Senior Whippet with Aztec scarf around neck, standing in a grass with his tongue out

Senior Dog Food: An Interview with Veterinarian Dr. Maryanne Murphy

At some point, every animal becomes a senior. As much as we wish it wasn’t, getting old is inevitable for everyone. As a dog reaches senior age, their needs begin to change a bit. These needs may also include changes in what they eat. We sat down with Dr. Maryanne Murphy, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and associate professor from the University of Tennessee, to get the scoop on senior dogs and a professional perspective on what they should be eating.

Do all senior dogs need to be on a specialty senior diet?

Dr. Murphy: “Senior diets are rarely different from a regular adult maintenance diet. Senior diets are more about how the diet is marketed. There are no industry regulations or standards for senior specific diets and are a very debatable topic. Ultimately, senior dogs do not NEED to be on a senior diet.”

What are some ingredients that are beneficial for a senior dog?

Dr. Murphy: “It’s actually more important to think about what nutrients are beneficial 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.”

Senior pointer Sisters, almost 13 years old standing in front of brown backdrop

What are some supplements that are beneficial for senior dogs?

Dr. Murphy: “Glucosamine and chondroitin can be beneficial for those senior animals that experience joint pain. Supplements like these are chondroprotective and work synergistically with the joint. However, joint supplements are more protective than long term.”

Can senior dogs eat “all life stage” diets?

Dr. Murphy: “Yes, although all life stage diets include the puppy stage. Diets that meet regulations for puppies may be too high in certain nutrients for senior dogs. An adult maintenance diet may be better.”

What are some signs of aging in senior dogs?

Dr. Murphy: “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.”

Black long haired dog sitting in a tire bed, posting for a portrait inside a living room

What are some of the most common health complications with senior dogs?

Dr. Murphy: “It is important to differentiate between senior dogs and geriatric dogs when it comes to major health problems. Geriatric dogs are much more likely to develop serious health problems. The most common health problems in senior dogs are orthopaedic problems, increased subcutaneous masses and obesity.”

Do different breeds of dogs age differently?

Dr. Murphy: “Yes, this has more to do with size rather than breed. Small and large breed dogs age differently. Small dogs are more likely to live longer.”

Does a large senior dog need a diet that's different from a small senior dog?

Dr. Murphy: “Not necessarily. Diet should be tailored to a specific dog’s needs. As is the case with any life stage, size or breed of dog.”


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