How To Choose The Best Food For Senior Dogs
There arent any official guidelines for dog foods that are marketed as Senior Formulas.
Neither the AAFCO nor the NRC have recognized rules for ingredients, or their ratios.
Disclaimer: This website’s content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your local veterinarian for health decisions. Learn more.
Its basically up to each dog food manufacturer to decide what they think constitutes the right balance.
That makes the whole process very subjective.
So, how can you be sure youre buying the right food for your older dog?
Lets take a look..
Most senior dogs who are fairly healthy just need a diet that has moderate amounts of protein and fats, and is easy to digest.
Youre aiming for protein levels of somewhere between 28% and 30%, and fat between 10% and 14%.
In terms of calories, approximately 350 calories per cup is about right.
When youre trying to get the senior dog nutrition balance right, look for dog food which:
- Contains complex carbohydrates which have a low glycemic index, such as whole grains and vegetables
- Contains an above-average percentage of easily-digested protein such as lean meat, offal and eggs
- Contains an moderate amount of healthy fats
- Includes essential fatty acids like linoleic and alpha-linoleic acid
- Contains added minerals and vitamins, including zinc, copper, selenium and vitamins A,D,E and K plus B1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 12. Also folate and biotin.
Protein Restrictions In Dog Food For Senior Dogs
Its a common myth that older dogs need protein restrictions to maintain kidney health and avoid kidney disease. In reality, it is the quality of the protein, not the quantity that should be monitored.
Kidneys are incredibly resilient organs. While they are one of the organs that can fail in their senior years, this can be attributed to several things, like pollutants, poor diet and digestion, dehydration, and genetics.
As our pets age, vets will monitor organ function more closely than in younger years, and early signs can be seen through blood work and other routine tests.
To act preventatively, choose a diet that offers natural, fresh , and minimally processed animal proteins. Many commercial foods are heavily processed, which can denature the nutrients and make it harder for your dog to digest properly.
Minimally processed diets like raw, baked, dehydrated, or freeze-dried foods will leave more of the nutrients intact and in a more natural state. Most importantly, avoid heavily rendered by-products and foods that rely heavily on carbohydrates to provide protein.
We often turn to low protein diets as the answer to weight issues and calorie restrictions, but that isnt the most effective way to maintain an old dogs weight. Of course, animal protein provides high protein and fat, which contribute to the food’s calorie density.
Your Dogs Food Can Make All The Difference
As a dog lover, Ive always been especially passionate about helping older dogs. Of course, puppies are cute and loveable but Ive found that older dogs have personality and wisdom not typically found in younger pups.
When my late dog Max was 10 years old, he had a hard time walking because of crippling arthritis. After lots of research, I made a change in Maxs diet, which is a route many pet owners take for their sick or aging dog.
Once I started feeding him healthy raw dog food, I saw the profound impact that making the switch had on Maxs health and how quickly he benefitted from the results. In fact, diet was so instrumental in improving Maxs well-being that it led me to launch my raw pet food company.
The same rings true for one of my current dogs. Maci was already in her golden years when she joined our family. She was overweight and had hypothyroid issues.
Once we began feeding her a healthier diet, she lost weight, and her overall health and energy improved dramatically. Now, her sweet personality continues to shine, which is so gratifying to see in senior dogs.
Owning senior dogs taught me that, just like humans, diet greatly influences their health and wellness. Even if your dog is already well into his teenage years, its never too late to switch up his feeding routine. Both you and your fur baby will be happy you did.
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Best Senior Dog Food: Choosing The Best Food For Older Dogs
Senior dog food can make even the grayest-muzzled canine pal happy. Just ask Pudge, a cranky ol black Labrador from Pasadena, California. The 12-year-old dogs mom, Susanne Jeter, noticed changes in Pudge as he got olderhe took longer to rise from his bed, he wasnt as playful as he once was and he started putting on some extra weight.
We all get oldeven our dogs, Jeter says. Ive had Pudger since he was a puppy, and at 9, 10 years old, he really started showing his age. I could tell that his joints were hurting.
Following the advice of her veterinarian, Jeter switched Pudges diet to one specially formulated for senior, overweight dogs with creaky joints. She also added some fish oil to provide supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.
Hes now aging gracefully, she says with a laugh. Hes still grumpy sometimes when its cold and rainy outside, but when the sun comes out, hell grab his ball and ask to play a game of fetch again. As his doggy mom, it makes me happy to know hes not so uncomfortable anymore!
With just a few dietary changes, Pudges demeanorand his quality of lifeimproved. If youre wondering what is the best thing to feed an old dog, read on to learn everything youve ever wanted to know about food for older dogs.
