It can be heartbreaking to watch your once-lively dog start to get older. What many dog owners do not realize is that they can keep their older dog in good health (both mentally and physically) simply by feeding them a healthy diet.
The power of good nutrition is not to be underestimated – a nutritious diet can help restore your senior dog’s energy, helping to ensure that your final years with him are as wonderful as they can be.
That’s why choosing the best senior dog food is as easy as searching for the healthiest ingredients that support bone density, muscle strength, and high energy levels.
Understanding Dog Nutrition Basics
Before you can understand the unique dietary needs of senior dogs, you need to have a basic understanding of dog nutrition in general. If someone were to ask you what kind of animal a dog is, you would probably say that he is a carnivore. After all, wild wolves hunt animal prey and most of their natural diet consists of meat.
What you may not realize, however, is that dogs are not obligate carnivores in the way that cats are. An obligate carnivore is an animal that eats meat as a biological necessity – they must eat meat in order to obtain energy and nutrition. Some other examples of obligate carnivores include raptors, ferrets, and even dolphins. Dogs, however, are not obligate carnivores.
While it is true that protein is a biological necessity for dogs, they are able to derive limited nutrition from certain types of carbohydrate. If you think back to the example of wild wolves, you can see how this comes into play. Wild wolves do hunt and eat animal prey, but they consume almost all parts of the animal, including its stomach contents.
The type of prey wolves tend to hunt are generally herbivores so, in consuming the stomach contents of their prey, wolves do end up eating some plant material. Some animal experts actually describe dogs as “opportunivores” rather than omnivores.
Wild dogs will eat whatever kind of food is readily available. Though they prefer meat, fish, and other animal products, dogs can and will obtain limited nutrition from plant products when necessary.
So, now that you understand a little more about the kind of diet dogs are adapted to following you can learn the specifics about which nutrients are the most important.
Protein is the primary building block of a healthy diet for dogs. Proteins are made up of amino acids and they help to support the growth and development of healthy muscle and tissues. There are twenty different amino acids, ten of which the dog’s body is capable of synthesizing (producing) on its own – these are called non-essential amino acids.
The remaining 10 are called essential amino acids because they must come from the dog’s diet. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs – basically all kinds of animal proteins – are considered complete proteins because they contain all 10 essential amino acids.
Some plants offer protein as well (like beans, legumes, and some grains) but they are incomplete proteins because they only contain a few amino acids.
After protein, the second most important nutritional consideration for dogs is fat. While you have probably been drilled with the idea that fats are bad for you, they are actually extremely important as part of a balanced diet for dogs. Protein offers 4 calories (a unit of energy) per gram, but fat offers 9 calories per gram – this means that fats are a much more highly concentrated source of energy for dogs.
As is true for protein, animal sources of fats are the best for dogs. This includes things like chicken fat, salmon oil, and even fatty types of fish. There are a number of different kinds of fats that should be included in your dog’s diet, primarily a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Not only do fats provide a concentrated source of energy, but they also help to support your dog’s immune system and improve the quality of his skin and coat.
As you have already learned, dogs have a limited ability to digest plant products but they can derive some nutrition from certain types of carbohydrate. The dog’s digestive tract is fairly short, so carbohydrates should be cooked to ensure that they are easy to digest – they should also come in the form of whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of the main nutritional benefits that comes from carbohydrate is in the form of dietary fiber – energy is not the primary benefit of carbohydrates for dogs like it is for humans. Having a little bit of fiber in your dog’s diet can help to bulk up his stools, making them easier to pass, and helping to regulate his digestion. Too much fiber in the diet, however, can be problematic so aim for a fiber content no higher than 5%.
Special Dietary Concerns for Senior Dogs
Now that you know the basics about dog nutrition you have a foundation of knowledge on which to build your understanding of senior dog nutrition. For all dogs, protein is the most important nutrient. Not only does it provide energy for your dog, but it will also help him to maintain lean muscle mass.
Obesity is a risk for all dogs, but it becomes a larger concern for senior dogs as their metabolisms start to slow down. As your dog gets older he will become less active so you may need to reduce his daily calorie consumption.
You want to be careful, however, not to reduce his protein intake too much because you want to maintain healthy lean muscle mass. The best way to reduce calorie content for senior dog food is to lower the fat percentage.
