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
If you have a senior pet, 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 senior dogs so that you can make the best feeding decisions for them.
Signs that Your Dog is a Senior
Pets age differently depending on breed, size, genetics, and environment. The huge variety of breeds and crossbreeds can make it even more difficult to determine at what age a dog enters their senior stage.
Whether discussing larger or smaller breeds, different factors can ultimately determine your dog's expected lifespan.
Keep an eye out for signs or symptoms of age-related decline. The signs may not be obvious, in fact, they are often quite subtle and easy to miss until they are well advanced.
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 breed senior, but the most common standard is about 7.
When are Toy Breeds Considered Seniors?
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 even though they may live a lot longer, you should still consider them a senior by about 9 years old.
When are Extra Large & Giant Breeds Considered Seniors?
Extra large and giant breeds, typically dogs over 80 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.
Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Great Danes, and other big dog breeds will reach the beginning stages of seniorhood as early as 4-5. This doesn't mean they are old just yet, but they may start to slow down and show early symptoms of age-related issues.
When are Medium & Large Breeds Considered Seniors?
For medium and large breeds, like Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, that are between 50-80 lbs, senior symptoms don’t tend to present too heavily until close to 7, but the larger the dog, the earlier they will reach that stage of life.
Recognizing when your pet might start feeling the effects of aging will ensure that you can navigate their final years and keep them with healthy skin and coats, comfortable and happy.
Check out this chart to give you a simple guideline to help you visualize what your dog's age means:
Symptoms of Senior Dogs
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.
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 should take action.
A decrease in activity levels could indicate pain from arthritis or other hip dysplasia and joint-related issues.
As they age, keep their physical activity shorter but more frequent and consistent. If you need to decrease your old pup’s walk around the block instead of all the way around the neighbourhood, bump the routine up to twice a day instead of only once.
Try not to overexert them. Ageing cannot be reversed, so you will need to permanently adapt your routines to accommodate these routine changes.
Obvious mobility issues need to be taken seriously.
- stiff bones and joints after a walk
- difficulty getting up and down stairs
- an increase in lazy behaviours
Maintaining your dog's routine while being sensitive to their limitations is important.
Take a look at your dog’s diet to make sure that they are getting healthy natural sources of all of their essential nutrients.
Talk to your vet to determine if medications may be needed to reduce inflammation to support joint health.
Over-the-counter hip & joint supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, can be used to prevent or slow the deterioration of connective tissues around the joint and can reduce inflammation to aid in mobility.
Dogs that are showing more advanced signs of mobility issues may need to have their environment altered to accommodate their limitations.
Consider ramps or pet stairs to help your senior dog get onto furniture, beds, and into your vehicle, or remove access to these areas altogether.
Changes in body weight can be an indicator of age too. If your dog is gaining weight due to inactivity, you may need to increase playtime or try to encourage your dog to be more active in small spurts.
Weight loss issues should also be taken seriously. Limited mobility or activity can lead to muscle depletion, which can compound into more health problems.
Muscle mass is required to support bones and joints, so a loss of muscle mass can be connected with many mobility problems.
Make sure your adult dog is eating a highly digestible diet that is calorie-dense with appropriate sources of animal protein to counteract muscle loss.
Special recipe senior dry dog food for older dogs contains wholesome ingredients like farm-raised chicken dinner while avoiding things like corn and wheat soy.
Just like with our own diet plans, no matter how healthy your adult dog eats, it will not replace an active lifestyle.
- Design physical activities for your pet’s needs.
- Try not to push them too hard
- Encourage appropriate daily exercise to maintain muscle.
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 dog's 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 dogs.
Skin and Coat health
Senior 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:
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Changes to fur texture
Three signs of ageing in pets' skin and coat include:
- Fur colour changes
- Graying or white muzzle
- Dull lustre
These signs could be related to diet and can often be managed with the appropriate balance between amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids.
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, anxiety, 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.
Like humans, many of your dog’s senses can be affected by age. Vision and hearing problems are among the most common. You may see your dog bumping into things or not responding when you call or give a command.
This behaviour is often viewed as cognitive decline, which can also happen in old age, but look to support the physical symptoms first.
