What Is Senior Dog Food?
As our canine friends grow old, their dietary needs and requirements change, and as a consequence, they may need a more suitable diet to match those needs. This change in needs is where senior dog food comes in. It is specifically designed for dogs of this age range and can provide them with more appropriate nutrition.
More appropriate nutrition sounds vague and rightly so, but it often includes different ratios of the core nutrients like protein and fat, as well as higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals that can help sustain a dog’s aging body.
Senior dog food is growing in demand in part due to the fact that dogs more commonly living longer and healthier lifespans just as we humans are. Whereas in the past, most dogs did not live past their 10th birthdays, in recent times, it is not unusual for dogs to live to fifteen or even twenty years of age depending upon the breed and living environment. Even large or giant breed dogs like Great Danes can live past ten years that in the past would usually just half as long.
What Are The Alternatives To Senior Dog Food?
Standard Adult Dog Food
You are certainly not forced to transition your senior dog from their previous adult dog food formula. Many formulas are clearly labeled as suitable for all life stages. These recipes are therefore suitable for dogs of all ages, and a senior dog will likely see no ill effects from continuing to consume them as they age. The much smaller and restricted range of senior dog food formulas available may force some dog owners to stick to their dog’s existing adult recipes, especially if the dog has a sensitive stomach or suffers from allergies.
Homemade Dog Food
A more extreme alternative to commercial senior dog food is to produce your own homemade dog food. Homemade dog food allows you to have complete control over the ingredients and nutrition that your senior pup receives. You can use fresh, high-quality ingredients from sources you know and trust.
The main downside is that homemade dog food is usually more costly, and so for those dog owners on a tight budget, it may not be a viable option. Also, many consumers don’t have time to cook meals for themselves, so finding time to make dog food may not be realistic.
Senior Dog Food Nutrition
Overall Dog Nutrition
Dog nutrition is surprisingly simple, despite the huge amount of conflicting information available. Dog’s ancestors consumed a diet of primarily meat, and as a consequence of this, dogs are most suited to a similar diet.
Meat and fish ingredients can provide a dog with an adequate supply of protein and fat. Protein is used to repair, grow, and maintain a dog’s cells. The more active a dog, the more protein they require. Fat is used for a number of bodily functions along with as a dense source of energy.
While dogs can safely consume carbohydrates, even in more significant quantities, they should instead try and consume a modest portion to better mimic their ancestor’s diet. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates can lead to a range of health problems, including weight gain and bloat.
What Is The Difference Between Nutrition for Senior Dogs & Adult Dogs?
One of the significant challenges for dogs as they age is that their digestive systems become less effective. This means that they struggle to absorb all of the nutrition provided by their diet entirely. As a consequence, some senior dogs may need higher levels of certain nutrients to ensure that they can absorb the required amount.
Another notable difference between the diets of adult dogs and senior dogs is that as dog’s age, they tend to become less active and more sedentary. While this certainly isn’t true for all senior dogs, this trend means that many senior dogs need a lower-calorie diet or one that is less calorie-dense. This is important to ensure that senior dogs do not become overweight, as this can cause an array of additional health concerns.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association discusses many of the serious risks of obesity to pets in their article Obesity Poses Serious Health Hazards To Pets. We recommend you read it in full to be aware of all the issues obesity can present.
Just as cats often struggle to stay hydrated, some senior dogs experience similar issues and do not take on enough water to keep themselves adequately hydrated. Dehydration is a serious concern and can lead to urinary issues alongside fainting and dizziness. Ensuring that your senior dog has a plentiful and fresh supply of water is by far the best approach to hydration issues, but providing canned food can be an alternative as it is naturally high in moisture, allowing the dog to hydrate itself without directly drinking.
For more information on dog nutrition, we suggest you read this page on the ASPCA’s website on dog nutrition.
Vitamins & Minerals For Senior Dogs
While one would hope that your dog has had a plentiful supply of all the vitamins and minerals they require throughout their life, it is undoubtedly true that they need a sufficient level as they age. Minerals such as Potassium and Sodium can play an essential role in the health of the Heart and Kidneys.
