem while attempting to solve another.

Alternative therapies can be used as a complement to traditional or holistic veterinary care, as well as a stand-alone approach. Their various modalities support the healing of many issues that senior dogs often face, such as joint/mobility issues, digestive health concerns, hormone imbalances, weight management, and allergies, just to name a few. 

Alternative treatments can be an excellent option for old dogs that need extra support.

Holistic approach to senior dog care

Advantages of adopting a holistic approach

Holistic veterinary care can benefit senior dogs in a variety of ways. The “whole animal” approach serves to evaluate them totally, which is a far more effective way to care for their various health concerns. Instead of treating symptoms, holistic vets aim to approach health issues from the root, while utilising natural methods that enable the body to heal itself, and without the negative side effects of certain conventional treatments.

Consulting a holistic vet for personalised care

As each senior dog is unique, so will be their individual health challenges. This is why personalised care is so important: what works for some dogs may not be helpful to others. Holistic veterinarians are particularly supportive in this regard, as their thorough evaluation process involves creating individual treatment plans to help each dog in ways that will benefit them most. I highly recommend holistic veterinary care, for old and young dogs alike. 

Supporting your senior dog’s health, naturally

Despite the common viewpoint, ageing dogs don’t have to slow down as soon as we might think. In fact, their health can remain intact for a lot longer when they receive adequate nutrition and maintain active lifestyles. 

Species-appropriate raw food, supplemental nutrient support, mental/physical activity , minimising toxins and chemical parasite control, and quality time with you can make all the difference in your senior dog’s life. Their golden years don’t have to start until they’re ready; in fact, you’ll likely find there’s plenty of life left in them yet if you incorporate the small adjustments in this article. 

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Senior dog support FAQs

At what age is a dog a senior?

That depends on your dog’s breed and size. Some large breed dogs may be considered seniors as young as six or seven years of age, whilst others can be much older before showing signs of ageing.

At what age do dogs start slowing down?

Each dog will be different. Those that have had healthy, active lives will remain active for longer than old dogs who haven’t had access to adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and mental enrichment.

What are the symptoms of kidney failure in dogs?

Symptoms of kidney failure include weight loss, lack of appetite, foul breath, pale gums, vomiting, increased water consumption, and changes in urination frequency. If you suspect your dog might have kidney failure, contact your vet immediately.

What are the best supplements for older dogs?

The best supplements for old dogs are those that include antioxidants, Omega 3s, probiotics, digestive enzymes and various other nutrients. See the “Raw diet and nutrition supplements” section above for more details.

What is the best food for older dogs?

The best food for senior dogs (and all dogs) is a species-appropriate, natural meat based diet. This includes appropriate ratios of lean animal protein (old dogs require more of this as they age), healthy fats, organ meats, bone, and plant fibre.

References

  1. McKenzie, B., Chen, F., Gruen, M., Olby, N. Apr 2022. Canine Geriatric Syndrome: A Framework for Advancing Research in Veterinary Geroscience. Frontiers in Veterinary Science;, 9:853743. Doi: 10.3389/vets.2022.853743
  2. Le Bon, M., Carvell-Miller, L., Marshall-Jones, Z., Watson, P., Amos, G. Oct 2023. A Novel Prebiotic Fibre Blend Supports the Gastrointestinal Health of Senior Dogs. Animals;, 13(20):2191. Doi: 10.3390/ani13203291
  3. Pan, Y., Kennedy, A., Jonsson, T., Milgram, N. Jan 2018. Cognitive enhancement in old dogs from dietary supplementation with a nutrient blend containing arginine, antioxidants, B vitamins and fish oil. British Journal of Nutrition;, 119(3):349-358. Doi: 10.1017/S0007114517003464

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