This may require you to move furniture to widen pathways. Moving playtime to more open areas or considering different vocal methods to get your dog’s attention to help keep them safe.
Here are some helpful resources:
- Vision Loss in Senior Dogs
- Tips for Coping with Your Dog Age-Related Hearing Loss
We rarely consider mental health when we think of our pet’s ageing, but the brain is an organ too, and it can be ravaged by time just the same as any other organ.
Aggression, fear, anxiety, and other changes may manifest in your pet. You might find that they don’t like certain activities anymore or react differently to guests entering the house.
While this can seem scary, just imagine how scary it is for them. Managing a consistent routine and implementing gradual change will help prevent extreme behaviour and can help your pet feel safer.
Significant changes like moving, travelling, and introducing new family members, either furry or human, can be much more challenging with a senior pet, so make sure you properly prepare for these transitions.
How Active Should Your Senior Dog Be?
To answer this, you need to understand your dog’s current physical and mental state. Just like people, your dog’s routine needs to be adjusted according to what they are currently capable of.
A lazy, old dog can’t just jump into an advanced physical routine without overexerting itself. Adjustments need to be made slowly. Think baby steps. The less active your pet currently is, the slower you will need to introduce new activities.
In this article, What Does My Dog Need, we clarified different classifications of activity levels in dogs:
- Low Activity - 30 minutes of physical activity + casual playtime
- Moderate Activity - 30 minutes-1 hour of physical activity + regular playtime
- High Activity - 1+ hours of physical activity + active playtime
While these categories still stand true for senior pets, the types of physical activity and playtime may change.
- A 30-minute run for an active dog might be a 30-minute walk for a senior.
- A high-energy game of fetch in the backyard might be a slow game of hide and seek instead.
If you have a senior pet that is still quite spry, that’s great. Maintaining physical activity should be a breeze, but make sure you monitor your pet in the hours or days after high-energy playtime.
This is when you might notice some mobility issues developing, and is a good indicator that you may need to shorten or break up playtime a little.
A happy puppy doesn’t know that they’re going to be sore after a jaunty sprint at the dog park. It’s up to us to make sure that we are encouraging appropriate exercise.
For most breed senior dogs, dividing playtime into shorter segments and spreading them throughout the day is a great way to maintain their activity levels without taxing their bodies too much.
So, how active should your senior pet be? Start with their current levels and start making small adjustments as needed.
No one method works for every senior pet because every pet is different. Adjust your dog’s routine to find out what works best for them.
Talk to your vet about your senior pooch. A thorough assessment of their physical state can help your vet make recommendations for diet and exercise routines.
Senior Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food
Is there more to the best senior dog food than the name on the packaging? When comparing adult dogs or all-life-stage diet to one labelled as the best senior dog food, you may not see a noticeable difference.
In this example, there are only three ingredients in the senior formula that aren’t in the adult version:
- Pea fibre
- Glucosamine hydrochloride.
The addition of these ingredients helps to improve digestibility, reduce inflammation, and support joint function.
These ingredients help to fortify this food to suit many pets showing some age-related symptoms, but don’t assume that the best wet food for senior dogs is the right food for your dog.
Commercial pet foods are incredibly generalized and may not accommodate all of your dog’s needs.
Nutritional Requirements for Senior Dogs
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 of puppy and best senior dog foods lie in the food's ability to support critical systems of their bodies.
When choosing dog food for senior dogs, consider the following:
- Physical Health
- Lean Muscle Development
- Cognitive Function
- Organ Function
Brain Healthy Dog Food
Healthy brain function will support other systems in the body condition. As our pets age, deterioration of cognitive function can lead to a compromise of many systems in the body condition
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 the 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 best senior dog food or all-life-stage diets that contain elevated levels of DHA to support your old dog’s needs.
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:
- Dark Leafy Greens
Most high-quality adult dog foods do contain these super-powered nutrients, but a senior pet may require higher quantities.
Do Seniors Need Low Protein Dog Food?
It’s a common myth that soft food for older dogs needs high protein restrictions to maintain kidney health and avoid kidney disease. In reality, it is the quality of the animal protein, not the quantity, that should be monitored.