However, the most notable nutrient for senior dogs is the Omega Fatty Acids, in particular, the Omega 3 Fatty Acids. These fatty acids have been proven to help prevent arthritis and maintain a dog’s skin and coat among a long list of benefits.
If you want more information on minerals for dogs, the American Kennel Club discusses it in its article on how to feed a senior dog.
Senior Dog Food Ingredients
Meat & Fish Ingredients
Meat and Fish ingredients should be at the core of every dog food formula. Moreover, ideally, the meat and fish ingredients should be of a high-quality, and the formula should not contain low-quality meat and fish ingredients like Meat By-products or other unnamed or vague sounding meats.
Poultry meat tends to be high in protein and lower in fat than other types of meats; however, depending on the cuts of poultry meat used, there can still be a significant portion of fat. Poultry meat does contain some vitamins and minerals, but not as many as other meat ingredients. An example of a vitamin abundant in poultry is Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin. Niacin can play a role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels as well as overall heart health.
Another type of meat commonly found in dog food is fish. The most significant advantage of many fish ingredients is the levels of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids that they contain. These Omega Fatty Acids have been proven to provide a range of health benefits such as the improved health of a dog’s skin and coat as well as improved cardiovascular and cognitive function.
The last common type of meat used in pet food is Red Meat. Red meat ingredients such as Beef or Lamb tend to contain a higher proportion of fat than many fish or poultry ingredients. However, this is not a negative trait, as fat is crucial to a dog’s diet. As we mentioned previously, fat is used for many bodily functions and can be burned as a source of energy. Also, red meat contains some minerals that are not abundant in other meats such as Iron and Zinc.
Fruit & Vegetable Ingredients
While vegetables shouldn’t form the core of any dog food, their presence can be beneficial. Fruits and Vegetables can provide four primary types of nutrition: carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While not the preferred source, Carbohydrates act as a simple energy source. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion as it can help keep dogs stool regular and consistent. Finally, vitamins and minerals are crucial for almost all bodily functions as well as overall health.
Legumes are probably the most common type of vegetable found in dog food, especially premium or higher-quality dog food. The most popular legumes used in dog food include Peas, Lentils, Chickpeas, and Beans. Legumes contain a high portion of protein for a vegetable ingredient. Sadly, this is one of the reasons that legumes are so widespread, as they can be used to inflate the overall proportion of protein in a dog food formula. Also, Legumes contain plenty of fiber for digestion and a limited number of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Squash’s such as Butternut Squash or Pumpkin are far less common than other vegetables like legumes, but they still have their place in the dog food world. They are much higher in fiber than other vegetables and so may be perfect for puppies who struggle with their digestion. Also, the range of vitamins and minerals they can provide is vast and can provide noticeable benefits to your puppy’s health. Given the above factors and the carbohydrates they can provide, Squash’s seem like a wonderful addition to dog food, especially senior dog food. Sadly their use fairly limited.
The most common starches used in dog food are Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Tapioca. Starches such as these tend to primarily provide a very dense source of complex carbohydrates. Therefore it is critical that the portion of starches in dog food is not too high or the overall proportion of carbohydrates be excessive. However, Starches do not just provide carbohydrates and can also include a moderate proportion of fiber and some minerals.
The fruit ingredients contained in dog food tend to be in fairly minimal quantities or portions. The small portion sizes are of fruit is as they are included for the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients they provide and not as a source of nutrition like vegetables are. Typical examples of fruit included in dog food are blueberries, apples, cranberries, and pears.
Grains are widely considered to be a low-quality addition to any dog food recipe. They provide a dense source of carbohydrates, which is almost always unneeded or excessive. Also, many dogs suffer from allergies or intolerances related to grains, which can cause rashes, diarrhea, or vomiting.
However, not all grains are as frowned upon as others, and some can be considered acceptable in certain circumstances. The best examples of somewhat acceptable grain ingredients include Brown Rice and Oatmeal. These two ingredients contain a significant portion of fiber and some vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial.
There are some other ingredients included in dog food that does not fall under any of the above categories. Examples of such ingredients can include gum-like substances that are used as binding agents. Another example could be flavorings and preservatives. While many of these ingredients are only present in minimal quantities, some of them are considered far less than favorable and should be avoided if possible.
