Rover is gettin' older? We all do. Let's help your canine companion age with grace and style! There is a lot of information out there about the Do's and Dont's of feeding senior dogs, and it can get pretty confusing. Most of the "senior formulas" on the market don't actually cut it as most of what's good has been cooked out (and is most likely not human grade food).
Whole fresh foods are always best. Your dog is family, let's feed them like they deserve.
We are the only animals on planet earth that cook their own food. It's that simple. Everyone else has evolved to eat fresh, raw, whole foods and that is how they are geared to best absorb and use nutrients.
Proteins, calories, and fiber are the big three that often arise as major factors of "senior diets" and recommendations. Truth is, the most important aspect of the daily diet is having easily digestible, nutritious, and whole foods. This is usually accomplished through species appropriate quality fresh foods (muscle meat, organ, bone content, tripe, and leafy greens are best for our canines): raw diets, home made meals, or dehydrated raw foods are best. If these are not an option in your household then quality canned food mixed with quality kibble - with fresh foods added as often as possible is next best.
What do I mean by quality food? I mean food that has no preservatives, no chemicals or synthetics, is unprocessed, and organic free range when available. All this just means: real food. The way food was grown and raised before we industrialized it. We are all built to absorb whole natural foods very easily. When things become processed and synthetic, or preserved, that is when quality goes down and complications arise.
For example several "senior diets" and GI tract foods, etc, from big companies that sell to Veterinarian offices, Grocery stores, etc. contain indigestible proteins, synthetics, and highly processed "meals". This allows dogs to survive, but not thrive. To quote Dr. Karen Becker, "current health outcomes of feeding non human-grade, biologically inappropriate ingredients include maldigestion, malabsorption, nutrient deficiency in the face of obesity, organ and metabolic dysfunction, and immune dysfunction (both cancer and auto-immmune disease)". Let's work together to prevent this.
Well, What Can I Add to My Dog's Diet?
Here is a list of the most effective, and proven, methods of maximizing your dogs health as they age
Good Fats Are Golden
Dogs Need Good fats. Omega-3's are the prime ingredient for keeping your loved one limber and long lived. Omega-3's help not only with maintaining joint function, heart, and brain function, but also in helping to absorb nutrients. These fun fats act as a vehicle for nutrients and supplements, helping the body to better absorb the nutrients instead of just passing them along. The best way for your dog to get these Omegas are through high quality Krill Oil, Fish Oils, and cold pressed Flax or Hemp oils. Heat and light destroy these valuable fats, so any food (other than raw) that claims to have oils will not be beneficial for your proud pooch. Another good way to get these into the diet is with sardines in spring water (only those two ingredients) - most grocery stores have these and they are a great way to add some Omega's and variety to your dog's diet.
Keep em' limber and lovin' life! Dogs, especially medium and large breeds, need quite a bit of joint support as they age - (heck, as puppies they should get preventative support, too). Vital ingredients for the joint support and maintenance of an aging canine companion are: Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, homeopathic Arnica, Ruta, and Rhus tox, turmeric, yucca, and super greens.
Whoah! That's a lot!
Yes, I know.... I'll break it down here for you:
Reduce Pain & Inflammation
Glucosamine, Chondroitin & MSM
These are excellent for controlling inflammation and helping ease the joints, as well as offer valuable "nutrition" for the joints themselves. How do you use them? Well, I'm glad you asked. Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM are best absorbed from whole food sources (that is not laboratory made) - look for quality supplements (oils are the best) that contain these three amigos. Check the ingredients to make sure they come from natural animal sources, if it doesn't say, don't get it. You'll just be spending money on something that your canine companion can't use.
Tumeric, Yucca, Arnica, and Super Greens
Yucca, Tumeric, Arnica, and Super Greens - you can add these directly to the food of your dog. Tumeric needs to be added with Omega 3's as they act as a vehicle for it. Tumeric is an amazing anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer supplement (Organic is always best, just get the powder from your grocer). Yucca tends to be found most often in supplement form, but it's in some fruit and veg grocers, boil it and mix it in. Arnica Montana is a great anti-inflammatory herb, it can be found at some natural pet stores and definitely at herbalists - I recommend a tincture that can be added by the drop to food or on your dogs tongue (consult a homeopath for dosage if not labeled).