Addressing Loss Of Muscle Mass In Senior Dogs
Protein is the building block of muscle tissues. It is important for maintenance of muscle tissues, muscle strength and mobility. Recent research conducted by The IAMS Company has shown that senior dogs that eat a higher-protein diet better maintain muscle protein stores. By providing optimal protein levels from muscle maintenance, we can help senior dogs continue being physically active.
This research is contrary to conventional opinion that senior dog foods should contain lower protein levels than adult maintenance formulas to avoid progressive decrease in kidney function. However, senior dogs fed a high-protein diet had stable renal function and a lower death rate than dogs fed a lower-protein diet.*
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Listen To Your Veterinarians Recommendations For Special Conditions
If your dog has been diagnosed with a condition known to be influenced by nutrition, or they are at risk for certain diseases based on their health and lifestyle, your vet may suggest a therapeutic or prescription diet. These diets require a prescription from your veterinarian.
While these diets do not usually contain the word senior in their title, they are formulated to manage disease conditions commonly seen in senior dogs. They may have added ingredients or formulation-specific differences not available in over-the-counter varieties.
Encouraging Your Senior Dog To Eat
The main reason senior dogs tend to be frail is their decreased appetite. Therefore, increasing the amount of protein in their food will not mean much if they do not eat that food in the first place. As such, you should make the dogs food more palatable. That could involve warming the food to enhance its aroma, thus stimulating the dogs appetite.
High-fat foods are also worth considering, as they tend to be tastier. But be sure to toe the line of moderation between fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in your poochs diet.
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Can Dogs Have Too Much Protein
Absolutely. Just like any animal, a healthy diet consists of great food, made from great ingredients and given in moderation. Despite many modern marketing tactics cashing in on the idea that dogs are carnivores, the truth is actually very different.
Dogs are omnivores, and their diet needs both meat and vegetable-based nutrients to live a long, happy and healthy life. In order to meet these needs, dogs require a healthy dose of proteins, without being excessive. Since protein requires a good amount of carbohydrates and fats to help the body absorb their protein, you may notice that a lot of dog food that is high in protein, can also be high in calories- which means your dog is likely to put on weight with these ingredients.
Naturally, any extra weight can be very bad for your dog and lead to a range of health problems from arthritis to heart issues. Therefore, if youre looking for a good high protein dog food- like the ones in our top picks- youll need one that has been formulated either for a very active dog, or one that comes with low calories.
What Is Too Much Protein For Dogs
For your information: Food with more than 30% protein is considered high. Food containing between 21% 29% are considered moderate. Food with less than 20% protein is low and is usually only available by prescription for those dogs who have medical issues that dictate that they need a particularly low protein diet.
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At What Age Is Your Dog Typically Considered A Senior
There are many factors that can determine when your pet needs to be cared for as a senior, but the most common standard is about 7. For most dogs, small to large breed, this is around when you may start noticing more advanced signs of age.
While this standard is true for many, its often inaccurate for breeds of more extreme size. Very small breeds like Chihuahuas and Pomeranians can live an average life span of 15 years or more, so considering them a senior at seven may be a little premature.
It is important to note that because of their longevity, small breeds do often suffer aging symptoms for longer periods of time, so considering them a senior at nine is more accurate.
Giant breeds, typically dogs over 100 lbs. live shorter lives. We are constantly finding new ways to keep our pets healthier for longer, but the sad fact is that some large and giant breeds may only live for about 8-10 years.
For an average large breed, like a Labrador Retriever, senior symptoms dont tend to present too heavily until close to 7, but the larger the dog, the earlier they will reach that stage of life. Mastiffs, Great Danes, and other giant breeds will reach the beginning stages of old age as early as 4-5.
Recognizing when your pet might start feeling the effects of aging will ensure that you can navigate their final years and keep them healthy, comfortable and happy. Check out this chart to give you a simple guideline to help you visualize what your dog’s age means.
Adding Protein To Your Dogs Diet
If you are feeding a good dog food but the protein percentage is on the low side, you can increase the protein in your dogs diet by adding meat, eggs, fish, or other sources of animal protein.
There are also some good supplemental dog foods that are 95 percent meat. These foods are not sold as complete and balanced meals for dogs but they make excellent toppings for your dogs dinner and add good protein to his diet.
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Should I Give My Senior Dog Supplements
Aging dogs have special nutritional needs and so some will benefit from supplements. For instance, a large percentage of older dogs suffer from arthritis and can benefit from vitamins and supplements, like chondriotin and glucosamine for their joints, such as Yumove for dogs, if combined with weight control and the proper exercise plan.
- Aids stiffness – ActivEase® Green Lipped Mussel contains 4x more Omega 3 than standard, and is proven to soothe stiff joints.
- Supports joint structure – Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Manganese support cartilage health, essential for mobile joints.