Best Senior Dog Food
Best Senior Dog Food – All Round Picks
Nulo is an established brand in the pet food world and has a number of product ranges available for dogs of all shapes and sizes. They have a small selection of recipes geared towards senior dogs, including the above mentioned Trout & Sweet Potato formula from their Freestyle range.
While Trout may be the primary ingredient, it isn’t the only nutritious meat or fish ingredient present in this formula. It contains a total of four different sources of meat or fish, including Trout, Turkey, and Salmon. All of these ingredients are highly nutritious and provide valuable protein and fat to help your senior dog maintain their health.
The formula also makes use of many of the more popular and traditional vegetable ingredients in dog food such as Peas, Sweet Potatoes, and Chickpeas. These provide a reasonable proportion of carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
Go! is a relatively new brand but is one that has piqued our interest and, as a consequence, keeps finding its way into our articles. Their recipes are simple and straightforward and have a strong focus on whole meat and fish ingredients, which is ideal for a dog’s diet. They produce a single formula aimed at senior dogs, and it shares many of the great traits of the other formulas they produce that aren’t designed for senior dogs.
A mix of poultry and fish ingredients make up the first five listed ingredients of the recipe. Examples include Chicken, Salmon, and Trout. These ingredients provide a plentiful supply of protein but keep the fat proportion low, which can be beneficial for some senior dogs as they are less active.
The formula also includes a broad range of vegetable and starch ingredients, including Potatoes, Lentils, Tapioca, and Chickpeas. Tapioca is not recognized by many but is common in South America and is similar to Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes. This extensive range of meat, fish, and vegetable ingredients may make this formula unsuitable for those with severe allergies or sensitivities.
Nature’s Variety Instinct features in almost all of our “Best of” articles and for a good reason. A combination of their nutrition, ingredients, and price make Instinct a brand that can not be ruled out in almost all situations. While we usually suggest their Original or Ultimate Protein range, their better known raw products take center stage in this article on senior dog food.
Raw dog food can be intimidating, but you need not worry about Instinct’s raw and semi-raw products. The recipes contain a portion of freeze-dried raw meat that is both highly nutritious and safe for consumption. Just be sure to follow any instructions on the packaging carefully.
Raw Boost With Real Chicken For Senior Dogs is, in fact, Instinct’s only senior dog food product, which may come as a surprise to some. The formula focuses on some of the common poultry and fish ingredients, such as Chicken and Salmon. It also contains Eggs, which very nutritionally dense and are very underutilized in dog food.
Peas, Chickpeas, and Tapioca constitute the vegetable portion of the formula and provide a modest and satisfactory proportion of carbohydrates.
Holistic Select has featured a number of times in some of our more popular and in-depth articles. It will, therefore, come as no surprise that they make another appearance within our senior dog food guide. One of the reasons that Holistic Select features regularly is that it avoids low-quality vegetable by-products like Pea Protein and sticks to a wide range of whole vegetables and fruits.
The above mentioned Senior Health is no exception to this trend and contains a broad range of legumes, such as Chickpeas, as well as less common ingredients like Pumpkin and Cranberries. These ingredients provide generous levels of much-needed vitamins and minerals to keep your aging dog up and running.
In addition to these fruit and vegetable ingredients, Senior Health contains a generous portion of Chicken Meal. While Chicken Meal may not sound like the most appealing ingredient, it is, in fact, just Chicken that has undergone rendering and had the majority of its moisture removed. This lack of moisture means that is very dense in Protein and fat on a gram for gram basis. As we mentioned earlier, high levels of protein can be critical to senior dogs who may struggle to absorb as easily as in their youth.
Merrick is a regular on the shelves of many small chains and independent pet food retailers, and with a large selection of products, there is almost certainly one ideally suited for nearly all dogs. Their grain-free range is probably the most popular and expansive and has formulas that use a wide variety of vegetables, meat, and fish ingredients to match a dog’s interests and tolerances.
Merrick’s Grain-Free Senior formula makes use of Chicken, Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, and Peas and a number of other minor ingredients. These ingredients combine to give a very satisfactory proportion of protein, which is crucial to an aging dog who may struggle to absorb as much as they could in their youth.
