Dog Food for Senior Dogs: A Guide For Your Dog’s Golden Years

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18 Minute Read
Updated August 11, 2022

For dog owners, the reality that our pets live such short lives means that we do everything we can to make our time together count. To ensure that their later years are as comfortable, healthy, and happy as possible, we need to make healthier decisions when choosing dog foods for senior dogs.

We know that you want to provide complete and balanced nutrition for your senior pup to ensure a long life. If you have a senior doggo, you might be wondering what you can do to preserve your old dog's quality of life.

This article will help you understand the needs of aging dogs so that you can make the best feeding decisions for them.

 

Why Your Dog Needs Senior Dog Foods

While every dog is different and can present unique symptoms to varying degrees, there are some common age-related symptoms that you should keep in mind when choosing their diet.

Food plays a significant role in their overall health, so recognizing the signs can help you choose the most appropriate foods to ensure they stay healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Decreasing Activity Levels

Staying active is one of the best ways to prevent health problems related to age. If you notice a difference in your pet's energy levels, stamina, or desire to play, you may need to consider making some adjustments to their diet.

A decrease in activity levels could indicate pain from arthritis or other hip dysplasia and joint-related issues, but it could also just be a natural part of aging. Feeding a food that is not suited to their activity levels could lead to unwanted weight gain.

Mobility Issues

Obvious mobility issues need to be taken seriously, and choosing an appropriate senior dog food can be the first step in combatting age-related deterioration. 

Of course, making lifestyle changes is another important piece of the puzzle, but goes hand in hand with getting your dog the right calories from the right ingredients to support muscle, provide energy, and improve digestion.

Weight Fluctuations

Changes in body weight can be an indicator of age too. If your dog is gaining weight due to inactivity, you may need to encourage your dog to be more active in small spurts as well as making adjustments to their feeding guidelines or changing to a diet that is better suited to a slowing old pooch.

Weight loss issues should also be taken seriously. Older dogs that loose their interested in food can start to deplete their muscle mass. Long term, this can contribute to further mobility issues and reduced activity. Even slower senior dogs still need ample calories from healthy animal proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Special recipe senior dry dog food designed for older dogs contains wholesome ingredients that are easy to digest and ensure that your aging pooch can get all of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Dog-Weight-Management-Ebook

Healthy Digestion

As dogs age, their gut flora changes, and they often have trouble repopulating healthy bacteria and digestive enzymes. The fact is that ageing leads to a decrease in organ function, and many organs play vital roles in the digestive health system.

The food that they have been fed for years may start to cause inconsistent stool quality, as well as gas. This could indicate that a diet change is required or that a digestive health supplement should be added to their routine.

Diets made from natural and highly digestible ingredients are best for any dog but are especially important for senior canines.

Skin and Coat Health

Older dogs tend to show more skin and coat health issues than younger dogs. Regular grooming and even daily petting can help to identify the following skin lesions, fatty lumps, hair loss and other signs that your senior dog needs a diet change.

These signs could be related to diet and can often be managed with the appropriate balance of high-quality nutrients from real food ingredients.

Loss of Appetite

When your dog isn't finishing their meals like they used to, or they are skipping meals entirely, it could be due to their age. As they start to slow down, you may find that they just aren't as hungry.

Some dogs are good at controlling their fewer calories, especially if you are free-feeding. Still, a loss of appetite could be a symptom of another age-related issue, like pain.

Pain and discomfort from digestion issues can deter your dog from eating with the typical gusto that they used to. Proper eating routines are extremely important, so if your pet is consistently skipping meals or is having trouble eating, a vet visit is warranted.Try Our Dog Age Calculator

 

Senior Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food

Is there more to the best senior dog food than the name on the packaging? When comparing an adult dog food or an all-life-stage diet to one labelled as the best senior dog food, you may not see a noticeable difference.

adult-senior-ingredient-comparison2

In this example, there are only three ingredients in the senior formula that aren't in the adult version: 

  1. Pea fibre
  2. Flaxseed
  3. Glucosamine hydrochloride.
  4. Chondroitin for joint health

The addition of these ingredients helps to improve digestibility, reduce inflammation, and support joint function. The calories and many of the nutrient needs between adults and seniors are similar, but minor changes to the formula for senior dogs can make a big difference.

Another thing to consider is the guaranteed analysis of the food. Senior dog food may be lower in fat or overall calories than a comparable adult formula. This is to accommodate the slowing process of dog aging.

 

Nutritional Requirements for Seniors

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We often take for granted how similar a senior pet's needs are to a puppy's. The same systems need to be looked after, and change is constant, albeit in the opposite direction.

