Why you should care
There are many tell-tale signs of aging in dogs – the fur on their muzzle turns grey, they move a little slower, and they start developing hearing and vision problems.
But many age-related changes are not so obvious – such as a slower metabolism, reduced water retention, and more. As a result, a dog’s nutritional needs change considerably later in life and their old diet no longer suits their needs. An endlessly energetic puppy requires a diet with high caloric content and particular amounts of macronutrients to promote healthy growth and development; but this kind of diet would likely cause a senior dog to become overweight. So, if you have been feeding your dog the same food for all of its life, you may want to change it up. Fortunately, there are plenty of guidelines and resources that can enable you to select the optimal diet for your senior dog.
When is my dog considered a senior?
Because life expectancy varies among dog breeds, there is not a specific number considered the age in which a dog becomes a senior. Generally, they are considered a senior when they reach half of their life expectancy. A small breed, like a Yorkshire Terrier, would be considered a senior at 9 years of age, while a larger breed, like a Labrador Retriever, would be considered a senior at about 6 years of age. Regardless of when your dog begins going through age-related changes, it is important to keep up with them in terms of nutrition.
Adjusting your dog’s diet later life involves a lot of factors. Common changes to dogs’ health that necessitate dietary adjustments include lowered activity levels, difficulty maintaining water balance, decreased digestive function, and decreased appetite. The key recommended adjustments to your dog’s diet are explained below.
Not only are older dogs less mobile – and thus burn less calories – their metabolic processes also slow down. In other words, any activity they do will naturally burn less calories than it did when they were younger. As a result, older dogs are more susceptible to obesity. Because their joints are already weakening and their bones are becoming more brittle, a heavier body can cause excessive strain to their legs which could potentially develop into arthritis. This is why it is so important to ensure your dog is at a healthy weight in their later years.
Older dogs have difficulty maintaining a normal water balance. In addition to ensuring you always supply fresh, accessible water, it can help to feed them wet food rather than dry food, as it naturally provides more moisture and is thus more hydrating. As an added benefit, wet food has a stronger smell. As older dogs’ sense of smell weakens over time, a stronger smelling food can help encourage them to eat when their appetite is lacking.
Easier to Chew and Swallow
Older dogs have more dental issues, like missing teeth, weaker jaws, and more – and weaker muscles in general. Wet dog food is generally a better option for most seniors as it is easier for them to chew and swallow.
Many dog owners will notice their dogs’ digestive processes worsen as they age. Older dogs often have trouble with diarrhea or constipation due to their weakened digestive processes. Ensuring your dog’s diet has sufficient fiber is key to helping your dog lives healthily and comfortably in their later years. It can also support the digestion of important nutrients.
Less “Junk Food”
Because older dogs’ organs do not function as effectively as before, high levels of sodium and fat can aggravate medical conditions that become more common later in life. It becomes important to ensure your dog is not consuming an excess amount of sodium and fat through commercial pet products, which commonly contain high amounts of them.
Similarly, it is important to ensure your dog is ingesting their protein from a high-quality source. Typical commercial dog foods provide protein from “low biological value foods” – this includes corn, meat by-products (beaks, hooves, etc.), and wheat – which are all difficult for a dog to digest. This means that while such products may contain a sufficient amount of protein, much of it will pass through the dog’s system unused; this will also put undue strain on the kidneys.
The best, high biological value foods for dogs include eggs, fish, liver, beef, turkey, chicken, and other real meats.
More Enticing Food
Many senior dogs will exhibit signs of a reduced appetite. This can be due to general feelings of nausea, a natural reaction to a lowered metabolic process, or an underlying medical condition. It is always best to check with a veterinarian for the reasoning behind a sudden change in a dog’s appetite or eating behavior. Alternatively, your dog could just be a picky eater. Regardless of the cause, it is especially important that your dog eats its food during years in which proper nutrition is critical to their health.
While offering new flavors and foods will not solve the origin of this problem, it can help encourage them to eat. Many dogs prefer the smell and taste of real meat to any artificial or over-processed alternative. It is also best to minimize the use of treats and table scraps to their normal food, as this can encourage them to be picky – they will avoid eating their normal food in hope of “holding out” for human food. When switching to a new dog food, ensure you introduce the new food gradually while simultaneously reducing the amount of the old food. In addition to making the transition occur smoothly, this will also reduce the likelihood of potential digestive issues. Adding hot water to their meal can also enhance the smell of their food.
What to feed your dog instead
All of these guidelines are a lot to take in. It can be difficult to select a high-quality and cost-effective dog food that meets all of the above criteria for your older dog. Here are some subscription dog food providers we evaluated and determined to be the best for aging dogs:
Best overall: Ollie
Ollie is a subscription-based dog food service that delivers fresh, veterinarian-formulated, and human-grade food to your door. They offer customized plans via an online quiz, through which your dog’s age, activity level, breed, and weight will be taken into consideration to get their optimal caloric intake is and to adjust their portion sizes accordingly. All the recipes offered contain at least 68% moisture which supports older dogs’ reduced ability to balance water intake as previously discussed. They contain 10-12% protein per recipe – the most of all foods we evaluated – and zero “fillers” like corn, wheat, etc. In other words, your dog will digest all of the protein they consume. Each recipe contains 2% fiber, which is considered sufficient for senior dogs. Finally, as the recipes are made of real, high-quality meat, they are satiable for even the pickiest eaters. Currently, Ollie is offering 20% off your first box, but you can get 50% off through this link for a limited time only.
Runner Up: Farmer’s Dog
Founded in Brooklyn, the Farmer’s Dog is focused on not only making your dog’s life better, but making the whole world better too. As part of this, Farmer’s Dog only uses recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials when packaging its meals. Before packaging, meals are designed by veterinary nutritionists to fit your pet’s profile, and cooked in a USDA certified kitchen using proteins, vegetables, starches, and fruits that are cooked at low heat. Every two weeks, the Farmer’s Dog asks you to choose which two meals you’d like to have featured in your delivery for the next two weeks, then vacuum packs and sends your chosen recipes in fourteen meals delivered to your door.
Runner Up: Nom Nom Now
NomNomNow is dedicated to making sure your dog gets all its necessary vitamins and minerals. To achieve this, each NomNomNow meal includes NomNomNutrient mix and Fish Oil, so you don’t have to worry about buying extra supplements for your pup. All of NomNomNow’s meals are specially made by Dr. Justin Shmalberg, one of the world’s leading veterinary nutritionists. He and his team have created four main meals: Heartland Beef Mash, Tasty Turkey Fare, Chicken Chow-Wow, and Porkalicious Pork, customizing each of these recipes based on your dog’s needs. Meals are made fresh weekly using restaurant-quality ingredients, and then are hand-inspected before being sent to you.
Our team at Insider Envy are not veterinarians but care deeply about dogs. Feeding your dog healthy and balanced meals made out of real, fresh ingredients from places like Ollie may help to lower your dog’s risk of disease, but it doesn’t eliminate it. If you believe your dog is at risk for DCM or any other disease, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.