As dogs age, their nutritional needs change. Conventional wisdom about feeding senior dogs calls for lower levels of protein and fat, with additional fiber and ingredients to support the joints. However, pet owners and veterinary nutritionists are now realizing that older dogs may actually need more protein than do dogs in the prime of life. Senior dogs need high-quality nutrition that is easily digestible, but they don’t necessarily thrive on senior dog foods, which follow older guidelines calling for low calorie and low protein diets for old age.
Dry Food for Senior Dogs
Senior dogs that eat a dry kibble food can generally continue eating any high-quality adult dog formula that has met their needs in the past. It may become necessary to reduce portion size as dogs age and reduce their level of physical activity. If dental problems begin to occur with age, consider moistening the dry kibble with some warm water.
If you’re looking for a new brand of kibble to feed your senior dog, seek formulas with a highly digestible, top quality meat as the first ingredient. Avoid corn, wheat, soy and byproducts other than organs and organ meal. Sweet potatoes, squash and digestible grains like quinoa can help with digestion.
Canned Food for Senior Dogs
Like adult formula dry food, a good adult dog canned food can meet the needs of senior dogs. Look for canned formulas containing 90%-95% meat with some added quality fiber and necessary vitamins comprising the remaining 5%-10%. When feeding canned food, it’s especially important to brush your dog’s teeth daily. Avoid foods with added sources of sugar like corn or molasses.
Raw Food for Senior Dogs
Senior dogs can continue to eat a whole prey model or BARF raw diet. However, chewing raw meaty bones may become difficult as dogs age. If your dog has enjoyed good dental health throughout life and has kept his jaws fit and limber with regular bony meals, there may never be a problem. But if the dog begins to struggle with raw meaty bones, it may be necessary to begin replacing whole bone with bone meal in his meals. A good bone meal supplement will include bone, marrow and possibly added vitamins to improve the absorption of calcium.
Supplements for Senior Dogs
Some senior dogs can benefit from nutritional supplements. Discuss any supplements you’re considering feeding with your vet and, if possible, a veterinary nutritionist. Dogs with stiff, arthritic joints can benefit from glucosamine, chrondroitin, green-lipped mussel, sea cucumber, shark cartilage and MSM, among other supplements. A probiotic supplement can assist with digestion. Some owners feel that kelp powder improves overall health. Avoid oversupplementation; a dog getting a complete and healthful diet overall will not need many supplements.