Today we are going to discuss how to choose a raw food for your senior dog, how to transition them on to a new food, and debunk some common concerns.
What to Feed
- Most reputable raw food manufacturers do not produce different meals for different life stages the way most kibble companies do. For example, they will not have a puppy formula, an adult formula, and a senior formula. They will service pets of all ages with quality whole food ingredients that provide optimum nutrition for all life stages.
- Currently, neither the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the National Research Council (NRC) provides a guideline for senior pet food formulas. 1
- However, we know that as with all species, nutritional requirements do change as an animal ages according to their upbringing, unique medical history, and activity level.
- Consider Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) when choosing proteins for your pet. Often older dogs require more warming proteins or neutral proteins, but this will vary in each individual. For example, I have one dog who will likely need to be fed a mix of cooling & neutral foods for her whole life. 2
- The way for you to achieve proper balance with your senior pet’s food is to rotate through complete meals of various proteins and to add in vegetables and fungi high in antioxidants and fibre.
Prepare their Digestive System
- Adding in a quality probiotic before starting the new food can help prevent diarrhea and other unpleasantries.
- Pet’s can experience a detox when switching from a processed to a species appropriate diet (See our “5 Scary Things That Can Happen When You Start Feeding Raw” article for more info) improving the health of their digestive system can begin the process more slowly and gently.
- Look for a product with a high CFU count, a quality prebiotic, and no fillers. My personal favourite is Love Bugs by The Adored Beast.
- You can also add in fermented foods, raw goat’s milk and kefir to bolster the GI tract.
- Transitioning can be tougher with an animal that has been accustomed to one type of food for an extended period of time.
- There are two ways to transition a dog to a new food. The “quick switch” and the “slow mix.”
- Quick Switch
- Dogs with no health conditions that are excited and interested in their new food are generally well suited to a quick switch.
- Dogs that have had their food switched before (even rotation of different kibbles and canned food), and who can eat new foods without issue.
- Slow Mix
- This is a good idea for more sensitive dogs who have are prone to digestive upset.
- Slowly begin to mix your raw food in with your dog’s current food. Very gradually increase the amount of the new raw food and decreasing the amount of kibble.
- Does the idea of mixing kibble and raw worry you? Listen to our podcast here or check out this article that explains how different digestion rates don’t actually matter. 3
- Quick Switch
- Sometimes, senior pets can be reluctant to try a new food because it comes in an unfamiliar form (e.g. raw food can be cold and soft whereas kibble is crunchy and room temperature).
- You can remedy this by starting out your transition with gently cooked (bone-free) raw for a few weeks. Look for frozen meals that use eggshell calcium instead of bone as dogs and cats should never be fed cooked bones.
How Much To Feed
- This will depend completely on your individual pet. Some senior animals may need to be given more food some may need to be given much less than the “standard” recommendations.
- Start out by feeding around 2.5% of your pet’s body weight daily and adjust according to your own dog’s needs.
- Do senior pets need a reduced protein content in their diet?
- No! Studies have shown that protein requirements increase with age. Even in animals with kidney failure, restricting protein did not increase their health or longevity. 4 & 5
- What about bacteria?
- Your dog’s digestive system is made to handle bacteria much more effectively than ours is.
- As Dr. Steve Marsden puts it “The bottom line is that no food is immune from bacterial contamination, so this issue really needs to be taken off the table as a reason to feed one food over another.” 6
- If your dog has a severely compromised immune system or is undergoing chemotherapy feeding a raw food that has undergone high pressure processing (HPP) or that is bone free and cookable may be a good option for you.
- My dog is missing/has no teeth?
- For dogs with missing teeth or dental issues, you may want to feed a well-thawed ground food to make it easier to chew.
Supplements to Consider for Your Aging Pet:
- Omega 3s
- Joint Supports (e.g., Green Lipped Mussel)