Is protein bad for senior dogs? Tips and Tricks

What’s the right mix of fat, protein, phosphorus, and sodium?

Many interrelated metabolic changes occur as dogs age, and their daily energy requirement may decrease by 12-13%.

Protein is a critical nutrient for maintaining good physical health in the face of aging. While the amount of protein that should be fed to senior dogs remains a topic of discussion, there is agreement that higher protein quality is important.

Although high protein food has not been shown to cause kidney disease in healthy dogs, high protein foods may contribute to the progression of kidney disease once kidney function is compromised.

Also related to kidney disease, excessive phosphorus should be avoided in a senior dog ration.

Excessive sodium in the diet can contribute to kidney disease and hypertension, both of which can be present for long periods of time before clinical signs emerge.

How Much Protein Do Senior Dogs Need?

Dogs are omnivorous, meaning that protein (meat) accounts for a large portion of their diet, along with fruits and vegetables. As such, they have evolved to rely on protein across all stages of their lives.

There is a myth that protein is bad for senior dogs.

Apparently, too much protein can overtax an older dog’s kidneys due to the high phosphorus levels that come with it. However, the study responsible for that myth used rats, not dogs. Therefore, while too much protein can be hazardous for a senior rat, the same does not apply to dogs.

Senior Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food

As a matter of fact, senior dogs require more protein than other dogs, and here is the reason. One of the functions of protein in the dog’s body is building and maintaining muscle tissue. Since dogs lose muscle mass as they grow older, they require more protein in their diet to hold on to muscle tissue for longer.

Muscle tissue loss compromises the dog’s immune system, making the animal more susceptible to diseases. Additionally, the dog loses its physical strength, affecting its energy levels and mobility.

Therefore, by increasing the amount of protein in your senior pup’s diet, you will help them hold onto their strength for longer. Experts recommend ensuring that protein makes up at least 25% of your senior dog’s daily caloric intake.

Does my dog need a senior food?

It has often been said that aging, in itself, is not a disease. However, aging is often associated with a variety of diseases. Nutrition can be a powerful tool in maintaining health, preventing disease, and in helping to manage disease. However, deciding on the “best” diet for an older dog or cat can be a difficult decision; there is no one best diet for every older animal. Animals are individuals so just because your pet turns 7 or 10 or even 15 years old doesn’t necessarily mean she’s biologically “old”. The aging process depends on a variety of factors including breed, genetics, and health problems. Therefore, just because a food is marketed for older animals, doesn’t mean it is right for your older dog or cat.

Individual differences aside, there are a number of changes that occur with aging that can affect nutritional needs. Although much more research is needed in dogs and cats (much of the information is based on humans), aging is typically associated with lower energy requirements and the tendency to gain fat and lose muscle. Immune function and kidney function also decline with age, although the degree to which this occurs depends upon the individual animal.

Human adult dietary requirements are separated into age groups: 19-30 years, 31-50 years, 51-70 years, and >70 years, but adult cats and dogs are considered as a single group, whether the animal is 2, 8, or 15 years old. More specific requirements for senior animals are needed as the requirements of older dogs and cats are most certainly different from a young adult. However, adjustment of the diet may or may not be necessary or even desirable in older animals. Many older dogs and cats can continue to eat a good quality commercial diet designed for adults and do not need to be changed to a different diet.

Other aging dogs and cats, however, may benefit from changing to a “senior” diet. It is important to understand that there is no legal definition for “senior” or “geriatric” foods – diets marketed as senior diets need to follow the same legal guidelines as diets for young or middle-aged adults. Although you might think that this title generally implies lower protein, lower phosphorus, and a lower caloric content, the levels vary by manufacturer so each manufacturer’s senior food will have different properties. Therefore, some foods will meet the needs of an individual animal better than others.

Some of the nutrients that may need to be adjusted as a pet ages (but are not necessarily modified in individual senior diets) include the following:

If your senior dog or cat is healthy, in good body condition, and eating a good quality nutritionally balanced diet, there is no reason to change foods. However, if your pet has one of the diseases often seen with aging such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, dental problems, heart disease, or kidney disease, dietary adjustments may help improve symptoms or even slow progression of the disease. Dietary modification can help to optimize health in the dog and cat and to manage any diseases that might arise as they age.

There are many good quality commercial diets available today, and their variable nutrient content provides many choices for optimizing the health of the individual senior dog and cat. Working with your veterinarian can help you to find the diet that is truly best for your dog or cat, not just the diet with the best marketing.