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Best food for senior dogs

Senior dogs are some of the sweetest animals out there and they deserve to be fed like kings and queens during their golden years. As a dog reaches senior age, their needs begin to change a bit. These needs may also include changes in what they eat. 

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO), there are no differences between the nutritional requirements of adult dogs and senior dogs. If dogs don’t require a special diet as they age, then why is senior dog food so readily advertised to pet parents?

When does a dog reach senior age?

Dogs come in a variety of sizes and their size is directly correlated to their longevity and entrance into seniority. Generally large breed dogs age more rapidly than small breeds. While breed and genetic predisposition may play a factor in when a dog becomes a senior, small breed dogs generally enter seniorhood at age 10, while large and giant breed dogs enter seniorhood earlier at ages 8 and 6 respectively.

Illustration of Chihuahua, Golden Retriever and Great Dane

As your dog gets older, you will likely see changes in their behavior and physical appearance. Most signs of aging are from a mobility standpoint, such as slow, stiff movements or not wanting to go for long walks. Some other signs of aging in dogs are a change in cognitive function or changes in body condition score/loss of muscle mass.

What makes senior dog food different?

Pet stores and big box stores carry a wide variety of pet food for an array of life stages. From puppyhood to adulthood to seniorhood, you’re sure to find a “specialty” diet marketed to your dog. While senior dogs do not necessarily have different nutrient requirements from other mature or adult dogs, they do benefit from a quality, well balanced meal. Afterall, happy tummies are the result of a healthy meal!

Easily digestible

All dogs experience some tummy troubles at some point in their life. It seems that GI turbulence only increases in frequency as dogs get older. You may notice your dog having an upset stomach if they are vomiting, have diarrhea or even if they are just gasy. A highly digestible meal can help with this. As dogs get older, they may have a little more trouble digesting certain foods. It’s important to choose a diet for your dog that is highly digestible and is free of fillers, by-products, nutritional additives and chemicals like BHA and ethoxyquin. 

Protein is so important for dogs and not all protein ingredients are created equal. Certain protein ingredients are much more digestible than others. Avoid diets that have ingredients like “meat by-product meal” or “corn gluten meal”. By-product meals contain more than just animal meat, they are chock full of indigestible by-products like cartilage, bone and feathers. As you can imagine, these ingredients are hard on your dog’s digestive system and can result in an upset tummy.

A few great ingredients to look for that are digestible for senior dogs are potatoes, white rice, squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes. Also consider recipes that promote the inclusion of quality animal ingredients and whole meats like chicken, lamb, salmon and turkey. 

Foods with a high moisture content, like gently cooked fresh dog food, are also much more digestible to dogs than dry food or kibble. The extra moisture makes it easier for dogs to break down their food as well as making nutrients more bioavailable and easy to absorb. Not only is the extra water in high moisture foods beneficial for digestibility but it is also good for keeping your dog hydrated!

Senior Black Labrador with white hair around face sitting in the sun

Supplements

It’s no secret to any of us that as we age, our bodies start to slow down and joints become stiff. This is true of senior animals, as arthritis is not uncommon in dogs. Throughout the aging process, cartilage and connective tissue begins to wear and break down, causing inflammation, pain and swelling in the joints. You may start noticing that your dog isn’t quite as active as they once were and their mobility may be limited.

Joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) can go a long way in alleviating pain and loosening up those old, creaky joints. Certain pet foods are actually formulated to include these joint supplements and can simply be fed to your dog in their regular meal. By ensuring that your dog’s food is supplemented with natural joint supplements, you will likely see a positive change in their activity level and improvements in their joint health.

Low calorie

Unwanted weight gain is a trigger for many of us to become self conscious. For senior dogs, weight gain is much more serious than simply a body image issue. Senior dogs have a tendency to gain weight as their metabolism begins to slow and daily exercise shortens. As a result of a lower activity level, senior animals are much more likely to gain weight than younger dogs. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is extremely important as the extra pounds can be very hard on your pooch’s joints, as well as a precursor for more serious and potentially life threatening diseases.

To avoid any unwanted weight gain, look for low calorie and low fat diets. It is also important that you portion out your dog’s food correctly. Overfeeding is one of the main reasons that dogs become overweight. Ensure that you’re feeding your senior pup according to their daily calorie requirements. If you’re unsure of how to correctly portion your dog’s food, check out Monch Bar’s article on how to feed your dog according to their calorie requirements.

Senior Beagle laying head on owners lap

Antioxidants

You’ve probably heard of the term inflammation and you might even have a general idea of what it is. But did you know that inflammation is something that everyone, including our dogs, struggle with to some degree? Inflammation is the result of oxidative damage from free radicals or reactive oxygen species. There are a number of other diseases and medical conditions that can stem from chronic inflammation, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease and heart disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Neurological disease
  • Crohn's disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Coeliac disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Kidney disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s

Certain foods can actually make inflammation worse. Carbohydrate sugars and trans fats are the biggest nutritional inflammatory aggregators. Their metabolism triggers the production of free radicals, which are the main factors responsible for oxidation and inflammation of tissues.

Reducing inflammation is all about choosing the right ingredients. While it may be best to avoid high fat foods when it comes to inflammation, not all fats are bad. Omega 3 fatty acids come from a class of polyunsaturated lipids that are extremely important for metabolism and daily physiological processes. Omega 3 fatty acids have been scientifically shown to reduce inflammation by increasing inflammatory mediators. These amazing omega 3s can be found in ingredients like fish oil, flax seed, and salmon. By feeding your senior dog food with omega 3s, you will also be able to see a positive change in your dog’s skin, coat and nails!

Furthermore, carbohydrate sources that are high in resistant starch (or fibre), rather than available starch can greatly lower absorption of sugars and improve digestive health. Not only does fibre help lower inflammation but it also helps prevent unwanted weight gain and sweeps out bad bacteria and pathogens from the digestive tract. Below are some examples of good and bad carbohydrates with respect to available sugars and inflammation.

Lastly, antioxidants are a dietary superhero in the fight against inflammation. While antioxidants are beneficial in reducing inflammation, they are best utilized as a preventative measure. This is because antioxidants reduce and repair the damage inflicted by free radicals before a severe inflammatory reaction even occurs. 

Some foods that are high in antioxidants are:

  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Kale/spinach
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Chicory root
  • And many more!
White Samoyed with paws up on the counter filled with fruits and vegetables

Do you have to switch your dog to senior food?

The financial cost of caring for a senior dog is considerable so why pay extra for senior dog food if you don’t have to? Commercial senior diets are rarely different from regular adult dog food. Senior diets are more about how the diet is marketed rather than a true life stage transition. 

There are no industry regulations or standards for senior specific diets and it is a very debatable topic. As it stands, AAFCO states that senior dog nutritional requirements do not differ from those of other adult dogs. Ultimately, senior dogs do not NEED to be on a specific senior diet.

It’s actually more important to think about what nutrients are beneficial for senior dogs rather than which ingredients are important. Nutrients like polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega 3s) and antioxidants are great for senior dogs as they can often help with inflammation and joint pain. However, these nutrients can also be beneficial across all life stages and can also be found in diets that are not senior dog specific.

It may be beneficial to avoid dog food that is specified for puppies. While it contains all of the nutrients that senior dogs need, puppy food is formulated for growth and is higher in fat and calories than adult dog food or dog food formulated for all life stages. Calorie dense diets, such as those formulated for puppies, can contribute to the weight gain problem in senior dogs.

Senior black dog smiling at camera laying in bed

How to choose the best food for your senior dog

Since senior dogs do not necessarily need to be fed a senior-specific diet, start feeding your dog a healthy, digestible food from a young age. This will set them up for success as they mature into their old age. Feeding your dog a digestible meal with healthy ingredients like whole meats, fruits and veggies may help to prevent age related diseases like cancer, heart disease or joint degeneration.

Kabo is a top pick for senior dogs

Kabo recipes contain all of the elements of the perfect senior diet. All ingredients in our fresh food recipes are human grade and sourced from reputable suppliers, so you can rest assured that your pup is getting the best possible quality in their food.