Also, this formula is quite low in fat and higher in carbohydrates, which could be seen as an advantage to a senior dog who is less active and wishes to avoid weight loss.
Wellness Core Senior Turkey Recipe Review
Wellness is a reputable brand that has featured on shelves for decades. While some premium brands have moved away from large retail stores or websites, Wellness has stuck around and is readily available. Their Core range is one of their most popular and features a variety of formulas for adult dogs and puppies.
Their Senior Formula maintains this high standard and does not choose to significantly reduce its protein proportion, like many other senior recipes tend to. A range of poultry ingredients makes up the bulk of the recipe, including Turkey, Chicken Meal, and Turkey Meal.
Chicken Fat is also present, which is being increasingly used to improve the flavor and palatability of dog food recipes. Find out more about Chicken Fat in our article, Chicken Fat In Dog Food.
The portion of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids is very satisfactory in this formula, considering it does not contain any fish ingredients. The level present could provide a noticeable improvement to your dog’s skin and coat.
These poultry ingredients are joined by a mix of starch and legume ingredients such as Dried Potatoes, Lentils, and Peas. While we don’t’ consider Dried Potatoes to be an ideal ingredient, they are tolerable and preferable to low-quality fillers.
Best Senior Dog Food – Value Picks
American Journey Chicken & Sweet Potato Senior Recipe Review
American Journey is a brand owned by the online pet food distributor Chewy and is only available from their website. American Journey doubles up on the low cost of shipping offered by Chewy by also making the formulas they produce very affordable. The brand produces a moderately sized range of products, including dog treats, dry dog food, wet dog food, and limited ingredient dog food.
American Journey produces two senior dog food recipes, Chicken & Sweet Potato and Chicken & Brown Rice. We prefer the Chicken & Sweet Potato recipe as we believe it can provide a senior dog with superior nutrition. This nutrition is thanks to a large portion of poultry ingredients such as Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Turkey Meal.
These are joined by a mix of legumes and starch ingredients, including Sweet Potatoes, Peas, and Chickpeas. These provide carbohydrates and some dietary fiber.
Some American Journey recipes include Pea by-products like Pea Protein. Pea Protein is considered to be a lower-quality ingredient and can inflate the overall proportion of protein in dog food. Thankfully this senior recipe from American Journey is free from these by-products.
For many dog owners, the above-suggested brands and recipes are simply unaffordable. Sadly this means that these owners have to make tough decisions when it comes to their dog’s nutrition. However, that does not mean that they need to rely on junk grocery store brands packed with cheap fillers that can cause mayhem on their dog’s health.
One acceptable option is a formula from Victor. It makes use of a variety of meat and fish ingredients such as Beef, Chicken, and Menhaden Fish. These provide a satisfactory proportion of protein, which is crucial to your senior dog’s health. However, the formula does make use of some whole-grain ingredients, which are often shunned and looked down upon.
But, the two whole-grain ingredients that this formula does use are Brown Rice and Millet, which are considered some of the better grain ingredients and far superior to others such as Corn or Wheat. The formula also includes some other more traditional vegetable ingredients, such as Peas.
The primary reason this formula could be suitable to those on a budget is that you can purchase the formula in substantial quantities, such as a 40lb bag. Buying in bulk like this can have a significant impact on cost over the long term and is an intelligent approach.
If you are interested in learning more about affordable dog food and which lower-cost recipes could suit senior dogs, check out our Best Cheap Dog Food guide.
Best Senior Dog Food – Premium Picks
A premium section would not be complete without a recipe from Orijen. While Orijen’s sister brand Acana does not currently produce any senior dog food formulas, Orijen produces a single all-purpose formula for older dogs.
Orijen Senior Dog shares many similarities with their Puppy and Original formulas, which could allow you to seamlessly transition between them as your dog ages without having to introduce an unfamiliar formula and risk an adverse reaction.
The similarities include the range of meat and fish ingredients it contains alongside a vast array of fruits and vegetables. Examples include Chicken, Flounder, Turkey, Lentils, and Pumpkin. The huge range of ingredients used in all of Orijen’s formulas combine to provide fantastic nutrition and could fuel even the most active and energetic of dogs.