Adapting the food to the dog’s age

Growing puppies, adults in the maintenance phase and ageing dogs all have different nutritional requirements. As a consequence, a diet needs to be adapted in every stage of life to ensure the dog remains as healthy as possible.

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Nutrition and puppies

Whatever the breed, a puppy’s requirements in terms of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins are much greater than those of an adult dog. It needs energy and nutrients to maintain its body, but also to grow and build it. Its digestive functions are different to an adult’s, too. It is much less able to digest starch, for example. Similarly, the puppy’s teeth – starting with the milk (first) teeth, then the permanent teeth – are an important factor that needs to be taken into account when choosing the size, form and hardness of kibbles. The formulation of puppy food must take all of these factors into account. To cover these hefty energy requirements the food must have a high-energy content (expressed in kilocalories of metabolisable energy per 100g of food), while concentrations of all other nutrients will also be higher than normal in a specially formulated growth food.

Nutrition and ageing dogs

Good care is essential if a dog is to remain in good health throughout its life. Regular physical activity will ensure that the dog maintains its muscle mass and controls its weight. The condition of the teeth and the coat should also be monitored. In terms of energy requirement, intake should be adapted to the animal’s activity level, which depends on its age and any health concerns. An arthritic dog will move around less and so expend less energy, putting it at risk of unhealthy weight gain. A low energy diet is only imperative if the dog is overweight. It is very important not to simply assume that reduced enthusiasm for physical exercise is a normal consequence of ageing. The dog must be examined to check whether it is suffering from a chronic disease. Regular weighing and medical check-ups are the best way to ensure that ageing-related problems are detected at the earliest opportunity.

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A diet needs to be adapted in every stage of life.

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Ageing is also accompanied by the modification of digestive capacities and particular nutritional requirements, so food for ageing dogs should have the following characteristics:

– Higher vitamin C and E content. These nutrients have antioxidant properties, protecting the body’s cells against the harmful effects of the oxidative stress linked to ageing.

– High-quality protein. Contrary to a widely held misconception, lowering the protein content gives no benefit. Older dogs are less efficient at using dietary protein than younger dogs. Another fallacy in some countries is that protein is responsible for kidney failure. Improving protein quality is the main goal here. Reducing the phosphorus content is the only way of slowing down the gradual deterioration of kidney function, which can be monitored by regular biochemical tests.

– Higher proportion of the trace elements iron, copper, zinc and manganese to maintain good condition of the skin and coat. Their inclusion in a special chelate complex in the form of organic salts, which are much easier to assimilate than mineral salts, makes it more likely that they will be used in the metabolism of dogs with a less effective digestive system.

– Higher quantity of polyunsaturated fatty acids (soy oil or, even better, borage oil, fish oil) to maintain the quality of the coat. Dogs normally produce these fatty acids, but ageing can affect this physiological process.

– Slightly higher fibre content to act as “ballast”. This will help limit the risk of constipation, which can accompany the reduction in the ageing dog’s physical activity.

As they age, dogs increasingly suffer from teeth problems. To ensure they continue to eat in sufficient quantities, the shape, size and hardness of their kibbles need to be tailored to their jaw.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
© Diffomédia/Royal Canin
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Foods for ageing dogs

A dog that reaches three quarters of its expected lifespan is regarded as an ageing dog. The signs of ageing will start to become more and more apparent and therefore easier to recognise from 12 years for a small dog, 10 years for a medium-sized dog and 8 years for a large dog.

Dietary measures to help combat the signs of ageing need to be intensified when dogs enter this life stage. This will help them stay healthy for as long as possible. The following factors are especially important:

Antioxidants:

vitamins E and C, beta-carotene

• Helping to combat cell ageing

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• Improving immunity and increasing resistance to infection

vitamins E, C, beta-carotene, zinc, vitamin B6

Vitamins E, C and B6, zinc and beta-carotene support and stimulate the immune system, which is weaker in ageing dogs.

• Improving the beauty of skin and coat

essential fatty acids: fish and borage oil, zinc

The health and beauty of the skin and hair is dependant on the adequate and regular intake of specific substances. Borage oil has a positive effect on the sheen of the hair and the elasticity of the skin. Zinc (in chelated form to improve assimilation) is recommended for ageing dogs with a coat in poor condition.

• Combating development of cataracts, degenerative diseases, tumours

Vitamin E plays a role in preventing degenerative diseases of the nervous system. Together with vitamin C and beta-carotene it helps prevent cataracts. Vitamin B6 is indicated for neuromuscular deficiencies in ageing dogs.

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vitamins E, C and beta-carotene

• Alleviating arthritis

glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, essential fatty acids

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Ageing dogs do not form a homogenous group. A healthy ageing dog should not be on the same diet as an ageing dog with health issues. Regular check-ups and health screens will ensure that any kidney, heart or other problems are detected at the earliest opportunity. In many cases, diet can play a role in preventing or at least limiting the expression of the clinical symptoms of chronic disease in ageing dogs. The veterinarian will be able to recommend the most appropriate food.

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High Digestive Security: prevention through nutrition

On average, digestive problems account for one in every five visits to the veterinarian. In many cases, an appropriate nutritional response will be enough to end the symptoms. The veterinarian is in the best possible position to prescribe a food that provides this response.

Digestive sensitivity increases with age: Decrease in digestive capacity of the digestive tract. Increased frequency of diseases of the digestive tract.

The intake of all energy, water and essential nutrients is dependent on the proper functioning of the digestive system.

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• Protecting the intestinal mucosa

Clay has three very beneficial properties:
- Coating ability, reinforcing the protective power of the mucus barrier
- Absorbing ability, neutralising substances that are toxic for the intestinal mucosa
- Combating infectious agents by supporting the intestinal flora by providing nutrients that promote the growth of bacterial populations favourable to the optimal functioning of the digestive tract, e.g. fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which promote the proliferation of lactobacilli.

Fibre promotes healthy digestion
The 500 species making up the bacterial flora of the digestive tract must live in harmony.
Highly fermentable fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) maintain the equilibrium of intestinal flora.

Nourishing the colon cells: The integrity of the mucosa depends on the regular intake of essential nutrients through the diet.
Volatile fatty acids produced when fibre (FOS) is utilised nourish the intestinal cells and ensure they can regenerate.

• Preventing too high an intake

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The energy concentration of the food will have to be adapted to the animal’s requirements, based not only on its age, but its size too, which is a very important criterion.

• Limiting protein fermentation

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The choice of protein sources has a clear impact on digestive tolerance. Casein is a reference protein, as is fishmeal.

• Regulating intestinal transit

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Beet pulp is a good source of fibre if the dog has a sensitive digestive system. It slows down digestive transit slightly without compromising digestibility. Because it is only moderately fermentable it is not totally degraded in the gut, which enables it to contribute to motor control by providing “ballast”

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Intestinal transit must be slow enough to allow absorption of nutrients, but fast enough to avoid constipation.

• Facilitating starch digestion

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Rice is the most digestible cereal used in dog food. Even if the starch in the food is extremely digestible and very well cooked, it is always a good idea to limit the starch content to 25% by dry matter.

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