Top 11 Super Foods for your Senior Dog, Part 1, Deborah Shores, DVM

Flickr Image: Masochismtango
Whether your dog is young or old, his overall health is always important. That's why it's essential to stimulate his immune system and boost his energy. Many dog owners choose to conveniently provide their dog's daily dose of essential nutrients with natural dog vitamins. But did you know you can also feed him real food for this purpose as well?.  

1.    Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a great superfood that consists of healthy fatty acids. It is a good source of lauric acid, an essential fatty acid that supports the immune system. Feeding coconut oil to your dog regularly is great for skin health, and can improve skin conditions, such as eczema and allergies. Coconut oil helps to moisturize your dog’s coat and skin, resulting in a silky soft coat. It also increases energy and promotes mobility for dogs with arthritis and other joint problems. Coconut oil has been found to be good source of energy for the brain in aging dogs. (1) Coconut oil needs to be fed in moderation and with care, as it is quite calorific and can trigger pancreatitis in some dogs. 
2. Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Anchovies 

These four types of fish contain omega-3 fatty acids that are great for brain function and joint stiffness. If your senior pup has arthritis, a fish oil or omega-3 daily supplement can help improve mobility.  Fish oils are also good for reducing inflammation and supporting the immune system. 

3. Liver

Liver is a great source for Vitamin A, iron, copper, phosphorus, and zinc. It provides omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, B vitamins, and essential amino acids. Liver contains Vitamin B12 which helps with fatigue and mental ability. Liver is a rich source of antioxidants that help to combat cellular damage. Liver also needs to be fed cooked and in moderation, as it contains high levels of fat.

4.    Blueberries

Blueberries appear on ‘best superfood’ lists many times and this is no exception. These little berries are filled with great antioxidants, as well as fiber, manganese, and Vitamin K that aid with heart function, reduce risk of strokes, control blood sugar levels, and help with digestion. Some dogs love blueberries raw, as a training snack, or you can mix a few in with your dog’s food. 

5.    Pumpkin

Pumpkins aren’t just for seasonal decorations -- they’re actually great for your dog’s digestive health, particularly with diarrhea and constipation. Canned pumpkin is filled with fiber which helps the digestive tract get back on track. It also contains beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well. Although Halloween is coming up, don’t feed your dog your holiday decorations. These carved pumpkins can house bacteria and cause illness. We recommend canned pumpkin or cooked fresh pumpkin.  

6.    Quinoa 

Although commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a seed related to spinach. Quinoa has been grown and eaten in South America for thousands of years, but has only recently become popular in North America. Quinoa is one of the few vegetable sources of complete proteins. It is a great source of carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, which makes it popular among diabetic pets. It’s also gluten-free, which makes it an ideal food for dogs with digestive issues or allergies. Lastly, it’s an excellent source of fiber, magnesium, copper, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins. 

7.    Kale

Kale is a powerhouse veggie that contains an abundant amount of Vitamins, including A, E, and C. It is a good source of antioxidants and helps the liver detoxify the body. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Dogs can sometimes dislike the slight bitterness of kale, while others enjoy occasional treat of crunchy “kale chips.” Kale chips can easily be made at home using a food dehydrator. If you purchase pre-made kale chips, choose the lightly salted variety only with no other additives or flavorings. Kale should be fed sparingly and in very small amounts as it can cause digestive upset.(2,3)

8.    Carrots

Carrots are one of the most well-known vegetables around, but did you know about the health benefits of carrots? Carrots are a crunchy source of antioxidants and other nutrients that help heart function and reduce the risk of cancer. They also contain beta-carotene, which breaks down into Vitamin A. Carrots may also help to regulate blood sugar. 

9.    Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can benefit your dog’s digestion system, help to heal sores, and prevent cancer in dogs. They are filled with Vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as copper, manganese, and iron. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of fiber. Sweet potatoes can be fed after they are boiled, roasted or dehydrated. 

10.  Bananas

Most people would not consider the humble banana to be a super food, but it deserves a place on this list. Bananas contain readily available carbohydrates and vitamin B6 for a quick burst of energy, while zinc also helps support a healthy immune system. Bananas also contain a lot of potassium, which can help keep the cardiovascular system healthy.  However, it is best to consult with your veterinarian before feeding bananas to dogs suffering from heart disease.  

11. Cherries

Cherries are known as a “super-fruit,” as they are filled with antioxidants and are an excellent source of beta carotene. Cherries actually contain 19 times the amount of beta carotene contained in blueberries. They are rich in Vitamin E, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, magnesium, and melatonin.  Cherries are very powerful anti-inflammatories as well. Before you feed cherries to your dog, be sure to remove the pits as they contain toxic cyanide.

These superfoods can provide a great boost for your dog’s health along with their normal balanced diet. Keep in mind that even superfoods can be high in calories and need to be fed in moderation to prevent unwanted weight gain. Some, like the high-fat coconut oil, may not be appropriate for dogs with chronic conditions like pancreatitis. For most dog-friendly fruits and vegetables, giving a portion about the size of your thumbnail 2-3 times a day is sufficient for a treat and will prevent unwanted weight gain. If you have questions about how much to feed your dog, consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist for guidance.  If you are wondering ‘Should I feed this to my dog?”, the ASPCA Poison Control Center is a great, reputable online resource. 

Resources

(1)  Villaverde, C. 2013 August 29. Is Coconut Oil a Good Source of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids for Dogs? Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Clinical Nutrition Message Board.

(2)  Wismer, T. 2004 November 22. Kale Ingestion. Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Toxicology Message Board. 

(3)  Palmquist, R. 2013 May 5. Green Food Supplements for Dogs. Veterinary Information Network Vet-to-Vet Alternative Medicine Message Board.

About Deborah Shores, DVM
Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida. She has two cats and recently lost her 8 year-old Australian Shepard to liver cancer. 

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