When it comes to nutrition, dogs are just like people – their needs change depending on their age and individual health. As dogs age, they can develop problems with their weight, digestion, and teeth. Many dogs tend to slow down and become less active as they age. They need food with lower calories to fight obesity and the additional health problems that it can cause. Older dogs also tend to become constipated easily so their food needs a more balanced diet. Gum and oral diseases can make eating painful. The best dog food for older dogs is specially formulated to address those common health problems that are prevalent in senior dogs.
When is a Dog Considered Old?
There is no set age for a dog to be considered a senior. The age category of a dog depends on the dog’s breed and his or her overall health. Smaller dogs, like terriers and toy breeds, reach adulthood quickly but then age more slowly than their large dog counterparts. A Chihuahua, for instance, is generally not considered to be a senior until he or she is 10-12 years old. Large and giant breed dogs are considered senior citizens around age 5 or 6. As a general rule, dogs can be considered seniors when they reach over half their lifespan.
Petmd offers a useful chart comparing the average life span across dog breeds.
A dog’s final age is also effected by their weight and overall health. This is especially true for mixed breed dogs whose age limits cannot be otherwise determined. Dogs under 20 pounds have an average lifespan of 10+ years. Larger dogs, 90 pounds are more, generally live only 8 years. Finally, a dog’s individual health plays a role in determining his or her lifespan. Diseases and breed-specific anomalies can alter the ranges provided above. A dog with specific health problems, like kidney disease or diabetes, requires an individualized diet provided by a veterinarian.
How can Dog Food Help Older Dogs?
There are some common ailments that can be addressed through a balanced diet specially designed for senior dogs:
With age comes a loss of energy and a propensity to pack on extra pounds. Some conditions, like arthritis and joint pain, can lead to reduced activity in older dogs. Long-term obesity can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Dog foods that are specially formulated for senior dogs are lower in calories and made with foods that create a full feeling. Dog foods low in calories and sodium are good for dogs with heart disease. If a dog has diabetes, his or her dog food should be low in calories and higher in fiber. This diabetic diet allows the dog to absorb the nutrients slowly which reduces spikes in the dog’s blood sugar. In addition to feeding their dogs a specialized dog food, owners of obese, senior dogs should practice portion control and exercise the dog regularly.
Senior dogs tend to have digestive problems that lead to constipation due to their decreased activity level and muscle atrophy in their gastrointestinal tract. Specialized dog food for senior dogs contains more fiber than the average dog food. An increase in fiber in a dog’s diet will help the dog have regular bowel movements. The dog foods also tend to contain a higher protein count that can maintain muscle mass the dog developed in his or her youth.
The risk of kidney disease (or renal failure) increases as a dog ages. Specialized dog food for senior dogs contains higher quality proteins which are more easily digested and utilized by the kidneys. High quality proteins include things like eggs, dairy, and poultry. Regular dog food is also very low in water which can dehydrate and stress a dog’s kidneys.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Arthritis and joint pain is common in small and large senior dogs. The pain encourages a sedentary lifestyle which leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Dog foods that contain omega-3 fats and natural anti-inflammatory formulas can reduce the swelling and pain associated with these conditions. The less discomfort the senior dog feels, the more likely he or she is to be active. An active dog is a healthy dog.
Gum and Oral Diseases
A majority of adult and senior dogs have gum disease from a lack of oral hygiene over the course of their lifetime. Gum and oral diseases can cause chronic pain, missing teeth, lack of appetite, and even bone loss. Some dog foods are great for scrubbing and scraping the plaque off of a dog’s teeth. Specialized food can also have additives that prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. Senior dogs, who suffer from advanced gum disease or who have already lost teeth, can benefit from dog food formulas high in moisture content which is easier for them to consume.
Lack of Appetite
Not all senior dogs suffer from obesity. A long-term lack of appetite or disinterest in food can cause weight loss and muscle atrophy. A senior dog may not be eating due to a loss of smell or difficulty in chewing due to gum or oral diseases. Dog foods made with smaller pieces, added moisture-rich nutrients, and more appealing ingredients can encourage senior dogs to eat.
The Top 5 Best Dog Foods for Old Dogs
Wellness Complete Health: Natural Dry Senior Dog Food
Buy now from Amazon
Pros: This dog food is made from high quality, natural ingredients. Unlike some commercial dog foods, this brand does not include wheat, corn, soy, meat by-products, and artificial colors and preservatives. Instead they use deboned chicken and barley which is appealing for dogs without low appetites and those with weight and kidney problems. Added glucosamine and chondroitin support hip and joint health. Dog owners report that this food has small, easy to eat pieces.
