By Dr. Ben McClelland
This is the third and final article on Wildrose and Purina’s partnering on a nutrition program for our dogs. Dr. Brian Zanghi, a Ph.D. research nutritionist at the Nestle Research Center, visited Wildrose and shared his findings on a number of subjects pertinent to sound canine nutrition. The first article in this series shared Brian’s knowledge about determining a dog’s appropriate body size and employing the best feeding strategies. A key point in that article was scientific evidence from dog nutrition studies showing that feeding the dog 17 or more hours before exercise results in a much greater use of fat as energy; this is compared to feeding 6 hours before exercise, which results in a much greater use of carbohydrates for energy generation.
The second article discussed the recommended type of food for optimal sporting dog activity, explaining the dog’s process of metabolizing fat and protein during aerobic activity.
In this article we will consider maintaining wellness in the older dog by using some specific nutrition strategies to enhance the older dog’s health. Our mature hunting companion may not perform as actively as a younger dog that may have joined the hunting family, but—with sound training and nutrition practices—we can enable it to stay mentally sharp and maintain mobility.
In a fourteen-year-long study—led by Nestlé Purina scientists— Brian reported that feeding to maintain a lean body condition in Labrador Retrievers throughout life extended the median age of the lean-fed dogs by 1.8 yrs compared to the control-fed dogs. In order to maintain a lean body condition the dogs were fed 25% less than their control littermates, who were allowed to consume an adequate amount without becoming overweight.
Among the impressive findings of this study was that the need for treatment of certain chronic health conditions was delayed approximately 2 years in the lean-fed dogs. More specifically, treatment for osteoarthritis was delayed with the reduced feeding portion. As Brian reported, ultimately 43 of the 48 dogs in the study were treated for osteoarthritis. However, half of the lean-fed dogs had a mean age of 13.3 years old before needing to start on an osteoarthritis treatment, three years later than their littermates, where half had started treatment at an average age of 10.3 years old. Thus, by maintaining a lean body condition in a dog throughout its life, one can enable the dog to lead a healthier life and possibly several more years in the field for as an older dog.
Let’s look at some other factors of canine aging. Sporting dogs age at a rate that likely results in metabolism slowing by age 7 to 8. As Brian reports, even though their body weight may remain fairly unchanged, they will likely experience a shift in body mass tissue distribution: losing muscle mass and gaining fat mass. In the study with the lean-fed dogs, this effect was delayed. The obvious benefit here is that retaining muscle tissue is critical for maintaining an active lifestyle and more days in the field.
Brain aging is another consideration for owners of an older dog. First and foremost, dog owners need to understand that physical and mental stimulation is a primary way to sustain a dog’s mental acuity. So, regularly working the dog through obedience, retrieving and agility drills is key for good brain health.
There is also a nutritional aspect to maintaining good brain health. As aging occurs, there is a shift in how the dog’s brain generates energy for nerve function. As Brian explains the process, glucose becomes less “preferred,” and small fat nutrients called ketones become more efficiently utilized. One way to get ketones for brain function is to put ingredients in the food that deliver ketone-producing nutrients, such as “medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).” Recent studies by Nestlé Purina scientists have determined that dietary MCTs can increase blood ketone bodies after feeding older and senior dogs for increasing brain energy supply. Older dogs fed the MCT diet showed significant cognitive improvements compared to older dogs fed a food without MCTs.
Switching a retired sporting dog to a senior formula will provide high protein and lower fat content to sustain muscle health and provide a less calorie-dense food, providing a number of benefits from higher protein that are not addressed here, including promoting immune, intestinal and renal health. In summary, maintain the older dog’s cognitive stimulation by providing regular exercise, and by feeding an MCT-enriched diet.
Finally, osteoarthritis (OA) is another age-related condition that can challenge the older dog’s mobility. In consultation with a veterinarian the dog’s owner can learn if the dog can benefit from a prescription joint mobility formula to reduce joint discomfort.
As Brian explains, if a nutritional approach for treatment is an option, a variety of therapeutic foods are available through your veterinarian, which could provide noticeable benefits for mobility. Skeletal and joint health are achieved with many different nutrients in the diet. For example, balanced calcium/phosphate ratios are important, as well as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and elevated protein, mentioned above for strong muscles and bones.
Another nutrient that may be less obvious for skeletal health is the significant contribution of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet from fish. Brian reports that clinical nutrition studies have shown that regular consumption of formulas enriched with the proper types and levels of omega-3 nutrients result in a significant improvement in, not only biological indicators, but also pet mobility within 1 month of feeding. After 2 months of feeding, 88% of the dogs on study had client perceived mobility improvement, based on 146 client-owned dogs eating the test food. Although many foods contain varying levels of omega-3s, the therapeutic benefits are likely best achieved by feeding a prescription veterinary diet with enriched levels targeting a joint mobility condition.
To be clear, any nutritional strategy to address OA does not cure the disease; it may minimize related discomfort and could be used in combination with veterinary prescribed medications to promote overall wellness and joint health.
In conclusion, we all hope for many years of fun afield with our canine companions. If we get our wish, our aging dogs will need our watchful eye and continuous care to maintain wellness into their senior years. Using results from years of Purina Nutrition Studies, Brian Zanghi has shown us the significant role that nutrition plays throughout the sporting dog’s life—from optimizing performance in the adult dog to maintaining wellness in the older dog.