Kidneys are incredibly resilient organs.
Causes of kidney failure in senior dogs include:
- Poor Diet
- Digestive Problems
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 (whenever possible), 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 dog foods will leave more of the nutrients intact and in a more natural state.
- Avoid heavily rendered by-products and senior dog foods that rely heavily on carbohydrates to provide animal protein.
We often turn to low-protein dog diets as the answer to weight issues and calorie restrictions, but that isn’t the most effective way to maintain an old dog’s weight.
Animal protein provides high protein and fat, which contribute to the food's caloric density. This leads many owners and manufacturers to lean towards lower protein and fat diets for senior pets, but this can also lead to muscle depletion.
Muscles cannot be built or maintained without a healthy skin and coat protein source in their diet.
Severe high protein restriction can actually be a catalyst in the ageing process. Proper feeding guidelines and a routine exercise plan should be implemented to avoid inappropriate weight gain.
Natural is Better
Many systems in your dog’s body will start to work less efficiently as they age, including their digestive system. This means that many of their essential vitamins and minerals can be harder to digest and utilize.
To combat this, always feed diets that have natural sources of vitamins and minerals, like fresh produce, instead of senior dog foods that rely on synthetic additives to meet minimum requirements.
Even in extruded kibble, using fruits and garden vegetables to provide essential nutrients will allow your dog’s body to use those nutrients better to stay healthier for longer.
Fresh is always the best, so adding fresh produce to your pet’s diet plan, either with meals or as treats, can make a difference in your dog’s health.
Different breeds have different nutritional needs and requirements, and a lot of that has to do with size. A diet plan that is suitable for a Mastiff will likely not be the right food for a Pomeranian.
This doesn’t mean they can’t eat the same food, but it does mean that the quantity, format, and frequency of meals may have to be altered to suit their needs.
- Large breeds often have a slower metabolism than small breeds, so they most likely won’t require as many calories by weight gain.
- Small breeds have a speedy metabolism, and their diets should be more calorie-dense to accommodate their base caloric needs.
This will, of course, be dictated by the animal’s activity levels. Indoor dogs, which are commonly small and toy breeds, may live much more sedentary lifestyles.
Lower feeding guidelines are needed with calorie-dense senior dog foods.
Large breeds also have different calcium and phosphorus requirements to maintain their skeletal structure. Feeding a diet not designed for large breeds may require supplementation of bones, marrow, or organ meats to provide support.
Not every pet falls under the blanket of each size, breed, or dog's age group, so talk to your vet about what your dog’s unique nutritional requirements are.
Are All Stage Foods Good 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 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 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.
Check out our complete Best Dog Food Guide for more tips for finding the best diet for your old pooch.
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.
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.
Kibble is the best diet choice for that style of feeding as you don’t need to worry about it going bad and making either the dog or anyone else ill.
Be cautious of the ingredients, 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.
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.
If you do prefer feeding kibble, look for baked kibble, 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.
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 dog 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.
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 alone improves digestion compared to a similarly formulated extruded kibble option.
When feeding a solely wet 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.
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.
Being the least processed and most natural 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.
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.
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.
Guidelines for raw foods may vary depending on the formula, but the standard guidelines are based on a percentage of your pet’s weight based on their stage and activity levels.
For senior dogs, start by feeding about 2% of their body weight, and adjust to suit their needs and activity. A 50lbs senior dog of moderate activity level would be eating roughly one pound of food per day.
If that same dog had weight issues or was not as mobile due to joint issues or injury, you might start them at ¾ lbs until you are able to slowly increase activity to balance their food with their calorie intake.
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.
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 re-hydrated.
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.
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 re-hydrate 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.
Dehydrated foods are often lumped together with freeze-dried and raw diets, but there is a variety of formats under the dehydrated umbrella.
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. These senior dog foods can be much lower in carbohydrates than a kibble diet, so they have more natural ingredients that are easier to eat and digest, which is ideal 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 senior pet owners feeding a homemade diet, the customization of the balanced diet is the biggest benefit.
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, 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.
- Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats - Dr. Karen Becker
- Yin & Yang Nutrition for senior Dogs - Dr. Judy Morgan
- Raw and Natural Nutrition for senior Dogs - Dr. Lew Olson
What's the Best Senior Dog Food?
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 senior dog foods in no particular order:
This protein-rich senior dog food is made with multiple high-quality animal proteins to maintain muscle and support their hips and joint. 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.
2. go! Solutions
go! Solutions Carnivore Senior Dog Food is the perfect blend of flavour and nutrition for senior dogs. This formula is high in protein, low in carbs, and loaded with essential nutrients from real food ingredients like chicken, 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.
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 senior dogs, which can delay or minimize the signs of ageing.
This is one of the more unique senior dog foods in our selection. Nutram Sound Senior Dog Food is a highly digestible, holistic, soft kibble diet that is suited for older dogs.
It's loaded with high-quality animal protein and complemented by superfood ingredients like green tea, turmeric, and pumpkin to support digestion and immune function. This diet is fibre-rich and is optimized to support healthy weight for ageing dogs that are slowing down.
Horizon knows that the best Canadian dog foods should be made with the best Canadian ingredients. This low-fat formula is designed to support healthy weight in dogs that are starting to slow down as they age.
Horizon Complete Senior Dog Food contains natural, human-grade ingredients and healthy whole grains to create a low-glycemic diet that stabilizes blood sugar and helps your dog process calories better.
Nulo knows that senior dogs have special dietary needs, which is why Nulo Freestyle Senior Dog Food uses a nutrient-dense combination of trout and sweet potato to provide omega fatty acids and fibre to improve digestion and reduce inflammation in stiff older dogs.
The addition of Nulo's patented Ganeden BC30 probiotics to this diet supports optimal digestion and immune function.
7. 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.
Farmina N&D Ancestral Grain Senior Dog Food is an Italian pet food brand that is one of our favourites because of its unparalleled quality. With 90% of the protein in this diet coming from chicken and herring, you can be sure that your senior pooch is getting a nutrient-dense diet that is free from fillers and high glycemic ingredients.
Your old dog will get plenty of digestion-friendly fibre, muscle-building protein, and fatty acids to support brain function and reduce inflammation.
9. Nutrience Infusion
This premium dog kibble is not just rich in protein, but it's also infused with freeze-dried chicken liver to boost flavour and nutrition, leaving even the fussiest of senior pets excited for mealtime. Made in Canada using fresh Canadian ingredients, Nutrience Infusion Senior Dog Food is a moderate protein, nutrient-dense dog food designed to support healthy weight and mobility in ageing dogs.
This grain-friendly dog diet uses whole-grain oats and barley, and high-fibre legumes to support digestion and provide valuable and efficient energy.
10. Now Fresh
If you are looking for chicken-free dog food for your ageing pooch, then Now Fresh Senior Dog Food is a great option. Now Fresh uses 100% market fresh animal proteins making the nutrients easier to digest and absorb.
This formula is also chicken-free, beef-free and grain free, which are the most common dog food allergies. Coconut oil, chondroitin, and glucosamine help to reduce inflammation and support hip and joint health.
How Much Should You Feed Your Senior Dog?
Regardless of the type of food that you are feeding your dog, they still need to be fed an appropriate amount to ensure that they are receiving the correct amounts of all of their essential nutrients.
Calories In VS. Calories Out
It’s a term we are all familiar with - calories in must equal calories out. While it’s not exactly an all-encompassing term, it does make the point that we should be cautious of feeding our pets more calories than they are capable of using.
As our pets age, it’s common for them to slow down. Weight and activity levels should be monitored to help you identify the need for a change in diet, feeding guidelines, or routine.
While not every senior dog will slow down the same way, you should be prepared for subtle changes and be able to respond accordingly.
