Protein and My Aging Dog

I first met my dog, Oreo, when she was a cute and intense tiny seven-week-old puppy.


See her serious look, chewing up her cardboard roll... I still wonder why I buy toys these days when a cardboard roll will do... but I digress!

To support her growth and nutritional needs, she ate a kibble suited for all life stages that contained 37% DMB protein. However, due to her sensitivities that kept flaring regardless of what we fed her, we eventually put her on an elimination diet and transited her to a nutritionist-formulated diet that contained 19% DMB protein. That calmly brought us till she was seven.


Oreo and her “birthday cake” which was really just her regular dinner with some corn and a slice of turkey ham

With Oreo turning seven years old in August last year, I was keenly aware that she was no longer the young adult dog that she once was. I saw various signs of her age as she slowed down no more zoomies, and she spent more time than before sleeping. While she was still active and healthy, I knew I had to take active steps to ensure that she continued to stay as healthy as possible. One of the things that I could do that was within my control would be her nutrition.


As I studied, I was made aware of how different groups of scientists were in disagreement of whether mature dogs should be fed higher or lower protein amounts. On one hand, it made great sense that the decrease in lean body mass and the decline in protein synthesis and turnover meant that the aging dog should receive just as much protein or more than before. On the other hand, it is also true that increased protein often meant increased phosphorus levels and the prevalence of mature dogs with renal issues is increasing, and dogs with renal issues often required restricted phosphorus amounts.


Since Oreo was already on a lower protein diet as a young adult dog compared with the amounts she was receiving when she was a puppy, I had not felt any urgency to modify the amount of proteins she was receiving. At the same time, the proteins she was eating as a young adult were of high biological value (eggs, beef, lamb, oatmeal, quinoa).


Given Oreo’s history, I had seen for myself how, when she received enough highly bioavailable proteins, she healed quickly and thrived when she could. Despite the horrible flare ups she had when she was younger due to her sensitivities, she had always been energetic, even when she was hospitalised every several months. When we were able to avoid the foods she was sensitive to, her coat gleamed and her skin healed very quickly. The gastrointestinal problems that plagued her puppy and second and third years all but disappeared too.


As I studied nutrition, I realised that a large part of it was due to the high bioavailability of the proteins, and the amount of proteins that she was receiving. The proteins had helped support her immune system and the central nervous system. They had also contributed to her wound healing, built lean muscles and prevented her body from breaking down muscle tissue that can lead to muscle wasting and other serious problems. The adequacy of protein also protected her from various types of stress. As such, I decided not to decrease the amount of proteins she was receiving unless I had to do so.


I also took into consideration the fact that Oreo is a miniature schnauzer. As a breed, miniature schnauzers are prone to hyperlipidemia and fat-related diseases. They seem to put on weight and grow fat extremely easily too. As Oreo aged, it was important to me that the decisions I made with regards to Oreo’s nutrition helped her maintain at an optimal weight. Studies have shown that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet helps heftier dogs lose weight more easily than a low-protein diet. Since Oreo has been maintaining a good weight at the amount of proteins she was receiving, I had even fewer reasons to lower her protein amounts.


Having said that, I knew that as Oreo aged, I needed to be even more cautious. Apart from fat-related issues, miniature schnauzers were also known to be prone to develop kidney stones and they were not exempted from being at an increased risk of kidney issues as they aged. Yet while older dogs may be more prone to renal issues, dogs with renal issues do not necessarily need a protein- restricted diet unless there are issues with proteinuria.


A study conducted in 1994 also showed that the mature dogs that were fed a decreased protein diet did more poorly than the ones fed with higher protein foods. As for keeping Oreo from developing struvite and calcium oxalate stones, no study has shown that low protein diets helped to prevent stone development. They were helpful only in speeding up the process of dissolving crystals and were useful only for the short term. I was better off feeding a diet low in oxalates and encouraging my dog to drink more water than avoiding proteins.


I am a firm believer that the right diet for the dog is one that works best for the individual. Given all the reasons and considerations, I decided to continue feeding Oreo about 19% DMB protein for as long as the amount worked for her. Modifications to the protein amount will be made should Oreo’s biannual health check ups or her regular behaviour show signs that such modifications are necessary.


 

Strauss, M. (n.d.). Diets for Senior Dogs. Retrieved from http://dogaware.com/articles/wdjseniordiets.html

American kennel club: miniature schnauzer. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/miniature- schnauzer/

B., Linn, T., B., & M., L. (2004, August 01). High-Protein Low-Carbohydrate Diets Enhance Weight Loss in Dogs | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/134/8/2087S/4688887

Finco, D. R., Brown, S. A., Crowell, W. A., Brown, C. A., Barsanti, J. A., Carey, D. P., & Hirakawa, D. A. (1994, September). Effects of aging and dietary protein intake on uninephrectomized geriatric dogs. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7802397?dopt=Abstract

Puotinen, CJ, & Straus, M. (2010, April). Canine kidney stone and bladder stone prevention. Retrieved from https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/13_4/features/Detecting-Urinary-Stones-Dogs_16215-1.html

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