The fundamental similarities between puppy and best senior foods lie in the food's ability to support the critical systems of their bodies.

When choosing dog food for senior canines, consider the following:

    • Physical Health
    • Lean Muscle Development
    • Cognitive Function
    • Organ Function

Some beneficial ingredients often found in senior dog food include:

  1. Protein: Look for high-quality protein sources like chicken, chicken meal, turkey, fish, chicken fat, or lamb. Protein helps maintain muscle mass and supports overall health.
  2. Whole Grains: Easily digestible grains like brown rice, oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain brown rice, whole grain corn, whole grain barley, or quinoa can provide energy and fibre for digestion.
  3. Vegetables and Fruits: Nutrient-rich vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, and fruits like blueberries or apples can provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
  4. Healthy Fats: Omega-3 fatty acids, typically sourced from fish oil or flaxseed, assist with your dog's joints and promote a healthy coat and skin.
  5. Joint Supplements: Ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can help support joint health and mobility in older dogs.
  6. Probiotics: Including probiotics in the form of ingredients like yogurt or prebiotic fibres can support digestive health and nutrient absorption.

Remember, the specific needs of elderly dogs can vary, so it's important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best ingredients and diet plan for your individual senior dog. Some dogs may have dental disease, so need wet foods, but others might have a perfect set of teeth so can easily consume hard, dry foods.

Brain Healthy Dog Food

Healthy brain function will support other systems in the body. As our pets age, deterioration of cognitive function can lead to a compromise of many systems in the body.

A healthy, natural diet will provide all of the nutrients that your dog's body needs to provide energy to all of its systems, including brain health. Some nutrients may be required in higher quantities, though.

EPA and DHA

EPA and DHA are two of the essential omega 3 fatty acids that your dog needs in his diet. Both are omega 3 fatty acids and are sourced most abundantly from fish oil.

DHA, in particular, aids in cognitive support, and higher levels of these omega fatty acids are required for senior pets. More natural sources of DHA may also be needed to prevent deterioration over time.

Look for the best senior dog food or all-life-stage diets that contain elevated levels of DHA to support your old dog's needs.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants have also been studied. Enriching a senior pet's food with antioxidants-rich ingredients can help decrease the cognitive decline generally associated with dogs' age.

Antioxidants are found in many dog-safe fruits and garden vegetables, such as:

        • Berries
        • Broccoli
        • Tomatoes
        • Dark Leafy Greens

Most high-quality adult dog foods do contain these super-powered nutrients, but an older pet may require higher quantities.

 

Are All Life Stage Foods Good for Senior Dogs?

best dog food for senior dogs

All life stage foods are everywhere. It seems many best dog food brands of kibble size are steering towards this fad, but is an all life stage food really suitable for all stages?

In short, often, but not always. Many senior dog foods are formulated to meet the minimum AAFCO nutrient profiles, which help ensure that your pet's food meets the minimum nutritional needs and requirements for senior dogs. While this has been deemed suitable to support base health, it is far from an ideal quality standard.

Typically all stages of life food would need to contain your dog's complete omega fatty acid, vitamin, and mineral requirements. These are designed to support your dog's nutritional well from puppy years through their geriatric stage.

For senior dogs with more specific needs, these diets may not be 100% complete and balanced. Dog food designed for all stages of life may look less desirable than a diet that better suits your dog's unique senior needs.

 

Choosing the Right Type of Dog Food Senior Dogs

Different formats of food may suit dogs' nutritional needs as they age. Check out Types of Dog Food to learn more about the benefits of each food type and how it may help support your old dog.

Best Senior Dry Dog Food

 

best senior dog food

Kibble is a good choice for pet owners looking for convenience. As pets age, they sometimes lose their passion for food, and owners often resort to free-feeding to allow their pets to graze when they are hungry.

Be cautious of the ingredients in the dry dog food, though. Kibble can be very carb-heavy, which can be fine for an active dog, but a slower senior may need fewer simple carbs in their diet to maintain a healthy weight and digestion. Senior foods are oven-made from brown rice, chicken by-product meal, and other low-protein diet ingredients for healthy aging.

The taxing process of kibble extrusion can also degrade nutrients, making them nearly unrecognizable by your dog's body. This can lead to deficiencies that can affect organ function and energy levels over time. It's important to measure per cup to ensure you feed the accurate amount to meet your dog's needs, especially when feeding an older dog or a giant breed.

If you do prefer feeding kibble, look for baked kibble-style dry dog food, like Carna4. They aren't pressed as firmly, and they are cooked at a lower temperature.