If you take a look at your pet's food, unless you feed homemade, you will see a chart of feeding guidelines. More often than not, the manufacturer will provide guidelines for different stages of life or even different activity levels.
|2-5 lb (1-2.3 kg)||1/8-1/4 cup (19-39 g)||1/8-1/4 cup (19-39 g)||1/8-1/4 cup (19-39 g)|
|5-10 lb (2.3-4.5 kg)||1/8-1/4 cup (19-39 g)||1/4-1/3 cup (39-52 g)||1/4-1/3 cup (39-52 g)|
|10-20 lb (4.5-9 kg)||1/4-1/2 cup (39-78 g)||1/3-2/3 cup (52-103 g)||1/3-3/4 cup (52-116 g)|
|20-30 lb (9-13.6 kg)||1/2-3/4 cup (78-116 g)||2/3-1 cup (103-155 g)||3/4-1 ¼ cups (116-194 g)|
|30-50 lb (13.6-23 kg)||3/4-1 ½ cups (116-233 g)||1-1 ¾ cups (155-271 g)||1 ¼-2 cups (194-310 g)|
|50-70 lb (23-32 kg)||1 ½-2 cups (233-310 g)||1 ¾-2 ¼ cups (271-349 g)||2-2 ¾ cups (310-426 g)|
|70-90 lb (32-41 kg)||2-2 ½ cups (310-388 g)||2 ¼-3 cups (349-465 g)||2 ¾-3 ½ cups (426-543 g)|
|90-110 lb (41-50 kg)||2 ½ -3 cups (388-465 g)||3-3 ¾ cups (465-581 g)||3 ½-4 ¼ cups (543-659 g)|
|110-140 lb (50-64 kg)||3-4 cups (465-620 g)||3 ¾-4 ½ cups (581-698 g)||4 ¼-5 cups (659-775 g)|
*Feeding guidelines taken from FirstMate all stages dry dog food
These guidelines are often a great starting point, but if you recognize that your pet does not fit the 'average’ dog mould, then you might want to adjust those little by little.
In extremely sedentary lifestyles or with severe weight issues, you may need to feed your dog as much as 50% less than the feeding guidelines for your food. While this is not common, it is a testament to the vagueness of feeding guidelines.
If you are unsure, it’s smart to connect with your vet. They can help you calculate how many calories your dog needs and determine how much food you should feed per meal.
They can also help you account for treats and chews, and activities to help best manage your pet’s dietary needs.
Free Feeding for Senior Dogs
At any age, free feeding can be a tricky feeding style to master. For starters, actual free feeding senior dogs is a bit different than what most people assume it is.
The idea behind free-feeding is to allow your pet to judge their own calorie intake based on their activity level. The concept seems pretty outrageous to any pet owner with superfood-motivated dogs, but for some, it’s actually quite effective.
To properly free feed, you need to allow your dog to eat as much as they would like until they stop eating or walk away (within reason, of course). Remove the food and don’t offer it again until the next scheduled feeding time.
If they don’t eat enough, they will be hungry before the next feeding and will eat more to maintain energy level. There is, of course, some trial and error involved in this process, but the method works well for a lot of working dogs.
This can help them accommodate different activity levels on different days. They may choose to eat a little bit extra on a day that involved more activity than usual, and they may choose to eat less fervently on a day of napping in front of the tv.
The 'free-feeding' method that is more commonly used is to simply leave food out all the time. We sometimes refer to some dogs as 'grazers,' and while it may seem like an ideal solution to their unusual eating preferences, it can also be related to weight issues, both under and over.
If you choose to free feed, try the actual free feeding method. You may see better results and happier, healthier eating habits in your pet.
Improving Your Senior Dogs Eating Habits
What your dog eats will, obviously, have a huge impact on their health, but how they eat is important too. Look at your dog’s eating habits for signs that they might need a change.
When determining the best mealtime routine for your pet, we often make decisions around our own schedules, but those aren’t always the best choices for our pets.
Our schedules can be more fluid depending on our day-to-day needs and responsibilities, but our senior dogs will benefit from a stricter routine than that.
Scheduled feeding times should be consistent to allow your dog’s body to properly utilize their calories. Other routines like exercise, playtime, and bathroom breaks should also be consistent.
The more normal and consistent their routine is, the easier it will be to maintain as they age.
Choosing the Right Bowls
Every dog is different and has different habits. This is especially true for eating. Take a close look at how your dog eats.
