Q&A: Feeding an elderly dog

  • Expert advice from Baileys’ canine nutritionist on feeding an underweight aged German Shepherd

    Q: I own an elderly German Shepherd dog that has recently been struggling to hold weight even though his food and exercise levels have not changed. I increased his feed to allow for him to be getting older and changed to a premium dry food that is easily digested.

    The vets are doing some tests as they think he may be having problems with his liver. If he has liver disease will I need to change his diet?

    Nutritionist Liz Bulbrook replies: Liver disease can lead to problems with the metabolism and storage of nutrients, which could be why your dog is not utilising his diet very efficiency, he may also be having problems breaking down the potentially harmful by-products of metabolism (toxins).

    Your vet will be able to best advise on a suitable diet, but basically you will need a diet that has been formulated to provide sufficient energy and nutrients, provide for repair of damaged liver cells, reduce toxin production and limit toxin absorption from the bowel.

    Typical diets for dogs with liver disease will include high levels of energy but restricted levels of high quality protein and fat. It will be high in highly digestible complex carbohydrates and increased levels of fibre.

    The importance of not over feeding protein is that if the protein content is too high the dog’s body will produce more ammonia (a toxin) which is usually neutralised by the liver.

    Reducing the protein will reduce the workload on the liver and help prevent toxins building up, however some quality protein needs to be maintained to ensure that your dog maintains his muscle and othertissues.

    The level of fat in the diet helps palatability and energy density, but again must not be too high so as not to place additional metabolic stress on the liver. The complex carbohydrates will supply a consistent delivery of energy andglucose from the intestines to the liver.

    Antioxidants in the diet will be beneficial as they play a key role in the body by actively protecting cells against aging and disease. Specific diets will also include the vitamins and minerals needed including raised levels of zinc, though to be beneficial in helping to prevent nervous signs often associated with liver disease.

    There are a number of companies including Waltham Masterfoods / Pedigree or Hills Science diets which specialise in producing these special diets for dogs with liver, kidney or bowel diseases, so if your dog does have a liver problem you should be able to find a diet to suit him.

    Read more advice on caring for an elderly dog:

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