This both preserves essential nutrients and enzymes, as well as makes the kibble easier to chew and digest. Blue Buffalo also offers a line of the best dog foods for older pets.

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A final note on kibble is its moisture content. Kibble, on average, has a moisture content of about 10% or less.

For most pets, this is not enough moisture to hydrate them properly. It's vital to encourage your pet to drink plenty of water and offer other moist senior foods or bone broth to compensate.  

Dehydration can lead to a number of problems, but most commonly, digestion and urinary health conditions can suffer the quickest and most noticeably.

Best Wet Food for Aging Dogs

low calorie senior food

Canned foods are a good choice for a senior diet. It solves many of the issues presented with a kibble diet and is a great way to encourage picky eaters to eat more.

Wet foods are generally more digestible than kibble, depending on the ingredients, of course, and many options have very few carbohydrates or fillers. The moisture content in the wet food alone improves digestion compared to a similarly formulated extruded kibble option.

When feeding a solely wet dog food diet, it's extremely important to consider your dog's dental health issues. Without the abrasion from chewing, a daily (yes, daily!) dental routine must be implemented. If your pet has trouble chewing, then wet food might be ideal.

Senior pets especially need an appropriate dental routine, as their teeth are already feeling the effects of time, so tooth brushing, as well as water or food additives, or other dental routines need to be in place to ensure bacteria does not fester on and around the teeth.

Wet food helps ensure your aging pooch receives adequate nutrients because it's easy to chew and digest - unlike dry kibble or other types of canned dog food, which can contain corn gluten meal.

Best Raw Food for Senior Dogs

best food for senior dogs

Being the least processed and most natural senior food format, raw is a good fit for just about any dog of any breed of seniors of any stage. That being said, there are dogs who may not thrive on raw due to certain illnesses, organ function issues, and preferences. The grain-free dog foods are as close to a natural canine diet as your dog can get.

Raw diets are considered all life stages but are typically more balanced than a heavily processed diet, making them more suitable for a variety of life stages. The fresh food will tantalize even the pickiest eater.

Feeding guidelines are especially important when feeding a raw diet because they are very calorie-dense, and it can be easy to put unnecessary weight on your pet.

Raw meaty bones are also recommended for raw feeders. It's common for a raw diet to have ground bone in it, but feeding a small portion of additional bone can supply more calcium and phosphorous, not to mention the dental health benefits of natural chews.

Best Freeze-Dried Dog Food for Seniors

soft food for older dogs

Freeze-dried dog food for senior dogs is a format in the raw food category that has become quite popular among pet owners. It holds many of the same benefits as frozen or fresh raw food, as long as it is being fed rehydrated.

This format is sought after for pet owners who are looking for less cumbersome raw food. While prep work is still involved, it's easier to portion out and doesn't require valuable freezer space to store.

Freeze-dried foods are a little more versatile too. It can be used as a meal topper or high-value treat due to its meaty flavour with chicken meal.

Lastly, some pets find freeze-dried more palatable than raw food. This can be attributed to both temperature and texture.

Freeze-dried is finely ground to make it easy to rehydrate and digest and can be prepared with room temperature water, as the coldness of raw can be off-putting for some dogs, especially if they are new to raw feeding.

Best Dehydrated Senior Dog Food

food for older dogs

Dehydrated foods are often lumped together with freeze-dried and raw diets, but there is a variety of formats under the dehydrated umbrella. You'll find many other adult dog foods under this classification, and many are ideal senior foods.

The most notable is that not all dehydrated foods are raw. While many are, dog food brands, like The Honest Kitchen, gently blanch their ingredients before dehydration to eliminate bacteria from raw ingredients.

    • Retain robust flavour and scent.
    • Contains nutrients sourced from real food ingredients
    • Dehydration eliminates bacteria without degrading nutrients
    • Less messy than raw dog food and easy to travel with

For senior dogs, dehydrated foods are a great choice to encourage a picky dog to eat more.

Homemade Dog Food for Seniors

The final food format for senior dogs is the elusive homemade diet. Homemade diets are often turned to for senior dogs that are already dealing with health problems, but any dog of any age can thrive on a properly formulated homemade diet.

For many owners of aging pets, feeding a homemade diet, the customization of the balanced diet is the biggest benefit.

You can use chicken broth to entice even the pickiest eater when creating a homemade diet. Many dogs love the taste of chicken byproduct meals or poultry byproduct meals, but as a caring pet owner, you might not want to use such items in the ingredients of your homemade food, so chicken broth is an ideal solution. You can ensure that each recipe is formulated for senior dogs.