Cons: Some dog owners have reported diarrhea in their dogs after initial consumption. Diarrhea can be dangerous for dogs with kidney problems as it causes extreme dehydration. This particular version is not grain free which can make it more difficult to digest, especially for dogs that are already prone to constipation.
Blue Buffalo BLUE Senior Dog Food
Buy now from Amazon
Pros: The BLUE dry foods contain a blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to support a balanced diet. The recipe includes l-carnitine, an amino acid that promotes muscle maintenance, glucosamine for healthy joints, and omega 3 & 6 fatty acids for good skin and a shiny coat. The food also relies on whole grains for long-term energy which is beneficial for dogs with diabetes or that suffer from obesity. The ingredients are natural and protein rich. The individual pieces are bite size and easy to eat for dogs that have a history of oral diseases.
Cons: Blue Buffalo was sued by Purina in 2015 for false advertisement after poultry by-products were found in its food. The company claimed it had no knowledge of this and blamed their suppliers. Some dog owners have reported that the pieces are harder than other dog food. This may be because the company produces the food at a lower temperature. Blue Buffalo claims the cold helps the vitamins and antioxidants retain potency.
Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food
Buy now from Amazon
Pros: This dog food has many specific formulas, including a grain-free option for dogs with allergies or digestion difficulties, a recipe for weight management, a recipe for overall senior dog health, and multiple flavors for dogs who need coaxing to eat. Holistic Select employs a unique digestive health recipe with pre- and probiotics, natural fiber, and digestive enzymes to address weight, constipation, and kidney problems. The food is low in calories, includes healthy proteins for muscle maintenance, and glucosamine to combat arthritis and joint pain. Owners of dogs with allergies report good results in their dogs with grain or skin allergies.
Cons: Dog owners describe the pieces as being the size of a peanut which may be too large for toy breeds to consume comfortably. Despite the “holistic” name, the product is not organic or non-gmo. Some dog owners also report that their dogs seem disinterested in this food or flat-out refuse to eat it. This may not be the best choice for picky eaters, but it is unclear which flavors individual owners chose.
IAMS Proactive Health: Senior and Mature Adult Dry Dog Food
Buy now from Amazon
Pros: IAMs uses high quality proteins for muscle maintenance and weight control. The food also includes beta-carotene and vitamin E to boost the immune system as well as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for joint health. This food also cleans a dog’s teeth and is guaranteed to reduce tartar buildup. This food contains no fillers, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Cons: This food contains corn meal, chicken by-product, and sorghum. These contain little nutritional value. Some dog owners report that the pieces are too large for their toy breeds. Other owners report that their dogs are disinterested in the food or appear to dislike the taste.
Diamond Naturals Dry Dog Food for Senior Dogs
Buy now from Amazon
Pros: Diamond Naturals dog food contains probiotics and fiber for digestive health as well as glucosamine and chondroitin to combat arthritis and joint pain. The dog food also has vitamin E and selenium which contribute to muscle maintenance and a healthy skin and coat. This food is super high in protein which is great for dogs battling obesity.
Cons: Some dog owners report that their dogs initially experienced diarrhea and gas after switching to this dog food. This product contains yeast which can cause allergic reactions in some dogs.
Other Ways to Keep an Old Dog Healthy
A specialized diet is only one way to promote good health in senior dogs. Regular, aerobic exercise is crucial to maintaining a senior dog’s weight, joints, and lean muscles.
Raw diet materials, like some fruits and vegetables, can be used as low-calorie treats. Green beans, cantaloupe, and watermelon are all a great source of vitamins A and C for a shiny coat. Apples and pumpkin are an additional source of fiber for dogs who suffer from constipation. Blueberries have anti-cancer and heart disease qualities.
Senior dogs can benefit from supplements that target issues like weight-loss, heart health, and arthritis. Older dogs should visit their veterinarian regularly to ensure they have a proper diet and are being treated for any underlying condition they may have.
One Final Word
Like their human counterparts, dogs are living longer than ever. One of the most important factors is better nutrition. Aging brings on a host of different physiological changes in a dog that can be treated by a balanced diet that addresses each dog’s individual health needs. Choosing the best dog food for older dogs can be a challenge, but it is not impossible. The most important thing to look at are the ingredients. The best dog food for older dogs has high-quality proteins, lower caloric content, and no additives. Many senior dog foods have built in supplements, like glucosamine, for joint health. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian.