It’s never more important to pick the right food for your dog than when they’re in their golden years.
Although you may think that’s a given, many people don’t realize just how fast older dogs’ health complications can compound. For example, a reduction in mobility can quickly lead to unhealthy weight gain, which can then worsen arthritis and joint pain.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide on choosing the best senior dog food to help them age gracefully!
Why Do Senior Dogs Need a Different Diet?
Just like people, when dogs enter their senior years, their dietary needs change. For many years, the accepted practice for dog food brands was to lower the amount of fat and protein in senior dog food to help them avoid kidney disease.
However, we now know that older dogs actually need more high-quality protein since their bodies naturally produce less as they age. Still, senior dogs need to have their kidneys protected from chronic kidney disease (CKD), so many modern senior formulas have reduced phosphorus instead.
But what’s in their food is only part of an older dog’s overall health. Even the perfect food won’t be good for them without proper portions and a feeding schedule to avoid overfeeding.
When Does a Dog Become a “Senior” Dog?
Most dogs become seniors when they reach anywhere from seven to 12 years old. However, it varies quite a bit by breed and size. For example, a small breed dog would be a senior at 11 or 12 years old. But a medium-sized dog is considered a senior at 10 years old, while large and giant breeds become seniors around seven or eight years old.
Examples of Health Issues in Older Dogs From Poor Diets
There are some symptoms of aging that are unavoidable as your dog transitions from an adult dog to a senior, such as gray hair and lower energy. However, many health issues that occur upon entering the senior life stage can be linked to their diet.
Arthritis or Joint Problems
Joint health is one of the most well-known symptoms of aging in dogs, since it’s easy to notice when a dog is uncomfortable standing up, lying down, or using the stairs.
Although arthritis may be unavoidable as your dog ages, their diet can have a huge effect on how severe it is. For example, excess weight puts more stress on joints, which can accelerate arthritis. So keeping your senior dog at a healthy weight is a key part of maintaining their mobility.
Anti-inflammatory nutrients like fatty acids help prevent and treat joint pain in your senior dog, while chondroitin and glucosamine can help protect and repair cartilage.
Maintaining a healthy weight means more than just less stress on your dog’s joints — obesity can also have a major impact on their energy levels. Ideally, your senior dog should enjoy one hour of exercise per day, broken up into 15–20 minute sessions.
If your dog becomes less active during their senior life stage, you may need to reduce their caloric intake to compensate for the lost activity and avoid weight gain.
On the other hand, some senior dogs experience weight loss as they age due to an illness or a loss of interest in food and treats. In this case, you’ll need to add additional calories to get their weight to a healthy level.
Antioxidants are also important for your senior dog’s overall well-being, supporting immune health and mitigating some of the signs and symptoms of aging.
Your dog’s dental health can certainly be affected if they aren’t getting the nutrients they need from their food. However, the more immediate concern is plaque build-up that occurs when dogs go for long periods without teeth cleanings or textured food and treats that help naturally clean teeth.
Dental health is especially important, as it can determine which foods your senior dog can eat comfortably. If their periodontal disease advances, then your dog may need to eat softer foods.
As dogs age, they can experience canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. Symptoms can include changes in personality and behavior, such as forgetting their potty training, not recognizing people or other dogs, and forgetting their names.
Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants like vitamins E and C are nutrients you should look for in your senior dog’s food to support their cognitive health.
Essential Nutrients To Look for in a Senior Dog’s Diet
No one wants their best friend to experience any of the symptoms listed above. Although some age-related symptoms are unavoidable, there are key nutrients you can prioritize in your dog’s diet to keep them as healthy as possible as they age.
Senior dogs lose their ability to produce sufficient protein, so it’s extremely important to maintain or even increase the amount of protein in their diet. Otherwise, your dog may lose their muscle mass, which, in turn, limits their ability to walk comfortably.
The best high-quality proteins come from lean animal meats, such as chicken, turkey, and fish.
Fiber is another essential nutrient, especially when it comes to healthy digestion. Good digestion helps senior dogs maintain a healthy weight, boosts their immune system, and prevents constipation.
Fiber is in vegetables and fruit. In fact, one of the most popular fiber-rich ingredients in dry dog food is pumpkin since it aids in digestion and tastes great.
Moderating fats in a senior dog’s diet can be tricky. They need fats to maintain their skin, coat, and energy levels, but they can also gain weight quickly due to lower activity levels.
The solution is to balance good fats, like omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed oil, against their daily activity level. Fat is calorie-dense, so you’ll need to decrease it as the dog’s activity level slows to avoid adding unhealthy weight.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals also play a key role in your dog’s skin health, coat health, and energy levels. A dog lacking in minerals and vitamins will also lack in energy, which is important for keeping them active as they age.
Calcium and vitamins C and E are especially vital and can be given through supplements or naturally through vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids have been mentioned already because they’re essential to so many aspects of a healthy senior dog.