If your dog is a gulper, has trouble chewing or swallowing, or is limited in mobility, their bowl might need to reflect that.
Most bowls are a pretty standard shape and size, but some variations may actually improve your pet's eating habits.
Check out some of the unique food bowls to help your pet eat better:
|BOWL TYPE||RECOMMENDATION||RECOMMENDED FOR|
|Best for gulpers and food-obsessed dogs, but can also be helpful for dogs that are bored with mealtime.|
|Large and giant breeds and dogs with limited mobility, especially in their shoulders, neck, or front paws, would benefit most from this type of bowl.|
|Short-snouted and brachycephalic breeds may require short-sided bowls to be able to eat properly.|
|Messy eaters need high-sided dishes to avoid making a bigger mess than necessary.|
The weather can affect your dog’s appetite. Senior pets are especially sensitive to extreme hot and cold, so a sudden change in temperature may trigger a hiatus from food.
Hot weather can affect dogs differently. Some start to get more active, while others feel drained by the heat. If you don’t have air conditioning, or if your dog is double-coated, they may not have their typical appetite.
While skipping a meal or eating less is normal, you should definitely monitor your dog during these changes. You need to find a way to help your pet regulate heat better if these changes were triggered by extremely warm weather.
One meal is fine, but if your dog is going more than a day without eating, it could be a symptom of something else. Talk to your vet to determine whether or not a vet visit is warranted.
Don’t Stop Training
While training a puppy may seem like a challenge, maintaining your senior dog's training should be much simpler. Work with tricks that they already know and slowly expand.
Finding ways to treat when your dog is on a restricted diet can be tough, but incorporating training time cannot only provide mental stimulation but help make sure that your pet is working off those extra calories.
If you are feeding extra treats during training, those fewer calories need to be taken into account. You need to modify feeding guidelines or increase activity to find a balance.
Keeping your dog thinking, even into their senior years, will keep them healthier in the long run. Think of the brain like any muscle in your body. If you stop using it or stretching it, it will eventually start losing function.
Keep your dog active both mentally and physically!
Make Mealtime Fun
For senior dogs that are losing interest in food, and even food-obsessed dogs, making a game out of mealtime can encourage healthier eating habits.
Using the shell game, hide-and-seek, and incorporating training can encourage your dog to eat their meals at a more appropriate speed.
Check out Symptoms and Solutions for Dog Boredom for some great tips on making food fun and engaging.
Supplements for Senior Dogs
It is possible to find food that has everything that your old boy needs, but depending on their condition, you may need to supplement their diet to improve different aspects of their health. Even on a high-quality diet, your senior dog may need a little extra help.
Check out some great supplements that can aid your pet during their senior years:
We do not recommend trying all of these supplements at once. Supplements can be rotated, used seasonally, or just as needed.
For many dogs, supplements may not even be necessary if they are on a well-balanced and appropriate diet.
If you aren’t sure whether or not your dog needs a health supplement, connect with your vet. Over-supplementing can be harmful and, more often, just a waste of money.
When Should You Be Concerned About Signs of Aging?
While every dog ages differently, there are some things you can do and keep an eye out for as your dog breaches the final stage of life.
- Drastic Changes - At an advanced age, conditions can worsen quickly, so if you notice something out of the ordinary, it’s not a bad idea to talk to a vet about it.
- Reduced Energy - As dogs get older, just like people, they start to slow down. Some energy reductions are normal, but fast or extreme changes to your dog's activity levels can be a sign of injury or illness.
- Illness - Many common illnesses that affect senior dogs can relate to digestion, kidneys, liver, heart, and cancer. Routine checkups are especially important for senior dogs, including blood work and urinalysis.
- Routine Checkups - These tests can identify early warning signs of more serious illnesses. Prevention is important, and many conditions can be managed through diet and medication if caught early enough.
- Check for Physical Problems - Check your dog regularly for lumps and bumps, monitor their routine, take note of changes to stool and urine, and track their activity, mobility and daily habits. The earlier you detect changes, the earlier you can respond and support your dog through this stage of life.
Every dog has different needs, and senior dogs often have more specific needs than younger canines. Tell us how you support your senior dog's needs in the comments below!