Do Senior Dogs Need Special Food?

 Friday Aug 11,2023
By  Lancaster Puppies

Just like humans, dogs need additional nutrients as they grow older to stay healthy and moving. Senior dogs frequently face issues with decreased mobility and health conditions. Aging dogs are prone to eating less, developing arthritis, becoming overweight, and seeing a decline in their cognitive abilities. With the help of additional nutrients and a specialized diet approved by your vet, your dog’s senior years can be pain-free and able-bodied.

How Old is a Senior Dog?

The age at which a dog reaches its senior stage of life depends on its breed and size. Professionals in the field generally agree that small breeds reach senior age around 11 to 12 years, medium-size breeds at 10 years, and large breeds around 7 to 8 years.

Geriatric Life Stage in Dogs

Dogs that live beyond their breed’s expected lifespan fall into the geriatric category. Geriatric dogs have different nutrient needs than dogs in the senior stage of life. To ensure your geriatric dog is getting the proper nutrients and calories required, speak with your veterinarian about geriatric diet recommendations.

Changes to Your Dog’s Food

Person petting an elderly Golden Retriever

While every senior dog is unique with no single regimen or diet applying to all dogs, the following tips can be beneficial to prolonging your pup’s health and life. Before changing your dog’s diet or trying out a new supplement, always speak with your veterinarian first to ensure it’s a good match for your dog.

Increase Protein

Many senior dogs need more protein in their diets to prevent muscle loss as they age. If an elderly dog is not getting enough protein, the loss of muscle mass can make walking and standing difficult. It’s important to note that there are mixed professional opinions about how much protein senior dogs should have in their diets. While senior dogs generally need more protein, canine researchers can’t agree on how much is too much.

That being said, many modern-day experts recommend senior dogs have a daily diet that is around 25 to 30 percent protein. For senior dogs with kidney issues, lower protein intake is recommended. Speak with your veterinarian to see what percentage of protein they recommend daily for your elderly dog.

Incorporate Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Giving your senior dog Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil can improve its health in many ways.

With the addition of Omega 3 fatty acids in your dog’s diet, the following areas can benefit:

  • Joints

  • Cognition

  • Kidneys

  • Immune system

  • Skin & Fur

As mentioned earlier, elderly dogs commonly have trouble with mental functioning as well as mobility problems like arthritis and joint pain. Omega 3 enriched dog food and supplements can give your senior dog relief from these age-related problems. Additionally, as a dog ages, its immune system weakens. By adding Omega 3 to your dog’s diet, you’re boosting its immune system and preventing illness.

Decrease Calorie Intake

Maintaining your senior dog’s weight is important for preventing health conditions like obesity, osteoarthritis, and kidney disease. In addition to creating health problems, obesity can also exacerbate existing conditions and joint pain.

Lowering the amount of calories your senior dog has every day can reduce the risk of obesity and related conditions. However, consult your veterinarian before making the switch to ensure your dog is getting enough calories.

Encourage Your Dog to Eat

Person pouring dog food into a food bowl

Good dental hygiene plays a huge role in your dog’s health and ability to eat. If your dog seems to have trouble eating or shows signs of pain during mealtimes, have a vet examine your dog’s mouth for any problem areas. While it’s possible your dog isn’t eating because of dental issues, loss of appetite is very common in senior dogs. That being said, there are ways you can make eating easier and more enjoyable for your aging pup.

Soften Dog Food

If chewing is difficult for your dog, try making its food softer. You can do this by adding water to your dog’s dry food which will soften the kibble in its bowl. Similarly, your dog may benefit from a kibble that’s a smaller size. Wet food is another great way to get your senior dog to eat regularly. If your dog doesn’t approve of switching to wet food completely, serve wet and dry food mixed together for a softer meal.

Make Mealtime More Comfortable

Just like mobility issues affect your dog’s ability to run and play, maintaining a standing position and bending can also be difficult. If bending down to eat is keeping your dog from getting the nutrients and food it needs, try swapping its floor dish out for an elevated dish. Additionally, your elderly dog may find it easier to eat lying down as this uses less energy and muscle strength.

Keep Your Dog Hydrated

Senior dogs have an increased risk of dehydration. Staying hydrated helps your dog absorb nutrients properly, function normally, and maintain healthy organs. Your dog should always have plenty of clean, fresh water for drinking. If your dog isn’t drinking enough water, try adding some bone broth to their water dish and giving them ice cubes.

You can also give your dog an elevated bowl to make drinking water easier. Likewise, because senior dogs have limited mobility, placing multiple water dishes around your home or in areas your dog frequents can make water more accessible, encouraging your dog to drink more. You can also increase your dog’s water intake by adding wet food to its diet.

Feed Your Dog What It Will Eat

At the end of the day, you want your senior dog to be eating. If the only thing getting your dog to eat is kibble with little nutritional value, that’s still better than your dog not eating at all. Elderly dogs may not show signs of hunger or even know when they’re hungry, so it’s important to keep a regular feeding schedule with food your dog will eat.


For more information on caring for your dog in every stage of life, check out our blog or stay in touch with Lancaster Puppies’ monthly newsletter.