The Right Food for Senior Dogs

senior dog eating dry food from a bowl

Your dog is getting old when it gets its first grey hairs and its movements becomes slower. This is part of a dog’s life, just as is the case with humans. However, you can do something to make ageing easier for your dog. A diet tailored to the needs of senior dogs ensures health and vitality in old age.

More susceptible to disorders

There are nowadays plenty of ready-made foods for older dogs. But is a special food for senior dogs really necessary? Yes, because age brings some changes and aches and pains. There is not much to see of the temperament of gamboling puppies any more. Dogs become more tranquil and move around less. Digestion becomes slower and the capacity of the intestine decreases.

Digestive problems like constipation, flatulence or diarrhoea are the consequence. The teeth often hurt when chewing and the sense of taste regresses. In addition, age-related conditions like arthrosis or other joint problems emerge.

There are no pleasant side effects of ageing – but don’t worry: with the right diet, the mentioned disorders can be combatted. This will keep your senior dog fit and healthy even in old age!

Plenty of nutrients, few calories

With reduced movement in old age, the energy requirements of dogs fall by up to 20%. Reduced activity also has an impact upon the metabolism: ingested food is converted into fat rather than muscle. Obesity can be the consequence of this.

Hence, a menu for senior dogs should have less calories than one for adult dogs. But how do I save calories in the food?

An obvious solution is of course simply reducing the quantity of food, i.e. giving smaller portions. This is a mistake though! Not just calories fall by the wayside, but valuable nutrients too, and nutrients like vitamins and minerals are essential for your elderly dog.

  • Vitamins C, E and B

L-carnitine and antioxidants like vitamins C and E strengthen your dog’s immune defences. It also intercepts aggressive free radicals, which are a cause of the ageing process.

age-appropriate feeding based on the dog size © zooplus SE

Vitamin E is found in sunflower or maize-germ oil. If you prepare your dog’s food yourself, you can simply mix it with the meat or vegetables. Other water-soluble vitamins like B vitamins should also be present in senior food.

However, care should be taken with liposoluble vitamin A. Over-provision can put excess strain on the liver. Since many dogs enjoy eating liver and do so frequently or even drink cod liver oil, a shortage of vitamin A is less common than over-provision.

  • Omega-3- und Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Dry fur, hair loss or increased skin infections in old age aren’t uncommon amongst dogs. High content of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids strengthens skin and fur and ensures that they stay healthy and shiny.

Omega-6 is found in linseed oil. Omega-3 is even more valuable for your dog and is found in fish oil such as salmon oil. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t just have a positive effect on the fur, but also help to support the joints. Clinical examinations have shown that the amount of painkillers to combat joint problems could be reduced thanks to a high proportion of omega-3 in dog food.

  • Proteins

Even in advanced age, protein is still your dog’s most important energy source. Meat is a high-quality source of protein and should thus form the main component of your dog’s food. It is particularly important in old age to use high-quality meat.

Good, fresh meat doesn’t just taste better, but can be better utilised by the organism too. Lean meat and innards like the heart are also easier to digest than chunks of meat containing many sinews and cartilage.

senior dog playing with a ball © DJakob /

Easily digestible

Older dogs are more susceptible to digestive disorders than active adult dogs. Not infrequently, the sluggish bowel leads to constipation. Food is often no longer chewed sufficiently due to teeth problems, meaning that the intestine has to process large chunks.

Since the bacterial balance in the intestine changes, older dogs also suffer more frequently from foul-smelling flatulence. Switching to an easier to digest food in old age doesn’t just ensure functioning digestion, but also a better indoor climate in your home.

Lean meat, chicken (simmered), heart, eggs and a little bit of rice, low-fat curd and cottage cheese can help your dog to get its digestion back under control. Difficult to digest foods such as excess carbohydrates, bones and meat with a lot of cartilage should be avoided.

It’s also recommended for sensitive stomachs not to give food straight from the fridge, but ideally at room temperature. In order to protect the stomach, you should definitely not suddenly change your dog’s food. Proceed with caution when getting it used to a new food and gradually replace the old food with the new one. It may well take a whole week before your dog has completely adapted to its new senior food.

Plenty to drink

Like us humans, many dogs also drink too little in old age. However, sufficient water consumption is definitely part of a healthy diet. Wet food is therefore more suitable for senior dogs that are lazy when it comes to drinking, because wet food also provides dogs with fluids.

In order to get your dog back into the swing of drinking, sometimes a tiny bit of flavour in its drinking water can help, such as mixing a spoonful of poultry juice, sausage brew or a broth low in salt into its water bowl. As a general rule, you must take abnormalities in your dog’s drinking habits seriously and clarify them with the vet, because too little or excessive thirst can be signs of a serious disease.

senior dog © Mary Lynn Strand /

Ready-made food or homemade?

Quality is the most important thing with your senior dog’s food. If you make your dog’s food yourself, you will presumably already have a good idea of what does your dog good and what it finds tasty. You can also influence the quality of the food yourself by using fresh ingredients.

Fresh meat has very high protein content and fresh vegetables provide the required vitamin supply. If you prefer ready-made food though, you can still make sure that your dog is optimally cared for as it gets older. There are now many senior dog foods, but unfortunately there are just as many differences in quality. You can recognise high-quality food not just by its price, but mainly because the food components are outlined very precisely on the packaging. Ensure that the source of meat is consistent, high-quality and that the aforementioned nutrients are present.

In contrast, sugar has no place in a dog food and can even be extremely harmful for older dogs, which tend to suffer from dental problems. Unfortunately there are at times ready-made foods on the shelves that still contain sugar. Although it’s often cheaper, you’re best off steering clear for your dog’s sake!

Also steer clear of too many occasional treats! Even if your dog looks at you with its begging, loyal brown eyes, constant treats lead to obesity and can be harmful to your dog’s health. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should do away with treats entirely, but you should pay attention to the quantity and make sure you deduct this from the daily feeding quantity.

You should also give older dogs bones as chew snacks in moderation, because they are difficult to digest for the intestines, which have become sensitive. You’re also better off choosing wet food than dry food for older dogs.

Food for senior dogs should be high-quality, easily digestible, rich in nutrients and fluids and low in calories. This will keep your dog fit and energetic even in old age so that it fully enjoys its daily outdoor walks. A food specially tailored to dogs suffering from certain diseases, obesity or being underweight due to a loss of appetite can help to alleviate their symptoms. If you have questions on suitable diets, you’re best off speaking to your vet.

We hope your senior dog continues to enjoy its food!

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