Does your Lab need a different diet as he grows older? A dog's nutritional needs do indeed change with age. Older dogs tend to be less active, so they need fewer calories to maintain an appropriate weight. They also need a food that's high in protein, because the body is able to metabolize protein less efficiently.

Many foods are available to meet the needs of older dogs. Look for a diet that contains about 25 percent protein, with a reduced concentration of fat and calories. Such diets may also be higher in fiber to further reduce caloric density. This means the food gives your Lab a feeling of fullness, without the added calories of a maintenance diet. You can do the same thing by slightly reducing the amount of dog food you give and adding plain canned pumpkin (not the sweetened kind) to your dog's meals.

You may have heard that a high-protein diet is bad for dogs because protein stresses the kidneys. Although a low-protein diet may be prescribed for dogs with kidney disease, it's not necessary to restrict protein for normal, healthy dogs, no matter what their age.

What about Supplements?

We are usually told that dogs don't need vitamin or mineral supplements as long as they're eating a balanced diet. Nonetheless, supplements can sometimes be beneficial for older dogs. For instance, your veterinarian may recommend a B-vitamin supplement if your Lab has reduced kidney function, or fatty acids, vitamin E, and zinc supplements to help dogs with dry, itchy skin. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a supplement can improve your older Lab's condition.

Decreased Appetite

You may notice that your Lab's appetite isn't as good as it once was. Sometimes this can be attributed to a decrease in his sense of smell. You can make meals more appetizing by warming food in the microwave to increase the scent — do the finger test to make sure it's not too hot — or adding some canned food or low-sodium beef or chicken broth.

When should you be concerned about your Lab's nutritional status? Rapid, unexplained weight loss is always something to be concerned about. If your Lab starts losing weight, even though he's eating the same amount of food and getting the same amount of exercise, take him to the veterinarian for a checkup. He could have a serious health problem.

A 11½-year-old female yellow Lab.

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