Whether your pet is ill, itchy, has poor digestion, or is just incredibly particular about what they will eat, homemade foods can be modified to match the individual dog.

The challenge falls in the formulations. A complete and balanced diet can be tricky to achieve when feeding senior dogs, especially if you are trying to limit or eliminate synthetic additives like vitamins and minerals.

It is always recommended that you discuss homemade diets with your vet to ensure that you aren't missing anything that could lead to a deficiency.

Integrative or holistic vets are often well-versed in canine nutrition and might be able to supply some helpful resources for crafting your pet's gourmet meals.

 

Best Senior Dog Food Brands

Older dogs need a diet that suits their unique needs, but it's not always easy to know which brand or formula to choose. To help you narrow down the contenders, we put together a list of some of our favourite healthy senior dog food brands in no particular order:

1. Orijen

This protein-rich senior dog food is made with multiple high-quality animal proteins to maintain muscle and support their hips and joints. Orijen Senior Dog Food is made in Canada using regionally sourced ingredients and a mix of fresh and dehydrated ingredients providing amazing flavour and easy-to-digest nutrition.

Though the food is lower in calories and fat than the adult version, Orijen products are designed to be nutrient-dense, allowing for more nutrition in a smaller meal.

Shop Orijen Dog Food

2. go! Solutions

go! Solutions Carnivore Senior Dog Food is the perfect blend of flavour and nutrition for aging dogs. This formula is high in protein, low in carbs, and loaded with essential nutrients from real food ingredients like chicken, turkey meal duck, apples, sweet potatoes, and more.

This diet also includes green-lipped mussel, glucosamine, and chondroitin to support your ageing dog's hip and joint health.

Shop go! Solutions Dog Food

3. Acana

Another of our favourite Canadian partners, Acana Senior Dog Food is focused on promoting lean muscle mass, a strong immune system, and healthy skin and coat. This multi-protein formula is highly palatable to encourage healthy and consistent eating habits.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from fish oil help to support cognitive function in older dogs, which can delay or minimize the signs of aging. 

Shop Acana Dog Food

4. Open Farm

What's better than high-quality and nutrient-dense dog food that helps your senior dog thrive? How about one that uses sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients that you can feel good about feeding to your pooch.

Open Farm Senior Dog Food is a protein-rich formula that helps support lean muscle and a healthy weight. Green lipped mussels and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation around the hips and joints to improve and protect mobility.

Shop All Open Farm Dog Food

5. Vetdiet

When it comes to choosing the best senior dog food, you can't go wrong with a Canadian brand that is dedicated to harnessing the power of both nature and science. 

Vetdiet offers a variety of senior dog food products that help you cater to the unique needs of your pooch, including canned food, kibble, and large breed and small-breed diets for senior dogs.

vetdiet-desktop

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should you feed your senior dog?

The appropriate amount of food to feed your senior dog depends on several factors, including their age, weight, activity level, and overall health. As dogs age, their metabolism and activity levels often decrease, which can lead to weight gain if their diet isn't adjusted accordingly.           

Do seniors need low-protein dog food?

Contrary to popular belief, not all senior dogs require reduced protein intake. In fact, some senior dogs may need increased protein to support muscle maintenance and prevent muscle loss associated with aging.

What are the best ingredients for senior dog food?

The best senior dog foods include high-quality sources of protein, easily digestible carbohydrates, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. These ingredients help support the specific nutritional needs of aging dogs.

What should I look for in dog food for my senior dog?

When choosing dog food for senior dogs, look for products specifically formulated for your aging dog’s unique nutritional needs. Choose senior dog foods sourced from high-quality protein that are lower in calories to prevent weight gain and contain joint-supporting ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin.

How often should I feed my senior dog, and how much food should I give?

The feeding frequency and portion size for senior dogs can vary depending on their individual needs, age, health condition, and activity level. Most older dogs need two smaller meals a day instead of one large meal. 

Should I choose wet or dry food for my senior dog?

The choice between wet or dry food for senior dogs depends on their preferences, dental health, and any specific dietary concerns. Wet food can be more palatable and easier to chew for dogs with dental problems, while dry kibble can help promote dental health. A mix of both wet and dry can be a great option.

Are there any dietary considerations or supplements for senior dogs?

Senior dogs may have specific dietary considerations. Some may require reduced-calorie foods to manage weight, while others may benefit from foods with added fibre for digestive health. Certain supplements like joint support (glucosamine, chondroitin), omega-3 fatty acids, or antioxidants can also prove highly beneficial for senior dogs.

dog-food

Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She is currently working for one very rebellious cat, Jack, and hanging out with a goofy but loveable doggo named Roxy.

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