Another nutritional concern that is applicable for many senior dogs is fiber content. Many senior dog foods have higher fiber content than traditional adult dog foods. It is not uncommon for senior dogs to develop gastrointestinal issues as they age.
Making sure that your dog gets enough fiber in his diet will help to promote healthy and regular digestion.
You should also look for the inclusion of probiotics in your senior dog food – dried fermentation products are the most common option.
Raw food and freeze-dried dog food diets are also great for senior dogs because they are not cooked which means that the natural enzymes in the raw ingredients are preserved, making the food easier for your senior dog to digest on his own.
In addition to protein and fiber content, there are certain nutritional supplements that you should look for in a senior dog food. As dogs get older (especially large-breed dogs), their risk for developing musculoskeletal issues increases.
Adding glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to your dog’s diet can help to reduce the risk for these conditions and they can help to combat your dog’s arthritis, if he has it.
Another supplement that may be beneficial for dogs is omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to keeping your dog’s coat and skin healthy, omega-3 fatty acids are also crucial for healthy brain function – these supplements will help to keep your older dog’s brain sharp.
Feeding Tips for Senior Dogs
The age at which a dog becomes a “senior” depends on his maximum life expectancy. Many large-breed dogs, for example, live to 9 or 10 years which means that they enter seniority around age 6. For small-breed dogs that live to be 15 years or older, however, they may become a senior at 10 years old.
Knowing when your dog is going to become a senior will help you determine the proper time to switch him to a senior dog food. If you aren’t sure when you should switch your dog’s diet, feel free to consult your veterinarian. Just make sure that when you do make the switch you transition your dog slowly onto the new food to avoid any digestive upset.
As your dog gets older, you may notice that his appetite starts to dwindle as well. You should certainly speak to your vet to rule out any possible medical reasons for this, but in most cases it is simply a natural consequence of aging.
To encourage your senior dog to eat you may need to add some wet food to his kibble or try soaking it in chicken broth to make it easier for him to chew.
Many quality dog food brands offer what they call “meal toppers” which consist of flavored sauces or broths that can be used to add flavor to your dog’s food, making it more appealing to him. It may also be a matter of trying a different formula until you find one that your dog will eat.
In addition to dealing with your dog’s dwindling appetite and loss of interest in feeding, you need to make sure that he doesn’t get too much food.
Switching your dog to a senior dog food will help to keep his fat intake within the proper range, but you should monitor and control his portions as well. Most dog owners find that feeding their senior dogs two meals a day is sufficient but you can adapt your feeding schedule according to your dog’s individual appetite. As always, you should also make sure that your senior dog has access to plenty of fresh water at all times.
What to Look for in a Quality Senior Dog Food
Shopping for a high-quality dog food product can be challenging on its own, but finding a quality senior dog food is even harder. Not only do you need to consider the basic nutritional requirements for dogs in general, but you also have to think about the specialized nutritional needs of senior dogs.
When shopping for dog food, you should read the information provided on the package to determine the quality of the product and to compare it to similar products. The three most important pieces of information on a pet food label are as follows:
- AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy – The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is responsible for regulating the production and sale of pet foods and animal feed, similar to how the FDA is responsible for monitoring the production of food for humans. AAFCO has created nutrient profiles for dogs in various life stages (maintenance for adults and growth/reproduction for puppies and pregnant/lactating dogs) – each dog food product is compared to these profiles before being put on the shelf. When shopping for senior dog food, this is the first thing to look for because if the product doesn’t meet the basic nutritional needs for dogs, you don’t want to buy it. If the product meets the basic nutritional requirements for dogs, the label will carry a statement like the following, “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”. If dog food formula you are looking at doesn’t carry this statement, move on to another product.
- Guaranteed Analysis – The second place to look on a senior dog food label is the guaranteed analysis –this is a breakdown of the values for four key nutrients: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture. Each of these values is determined by the volume of the ingredients used in the product and it is a good way to make a direct comparison between two similar products. What you need to remember, however, is that the guaranteed analysis only provides a percentage – it doesn’t say anything about the source or the quality of the ingredients that make up that percentage. This is why you must also take a look at the ingredients list.
- Ingredients List – The ingredients list on pet food packages is organized in descending order by volume, so the ingredients at the top of the list are present in the highest volume. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the volume is usually measured prior to cooking – this means that ingredients with high moisture content (like fresh meats which contain up to 80% moisture) may reduce in volume after cooking. This is why meat meals (like chicken meal or salmon meal) are so valuable – they have already been cooked down, making them a highly concentrated source of protein. When reviewing the ingredients list, you want to make sure that quality animal proteins dominate the early part of the list and that there are not too many carbohydrates or artificial additives.
By reviewing and analyzing these three parts of the dog food label you can determine whether or not the product in question is of high-quality. If you are unable to determine that the product is of high quality by reading the information on the package, you are probably better off choosing another product. Don’t be afraid to take your time in reviewing different dog food recipes – it is well worth it to make sure that your senior dog gets the nutrition he needs.
Top Recommended Senior Dog Food Brands
As your dog gets older, his metabolism slows down and his body just doesn’t work as well as it used to. Your dog’s appetite and activity level may change as he ages, but he still needs the same quality nutrition to remain in good health.
Choosing a high-quality senior dog food can be tricky because you want to find a product that is made from fresh, quality materials and formulated to support your older dog’s unique nutritional needs. If you need help finding a quality senior dog food, consider one of the top recommended senior dog food brands reviewed below:
Natural Balance Original Ultra Reduced Calorie Dry Dog Formula
The Natural Balance pet food company was founded by Dick Van Patten in 1989. This company was started with the goal of providing pets and pet owners with “food for a lifetime” and they design all of their products based on sound scientific principles and nutritional truths.
Natural Balance has been designing and manufacturing high-quality pet food diets for several decades and they have certainly earned a name for themselves within the quality pet food industry. This company offers a large assortment of products for both dogs and cats including a number of grain-free options and several Limited Ingredient Diets. Natural Balance also offers rolls of fresh pet food, a variety of different kinds of treats, and plenty of wet food options.
This Natural Balance Original Ultra Reduced Calorie Dry Dog Formula contains 17% fewer calories than the Original Ultra Premium dog food formula offered by Natural Balance. This recipe is rich in animal protein, packed with premium meats like chicken, salmon meal, and lamb meal to help preserve and maintain your dog’s lean muscle mass.
This reduced calorie formula uses brown rice and pearled barley for complex, digestible carbohydrates with the addition to carrots, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables for supplementary nutrition. This recipe is made with chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption and it contains a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Overall, this formula contains 330 calories per cup and it seems to provide plenty of healthy, balanced nutrition for senior dogs as well as overweight dogs.
Wellness Complete Health Senior Deboned Chicken & Barley Recipe
The Wellness pet food company follows a holistic approach to pet nutrition, using only the finest, natural ingredients combined in exact proportions to ensure quality and balanced nutrition.
Wellness offers their customers the “Wellness Difference” which promises wholesome and natural ingredients, supplementation with super nutrients and antioxidants, and plenty of omega-3 and omega-5 fatty acids.
This company also guarantees that their products are free from artificial additives. When it comes to their pet food offerings, Wellness has several different product lines including grain-free options, limited ingredient diets, and even size-specific recipes. Wellness also offers a line of air-dried foods and plenty of wet foods and treats for dogs in all life stages.
This Wellness Complete Health Senior Deboned Chicken & Barley Recipe is specially designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of dogs in their later years. This recipe is made with fresh, carefully chosen ingredients to ensure quality nutrition and the formula provides whole-body nutrition as well as promoting overall longevity and fitness. Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the first two ingredients which speaks to the high protein content of this recipe – it also contains several whole grains including oatmeal, barley, and brown rice.
This formula contains 9% fewer calories than the original Wellness Complete Health Adult Chicken & Oatmeal formula, but it is still balanced in terms of lean protein, healthy fats, and digestible carbohydrates. This recipe contains 416 calories per cup and it is supplemented with chelated minerals and dried fermentation products.
Orijen Senior Biologically Appropriate
The Orijen pet food company is known for producing biologically appropriate diets – that is pet food products that mimic the natural diet of wild cats and dogs. Orijen follows a whole prey philosophy, packing their formulas with fresh animal proteins and avoiding all gluten and grains. This dog food brand understands that cats and dogs have a limited ability to digest plant products so they keep their fiber content and their glycemic load low.