- Promotes mobility – YuMOVE is the only joint supplement with Hyaluronic Acid proven to reach the joint within 2 hours, helping to cushion joints more comfortable. Antioxidants Vitamin C & E help to reduce free radicals
A vitamin or mineral supplement is recommended if your older dog is not receiving adequate amounts through his food, which can occur if your dog is not eating a complete balanced diet. A supplement may also benefit some older animals that tend to absorb fewer vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes through the intestinal tract, and lose more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Finally, some older animals eat less and may not receive their daily needs of vitamins and minerals.
A fiber product such as wheat bran may also be given to help reduce the incidence of constipation if it occurs. Talk with your veterinarian to determine which supplements may be beneficial for your dog.
Consider Trying A Food Thats Specialized For Your Dogs Size Or Breed
There are usually small and large breed varieties of senior dog food, depending on the brand.
If you have a small dog, looking for a small breed senior food is a good idea . These diets are usually formulated with size-specific needs in mind. This could include a certain kibble shape, size, and texture, or added ingredients for diseases that are more likely to affect dogs of different sizes or breeds.
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Gestating And Lactating Dogs
A gestating dogs diet should be high in protein. For lactating dogs, protein is just one factor to consider. A lactating dog needs a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet that is also high in calories. Before deciding on a food, its wise to consult your veterinarian to be sure your gestating or lactating dog will be getting adequate protein, fat and calories during this critical time.
Looking for high-protein dog food brands? Use our to find a food with the recommended amount of protein for your dog.
Nutrient Adjustments Are Needed For Senior Dogs
While some dogs may not need a change in the nutrient composition of their diet as they age, there are nutritional adjustments that may specifically benefit senior dogs, depending on a number of factors . Here are some of the most common:
Lower-calorie foods are often the way to go, because senior dogs tend to be less active than their younger counterparts. In fact, dogs’ activity levels tend to drop by as much as one-third to one-half as they age that means they do not need to take in as many calories. Portion control is key! That said, for those senior dogs who are losing muscle mass, a vet might recommend a diet higher in protein and calories.Finally, always consult your vet, who can help you determine what is right for your dog and make adjustments accordingly.
Check out this study for more reading on senior dog nutrition. Remember, there is currently no senior, geriatric, or mature dog food nutrient profile recognized by the Association of American Feed Control Officials . That means there is no guarantee that senior food will contain a certain amount of protein, fiber, or any of the nutrients mentioned here.
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Older Dogs Need Fewer Calories
One of the most important changes to a senior dog’s diet isn’t related to the type of food, but the quantity.
A dog’s metabolism slows with age. This means the body burns fewer calories and needs less food to function. Many senior dogs are also less energetic, so they burn even fewer calories.
As excess calories are converted into fat, a slower metabolism is one of the main reasons why older dogs tend to become overweight. Weight gain can reduce your dog’s expected lifespan, increase joint pain, and generally make your dog less healthy.
It’s essential that you limit your pet’s food intake to maintain a healthy weight, either by using a low-calorie senior dog food or reducing your pet’s daily meals. If you’re not sure how to adjust your dog’s diet, take a look at our guide or ask your vet for advice.
You don’t want to underfeed your dog either, though. Too few calories can cause muscle loss, which may reduce mobility and make joints unstable. For this reason, you should closely monitor your dog’s weight and adjust his diet to maintain a healthy weight.
Exercise is beyond the scope of this article, but is another important consideration. Older dogs need less intense exercise, but should still have daily walks to help support muscle condition, provide mental stimulation and maintain a healthy weight.
Older Dogs May Need More Encouragement To Eat
It’s normal for dogs to eat less as they get older, but they should still have a healthy appetite.
If your dog is eating a lot less than normal, or refuses to eat at all, this could be a sign of an underlying medical problem. Kidney disease, diabetes, cancer or dental problems can all affect your dog’s appetite, so you should visit a vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis.
Once serious causes have been ruled out, there are a few things you can do to make food more appealing to a senior dog. These include:
- Try to make your dog’s food more palatable, as senior dogs can be fussier about what they eat – often due to a reduced sense of taste. Adding cooked chicken is an easy example, although make sure you don’t accidentally overfeed.
- If you’re using dry kibble, try mixing it with warm water to make it softer and more appetising. Low-sodium chicken broth can be even more appealing.
- Multiple smaller meals throughout the day may be easier for your dog to digest than one or two large meals.
- If your dog is suffering from joint pain, discuss pain medication with your vet. It can be difficult for a dog to feel like eating if they are in pain.
- Some types of medication can affect a dog’s appetite. If you think this might be the reason for your pet eating less, discuss alternative medications with your vet.
- Older dogs sometimes find it difficult to eat from bowls on the floor. Consider getting an elevated dish, so that your pet doesn’t need to bend his neck so much to eat.
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