Depending on the breed, when your dog is seven years or older, he may be considered a senior. With old age comes a variety of issues that can have negative effects on your dog’s health. Unplanned weight gain in senior dogs is one of the more common issues, and as your old dog becomes more overweight, this can lead to a large number of other related health problems.
Table of Contents
- Weight Loss Basics for Senior Dogs
- 7 Ways to Slim Down Your Senior Dog
- Maintenance Stage
Studies show how senior dogs will experience a decreased metabolic rate, decreased immune capability, signs of arthritis, they become less active, and subsequently become more susceptible to infection. They have a reduced capability to regulate body heat (thermoregulation), and their organ systems will undergo serious changes.
One of the main causes of health problems in senior dogs is excessive weight gain. It is a normal part of the aging process but can also be caused by underlying issues. It is up to you to take your pet for regular check-ups at the veterinarian to rule out any of the diseases that plague older dogs, but you can also help your old dog maintain a healthy weight with a regular regime of exercises and appropriate senior dog diet.
It's been proven that obesity puts severe strain on your dog’s body and will contribute to bone and joint problems like arthritis and hip dysplasia. Senior obese dogs are also more prone to skin and urinary tract problems. There are quite a few other diseases that are caused by being overweight, thus it's important for you to address this problem right away and keep an eye on your dog’s weight to prevent other illnesses.
ASK A VET: How to Put an Overweight Dog on a Diet?
Weight Loss Basics for Senior Dogs
The main reason for weight gain in senior dogs is because their level of activity decreases. Joint problems and general muscle weakness may cause them to avoid exercise. If this happened to your dog, it's time to look at your pet's nutrition plan to increase his quality of life and prolong his lifespan. Before making any dietary adjustments and switching to senior dog food recipes, take the dog to the vet to test for any age-related illnesses.
Keep an Eye Out for Hypothyroidism
If your dog suddenly gains weight despite eating the same amount as before, or if your dog’s appetite decreases but he still gains weight, it can be due to an underactive thyroid. You may also notice your pet being lethargic with a dull coat.
A full thyroid panel is needed to identify hypothyroidism in dogs. Your vet will put your dog on thyroid supplementation and ask you to bring him in for periodic re-testing. If all goes well, he should slim down and get back some of his energy, keeping in mind that senior dogs aren’t as active as when they were younger.
If your dog's underactive thyroid is left untreated, it can lead to a significant decrease of quality of life. The metabolism of all cellular functions is regulated by the thyroid gland and hypothyroidism, if untreated, will progress over months and years, eventually resulting in end-stage disease.
Beat the Bulge
Before we look at ways to beat the bulge, it is time to get real. Dogs are fatter than ever. It’s estimated that 53% of all dogs in the US are overweight or obese. That’s more than 40 million dogs. There are so many overweight dogs in the world that when we see a dog that is at a healthy weight, we immediately think she is too skinny and unhealthy.
Ask your vet for an opinion about your dog's weight if you’re unsure. But it's easy to learn how to assess a healthy weight in your dog yourself – if you can’t easily feel your dog’s ribs and shoulder blades, if she has no waist or if there’s a roll of fat at the base of her tail, it is time to face reality and start your dog on a diet.
Studies show that objectively assessing your dog's weight means increased lifespan.
7 Ways to Slim Down Your Senior Dog
1. Count those calories
Every weight-loss plan is based on one simple principle: calorie intake vs calorie output. To lose weight, a dog must consume fewer calories than they burn a day. Start by counting your dog's calories accurately. Instead of feeding ‘free-choice’ or giving your dog one or two meals a day, change to feeding your dog several small meals a day. That way you’ll be able to control and monitor exactly how much they eat.
2. Reduce portion sizes
Building on the above point, reduce your dog’s food meal portion size. Weigh your dog the day you start and again in two weeks. If she has not lost any weight, reduce the food some more. You can continue to gradually reduce her food until you see a difference on the scale, then continue feeding that amount.
Slow and steady changes to your dog’s diet are more likely to result in long-term success. Reducing the amount of food your dog eats per day too drastically might slow your dog’s metabolism, making it more difficult to lose weight.
3. Increase protein intake
Feed more protein and fewer carbohydrates. Your dog needs very little carbohydrates in general, and most of those should be high fiber. The best diet for any dog, but especially senior dogs, is one high in protein, low in carbs and moderate in fat. The protein and fats will also make your dog feel more satiated and energetic.
4. Replace carbs with fats
Feed fats to beat the fat. As you decrease the amount of carbs, you can add a little more fat in the dog's diet. Dietary fat is not the adipose tissue fat, and it does not make your dog (or you) gain extra layers of bodyfat. However, remember that fat in itself is higher in calories than carbs or protein, so only a small increase (if any) should be considered.
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish itself, or fish oil supplements promote weight loss and will make your dog feel more satisfied. Omega-3s are also healthy for dogs in many other different ways and are particularly important for senior dogs.
5. Switch to different treats
Change the treats you give. As dog owners we can’t go without rewarding our pets with a treat or two. But it's important to look at how many treats and what kind of treats you give your dog as they can quickly add up to a lot of calories. Consider giving your pooch healthy dog treats or low-calorie smaller treats, especially if you reward your dog during training on a regular basis.
You can also find better alternatives for any natural treats. For example, instead of using fatty pork or beef meat, choose a meat that is leaner, lower in fat and calories, such as turkey. You can also use low-fat organ meats like heart or liver. Your dog is sure to lick its chops for those healthy niblets. Finally, if you see the treats are getting in the way of your dog’s weight-loss, use some of your dog’s daily food as a treat.
6. Consider a homemade diet
If you want to know exactly what and how much your dog is eating, you may want to consider feeding her homemade dog food meals. These aren't always the best option but if you consult with a vet, and educate yourself on appropriate ways to do this, you can help slim down your overweight senior dog by cooking yourself.
Use lean meats, low-fat dairy, and vegetables in your dog’s diet. Mixing your dog’s food at home means you will also be able to cut out grains and starches from his diet to make losing weight easier. Lamb, pork and other fatty meats should be avoided or fed on rare occasions. Focus on feeding enough protein and healthy fats to keep your dog satisfied and prevent protein deficiency that would otherwise cause muscle loss. Replacing a large portion of his diet with vegetables because you think it will make him feel satiated, is unwise. Just adding bulk is not enough.
7. Keep your senior dog moving
Exercise is important no matter the dog's age. It might be difficult for your dog to get up and go for a walk if he is overweight and suffering from joint pains due to extra weight but every little counts. Even if you just play fetch for a few minutes, it will have a positive effect on your dog’s journey to weight-loss.
After the pounds have melted off, you cannot go back to the old diet as the weight will come back again. Continue monitoring your dog’s weight on a bi-weekly basis. You may need to make some adjustments after the ideal weight has been reached. Consult with your vet for the maintenance diet for your senior pet, and be sure to weigh the food you give per day to make tweaking amounts easier in case of future weight gain.
READ NEXT: The Best Weight Loss Dog Food for Fat Dogs