Orijen offers a variety of dog food products, including several new and reformulated recipes. Orijen sources all of their ingredients locally and they produce them in small batches in their own award-winning kitchens to ensure the highest standards for safety and quality.
If you are looking for a high-quality senior dog food, look no further than this Orijen Senior Biologically Appropriate Dog Food. This recipe contains 85% poultry, fish, and egg ingredients with 15% fruits, vegetables and botanicals – it doesn’t contain any gluten, grains, potato, tapioca, or plant protein concentrates. Orijen understands that it is important to maintain lean muscle mass in older dogs which is why this formula is so high in protein. In fact, each 13-pound bag of dog food contains 11 pounds of fresh, raw, or dehydrated animal proteins such as free-range chicken, wild yellowtail flounder, nest-laid eggs, and whole Atlantic mackerel.
This recipe is carefully formulated to ensure optimal nutritional balance with plenty of fresh, natural flavor. This Orijen Senior Biologically Appropriate Dog Food contains 414 calories per cup, 42% from protein, 37% from fat, and 21% from fruits and vegetables.
Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Dog Food Formula
The Nutro Ultra brand has been producing and manufacturing quality pet food products for more than 80 years. This company is dedicated to providing pet owners with super-premium nutrition for their pets, using only the freshest natural ingredients available.
Nutro understands that pets are family which is why they make such an effort to maintain quality in their products, helping to ensure that you get to enjoy the company of your pet for as long as possible. When it comes to their pet food products, Nutro Ultra offers a wide variety of options for puppies, adult dogs, senior dogs, and even overweight dogs. Nutro Ultra uses super-premium, whole foods in all of their recipes to promote the total wellbeing of your dog, even as he approaches his senior years.
The Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Dog Food Formula is just one of the many high-quality pet food products this company has to offer. This recipe is packed with high-quality ingredients and it is rich in the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your senior dog needs to remain healthy and strong.
This senior dog food is supplemented with beta carotene as well as glucosamine and chondroitin, plus chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption. The first two ingredients in this recipe are chicken and chicken meal which speaks to the high protein content of this formula. This recipe also contains whole grains like brown rice and rolled oats, as well as dried fruits and vegetables for supplementary nutrition. Overall, this formula will help to maintain your dog’s lean muscle mass, encourage healthy joints and mobility, support a strong immune system, and improve the quality of your dog’s skin and coat.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Chicken & Brown Rice Senior Recipe
The Blue Buffalo Company knows that pets are family which is why they put so much time and care into the development of their products. Blue Buffalo uses only the freshest high-quality natural ingredients in their products without the use of any artificial additives. Their recipes are also free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients, all of which are common food allergens for dogs. Another thing that sets this brand apart is the inclusion of LifeSource Bits in most of their products – these are made up of a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support whole-body health and wellness for the duration of your dog’s life.
Blue Buffalo offers four different product lines for cats and dogs – the Blue line of all-natural diets, the Freedom line of grain-free foods, the Basics line of Limited Ingredient Diets, and the Wilderness line of protein-rich formulas.
The Blue Buffalo Life Protection Chicken & Brown Rice Senior Recipe is designed to support the health and wellbeing of senior dogs. It is made with fresh, natural ingredients like deboned chicken, wholesome whole grains, and garden fruits and veggies.
This recipe is free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as artificial additives. In addition to being made with quality ingredients like fresh chicken, brown rice, barley, and chicken fat, this recipe is supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin for strong bones and joints as well as a precise blend of minerals for healthy teeth.
This recipe also contains chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption as well as an optimal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. This Blue Buffalo Life Protection Chicken & Brown Rice Senior Recipe contains 350 calories per cup with an 18% protein content and 11% fat.
It is not easy watching your dog get older. He may slow down physically and mentally, plus he might develop some medical problems. Even as your dog changes with age, he is still your best friend and it should be a priority for you to find a high-quality, healthy diet that will help to keep him in good health for as long as possible. Using the information provided above, as well as the reviews of top recommended senior dog food brands, you have the background you need to make a smart choice when it comes to a healthy diet for your senior dog.