"The greatest wealth is health." - Virgil
My Mother was raised by her Grandmother, in those olden days of times past. They had a full house and one of the most important members was a Llewellyn Setter that lived to be 17 years old. He was fed a raw diet of hunting and kitchen scraps - you know, how it always was. When the Setter was around 14 or 15 he began to slow down and get all creaky in the joints. At that point, three or four times a week, my Great Grandmother would slowly simmer beef bones, pork bones, and chicken bones with dark leafy greens (collard greens, kale, etc) and then give the bone broth to the Setter, she called it "Pot Liquor". Within no time, he would go from slow and achy to smooth and happy. You can do this yourself, there's no exact science to it - It is an amazing mixture that can be given straight as liquid or added to food.
Joint & Ligament Support and Strength
Ruta & Rhus Tox are two homeopathic herbs that are famous for strengthening joints, cartilage, and connective tissue. These are found at some natural pet supply shops or at herbalists. They are safe to use and very effective (just check the proper dosage for the size of your dog). This is very potent medicine that helps strengthen the connections all around the joints in order to not just soothe aches and pains but add needed tissue support back into the joints and can greatly relieve issues long term.
Let's Keep It Real
Last and not least, is Immune system upkeep and defense. Yes, as our perfect pooches age they need more support in order to stay well long term. Here's where it is best to add variety and rotation of supplements and super foods.
Pass the 'shrooms, brah...!
Not just for seeing through space and time and connecting with your inter-galactic spirit animal .... wait, these are for different mushrooms.
In our amazing world today there are now extremely potent blends of medicinal mushrooms on the market. Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lion's Mane, Maitake, and Shiitake are some of the most important. These not only protect and promote the immune system, but the nervous system and brain function as well. These are powerful agents of internal change - working deeply with the nervous and immune system to rapidly protect the body and make great changes within the system. These are most powerful when served with Omega-3's - this helps them to readily get absorbed into the bloodstream and become even more bio-available.
Echinacea - the Original "Snake Oil"
Joseph Meyer popularized the potency of the purple cone-flower with dramatic shows of being bitten by live rattlesnakes.... and surviving. Echinacea raises your T-cell count and helps your immune system stay on "alert mode" - ready to attack any foreign bodies that might proliferate in you, or your classy canine's, system. This is best used for 2-3 weeks at a time, then take off a week. This helps the immune system take a break and then remind itself, otherwise the efficacy of echinacea can be lost.
This is a great ingredient to look for in Senior supplements as it is a kind of "catch all" for typical parts of their health that slow and decline with age. Biotin has a really wide range of benefits for your older dog: It supports a healthy metabolism (very important as dogs age they tend to gain weight easily) and maintains healthy hair, skin, and nails. It also protects brain function and fights cognitive decline and helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system - this is great especially when used in conjunction with Lion's Mane mushrooms. Another bonus of biotin is that this works to support thyroid and adrenal function keeping these vital balancers of hormones and health functioning properly.
Olive Leaf Extract (liquid or powder)
Olive Leaf Extract is a natural and very powerful remedy - I would say this is a must have supplement for senior dogs. It can be used multiple times a week simply mixed into the food. Olive leaf extract is a very potent immune system booster and virus killer, it even works on tumor cells controlling their growth and is powerfully anti-fungal so it kills yeast growth! That's pretty great, hey? But wait, there's more! It is also anti inflammatory so it will work well to soothe and prevent achy joints and arthritic symptoms as well. Yeah, It's pretty awesome (and You can use it, too!).
There you have it... This is an excellent starting point for anyone with an older dog and who desires to have them live out their years in good health and good conscience.
Love your dog, help them live a Long, Healthy Life