Internally, they support joint health, while externally, they support a thick coat and healthy skin. So prioritize supplying your dog with them through fish oils and high-quality proteins like salmon.
Ingredients To Avoid in the Best Dog Food for Senior Dogs
Knowing what not to feed your senior dog is just as important as knowing what to feed them. So check your senior dog food against the following list to make sure they aren’t receiving any harmful or unbeneficial ingredients.
Fillers or Artificial Preservatives
You’ve probably heard the terms “fillers” and “artificial preservatives” often, but you can’t avoid them if you don’t know what they are. A filler is an ingredient that has little nutritional value and is used to replace a higher-quality ingredient.
For example, a high-quality protein like chicken may be replaced by chicken by-product meal or chicken fat since they’re cheaper. So make sure your senior pet’s dog food contains real, whole proteins and quality natural ingredients like brown rice or whole grains.
Artificial preservatives like BHT and BHA are also common ingredients used to lengthen the shelf life of dog food. But high-quality dog food won’t contain them or artificial flavors and colors.
High Sodium, Carbohydrate, or Sugar Content
High-sodium diets can raise blood pressure, which can be dangerous for senior pets since they’re already at risk of heart disease and heart failure.
Excess carbohydrates and sugars are also dangerous for senior dogs. They provide a quick energy boost but will soon be converted into fat if your dog is not active enough to use up all that energy.
Instead of high-quality proteins, brands may use meat by-products, which come from “leftovers” like skin, meat meals, and other animal parts.
Meat by-products won’t harm your senior dog, but they also won’t give them the essential proteins and nutrients they would get from recognizable high-protein sources.
Raw foods, such as uncooked meat and vegetables, can be more difficult for senior dogs to digest. As a result, they can slow down your dog’s digestion and lower their immune response.
Choosing The Honest Kitchen for Your Senior Dog’s Diet
From sharing easy tips for feeding senior pets to sourcing the best organic ingredients for our pet foods from sustainable farms, The Honest Kitchen has your and your senior dog’s backs. We are completely committed to making human grade pet food that supports healthy pets, tastes great, and does good from start to finish.
That’s why we have a wide selection of excellent dry kibble, wet food, and toppers specifically designed to meet the needs of your aging dog.
Hip and Joint Pour Over Topper
Pour overs are a great way to add a targeted nutrient boost to an area of your senior dog’s health that needs extra attention. Plus, they help you add extra moisture to their meal to keep them hydrated or just extra flavor to keep them interested in their food.
Our Hip & Joint Pour Over Topper checks off all those boxes, and it comes in fish or beef versions, so you can mix up your dog's meals or find a picky eater’s new favorite food.
Immune Booster Pour Over Topper
Our Immune Booster Pour Over Topper is a great choice if your senior dog needs an extra dose of antioxidants and vitamin E. Plus, it’s easy to add to their regular food and even softens up kibble so dogs with dental issues can eat more comfortably. It comes in chicken, beef, and two different fish flavors to suit every dog’s palate.
Revive and Restore Pour Over Topper
We all hate to see our dogs ill or recovering from an injury or operation. So our Revive and Restore Pour Over Topper adds an extra helping of nutrients that senior dogs can benefit from in order to help support recovery. Choose either the chicken, beef, or fish versions of this topper to give your dog a protein boost, as well as antioxidants and vitamins.
Grain Free Clusters Dry Dog Food
Many dog foods provide a balanced meal by adding carbohydrates through grains like rice and wheat. Grain free dog food meets the same carbohydrate requirements for a healthy meal by replacing those grains with ingredients like potatoes and legumes.
The Honest Kitchen’s Grain Free Clusters use human grade ingredients to give your senior dog the carbohydrates they need — without triggering grain sensitivities. Our Cluster recipes come in beef, turkey, or chicken for all the variety without any of the grain.
Limited Ingredient Dehydrated Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen’s Limited Ingredient Dehydrated Dog Food is made of just six whole foods that are gently dehydrated so that only the purest ingredients and nutrients remain.
It has a long shelf-life, without any artificial preservatives, and most importantly, it delivers the nutrients dogs need.
Senior dogs will especially benefit from this food since it’s high in protein and low in fat. Plus, it comes in turkey, beef, duck, chicken, and fish, so there is a recipe for every dog’s preference.
Treat Your Older Dog With The Honest Kitchen’s Healthy Food
It’s easy for health problems to compound once your dog reaches their golden years, and that can mean a shorter, less comfortable lifespan. But The Honest Kitchen’s top picks of human grade dry kibble, toppers, and dehydrated foods pack in the key nutrients senior dogs need to help them thrive.
Match your senior dog’s nutritional needs (and tastes) to The Honest Kitchen’s wide variety of senior dog foods to support healthy aging.*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.