Kabo is perfect for senior dogs as it is highly digestible not only in the ingredients we use but also the gently cooked product form, which preserves essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Another great benefit of feeding fresh cooked food to your senior dog is that it’s soft. Older dogs often have dental issues and need teeth pulled. Fresh cooked food is easy enough for even the most toothless doggos to eat.

We also use only whole meats (no by-product meals) like fresh chicken, beef, deboned turkey and lamb which are tasty and easy for elderly tummies to digest! High quality meats mean that your pup has better poops and a happier tummy. Our diets are also packed with antioxidants from fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, green beans, kale, spinach and blueberries, which are also a great natural source of vitamins and minerals.

Kabo Savoury Beef fresh dog food

One factor that really sets Kabo apart from your standard pet store food is that your dog’s food is tailor portioned specifically for their calorie needs. Neatly packaged and delivered straight to your door, you can always rest assured that your senior pup is getting the exact nutrients they need and that they are not being overfed. No need to worry about senior weight gain with Kabo!

If you have a senior pup, consider feeding them a fresh cooked meal. It will provide them with superior nutrition that will prevent health problems and may even help extend their life. Remember that not a pet food is created equal and by feeding your dog healthy food, you are setting them up for a happy, healthy life!

Senior dog eating canned food from a spoon
Senior dog eating canned food from a spoon

View Sources

Dzanis, David A. "The Association of American Feed Control Officials dog and cat food nutrient profiles: Substantiation of nutritional adequacy of complete and balanced pet foods in the United States." The Journal of nutrition 124, no. suppl_12 (1994): 2535S-2539S.

Silva, José Rómulo, and Enrique Castells. Key Concepts in Senior Dog Care. Grupo Asís Biomedia SL, 2021.

Beynen, A. C. Phosphorus in senior dog food.

Hutchinson, Dana, Lisa M. Freeman, Karen E. Schreiner, and Dawn Geronimo Terkla. "Survey of Opinions About Nutritional Requirements of Senior Dogs and Analysis of Nutrient Profiles of Commercially Available Diets for Senior Dogs." International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine 9, no. 1 (2011).

Kelly, Rachel Elizabeth. Feeding the modern dog: an examination of the history of the commercial dog food industry and popular perceptions of canine dietary patterns. Michigan State University, Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, 2012.

Watson, A. G., H. E. Evans, and A. De Lahunta. "Gross morphology of the composite occipito‐atlas‐axis joint cavity in the dog." Anatomia, histologia, embryologia 15, no. 2 (1986): 139-146.

Morgan, Joe P., Alida Wind, Autumn P. Davidson, and Lars Audell. Hereditary bone and joint diseases in the dog: osteochondroses, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia. Schlütersche, 2000.

Packer, R. M. A., I. J. Seath, D. G. O’Neill, S. De Decker, and H. A. Volk. "DachsLife 2015: an investigation of lifestyle associations with the risk of intervertebral disc disease in Dachshunds." Canine genetics and epidemiology 3, no. 1 (2016): 8.

Setnikar, I., C. Giacchetti, and G. Zanolo. "Pharmacokinetics of glucosamine in the dog and in man." Arzneimittel-Forschung 36, no. 4 (1986): 729-735.

Adebowale, Abi, Jianpin Du, Zhonming Liang, James L. Leslie, and Natalie D. Eddington. "The bioavailability and pharmacokinetics of glucosamine hydrochloride and low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate after single and multiple doses to beagle dogs." Biopharmaceutics & drug disposition 23, no. 6 (2002): 217-225.

Canapp Jr, S. O., R. M. McLaughlin Jr, J. J. Hoskinson, J. K. Roush, and M. D. Butine. "Scintigraphic evaluation of dogs with acute synovitis after treatment with glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate." American journal of veterinary research 60, no. 12 (1999): 1552-1557.

Herschler, Robert J. "Methylsulfonylmethane and methods of use." U.S. Patent 4,296,130, issued October 20, 1981.

Donato, Lisa J. "An Integrated Conventional and TCVM Approach to the Treatment of Suspected Cervical Disc Disease in a Weimaraner Dog.

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