It doesn’t matter how your dog came into your life, whether you got them as a puppy from a breeder or if you rescued them from a shelter, you don’t think of your dog as just a pet. You probably think of them as an important part of the family. They don’t call them man’s best friend for nothing after all!
We already know how important it is that we give our dogs the best care that we can by making sure they get plenty of exercise and regular vet visits, but we may not truly understand how important our dog’s food is to their health—especially if you have an elderly dog.
In this article, we are going to cover a lot of ground when it comes to what a dog should be eating as they get older. Senior dog food is just as important to your elderly dog’s health as exercise and visits to the vet.
Without further ado, let’s get right to it!
Dog Food For The Different Life Stages
Like people, dogs will go through various life stages that will require different nutritional needs. Of course, not only does their life stage play a role in what kind of food they should eat, but you also will want to take into consideration your dog’s activity level because that can play a role in what you feed them as well.
In this section, we’ve broken down the different stages of a dog’s life to give you some guidance on how to feed them for that stage.
If you have a puppy, you are going to go through a lot of food because they require a larger amount of food, but that amount of food is going to be spread out in smaller meals throughout the day. Ideally, you’ll want to feed your puppy at least four times a day until they are 4-months old. Then you can drop it down to three times a day until they are 6-months old.
Then once they hit adulthood, they can be fed twice a day.
The thing to remember here is that puppies will mature at different ages depending on their breed. Here’s a generalized time frame when you can expect your puppy to hit maturity:
6 to 12 months
6 to 12 months
10 to 16 months
up to 2 years
We don’t recommend that you forego the feeding times and just leave a bowl full of food out for your puppy to graze on throughout the day, as your puppy could scarf it all down and make himself sick!
It is recommended that when your dog hits adulthood, you feed them two times a day. The amount of food you give them should be the same at each feeding, which should be separated by at least 8 hours. Adult dogs need a calorie rich food because they use a lot of energy, but the calories help repair and maintain their bodies.
If your dog is highly active, you should feed them somewhere between 20% to 40% more calories than a dog who is the same size but is only moderately active. If your dog is more sedentary, you can get away with giving them 10% less calories than your moderately active pooch.
If you’re wondering at what age is a dog considered a senior, you aren’t the only one because not all dogs are going to reach this stage at the same time. Like other life stages, each dog is going to have to be treated as an individual rather than base it on their breed. Meaning you will have to take into consideration their activity level as well as their age. Here’s an estimate of when a dog is a senior:
Less than 20 pounds
21 to 50 pounds
51 to 90 pounds
91 pounds and up
When your dog reaches the later stage of life, your dog is going to need food that is higher in quality and protein that is easier to digest. These foods are crucial for maintaining good muscle mass. While there isn’t a specific guidelines for senior dog diets, they may have specific dietary needs like arthritis or diabetes.
Special Dietary Needs For Elderly Dogs
Typically, senior dog food is formulated with less calories to help fight obesity. Mark Nunez, a veterinarian and former president of the California Veterinary Medical Association says, “Probably the most important thing for a geriatric dog is that their energy requirement gets lower.”
Also, many senior dry dog food brands will make their food with more fiber to help improve the dog’s gastrointestinal health.
It isn’t uncommon that you’ll find folks with several dogs who vary in age will prefer to buy only one type of dog food. For this reason, you can find good that is labeled “multi-stage.” This kind of food is okay to feed your dogs, no matter what stage of life they are in. “
You make some compromises when you do the ‘multi-stage’ diets,” Nunez says. “So they’re my second choice. But some people just can’t separate the foods. The puppy will get into the senior diet, and the senior dog will get into the puppy food.”
What Kind Of Health Problems Can Affect Senior Dog Diets
Should your dog have medical problems in the later stage of life, you can’t rely on just any dog food for older dogs. It’s recommended that you consult a veterinarian or a nutritionist that specializes in dogs diets. With their help, you can create a meal plan that is going to help their conditions, be it diabetes, kidney failure, or even liver disease—all of which require special attention.
If your dog has heart disease, they will need a low calorie elderly dog food, as it will help keep their weight down. With a dog that is a diabetic, a diabetic diet will delay the absorption of the dog food, which makes the dog’s blood sugar rise slower than, say a high calorie dog food for senior dogs.
If your dog is a diabetic, look for low-fat, high fiber senior dog food. If your dog has constipation problems, those high fiber dog foods will help relieve the constipation.
6 Signs To Know When To Switch To A Senior Dog Food
Trying to decide when you should change from an adult dog food to a senior dog food can be a painstaking process simply because there are so many options available on the market. For that very reason, many dog owners will continue giving their dogs the same food throughout the rest of their dog’s life.
We know that when a dog is a senior, they are going to have specific dietary needs. So, how do you know when to switch food? Here are six signs that will indicate when you should consider switching food.
- Dull, Flaky Coat – When your dog has a diet that is rich with essential fatty acids, their coat and skin are going to healthy. Their skin will be moisturized and their fur will be soft. If your dog’s coat isn’t like this, look for a dog food that has both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in it.
- Weak or Lethargic - If your dog went through something stressful like an illness, injury, or even surgery, they are going to be under the weather and worn down. A diet that has high levels of antioxidants can help boost your dog’s immune system and accelerate your dog’s recovery time. However, if your dog suddenly becomes weak or lethargic for no reason (read: no stressful event has occurred), you’ll want to consult their veterinarian before you switch dog foods.
- “Senioritis” – Depending on the breed and the size of your dog, they will hit the senior stage somewhere between 5 to 7 years old. An elderly dog food is going to be lower in calories, high in fiber, and have supplements added to give joint support and antioxidants for immune support.
- Thick Midsection – Dogs can gain weight around their middles pretty quickly, especially if they are a small dog. If your elderly dog needs to lose a few pounds, you will want to look for a senior dog food that is designed for weight loss, but make sure that it has enough of the essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals to keep them healthy. These particular diets use the latest research of pet weight management so that your dog will be able to achieve a healthier weight in no time. If your dog is obese, you will want to consult your vet for a solution, as a simple food change may not do the trick.
- Gastrointestinal Problems - If your dog constantly has bad gas, loose stool, and grumbly bellies, then it is a clear sign of one or two things: either they aren’t able to tolerate the dog food you’ve been giving them, or if you switched foods, the quality isn’t that great. A gastrointestinal problem can be an inconvenience for pet owners, but it causes discomfort in your pet and you’ll want to remedy it as soon as you can. Consult your vet to see what you can do to help relieve your dog’s discomfort—sometimes it really is as easy as changing dog foods.
- Itching – It isn’t uncommon for dogs to experience allergies and more often than not, the type of dog food you feed them is the cause. Whatever the cause may be, if your dog has allergies, they will benefit from eating a low-allergen diet. This diet takes out the possible allergens they are exposed to. Your vet can recommend a specialized diet that requires a prescription, or they can suggest a dog food designed for sensitive skin.
The Best Senior Dog Food Ingredients To Look For
Looking for a senior dog food that is going to be able to provide your elderly best friend with the nutrition they need may seem like it is as simple as picking up any old bag that you see. Unfortunately, you can’t do this because older dogs tend to have special dietary needs that usually aren’t addressed in your average dog food.
Not only do you want to consider their dietary needs, but you are also going to want to think about the amount of activity they get each day and their weight.
When you’re browsing the dog food aisle, here are the ingredients that you want to make sure are at the top of the ingredient list:
Named Sources Of Protein
It’s best to see named sources of protein rather than generic terms like “meat meal” or “poultry fat.” Who knows what dog food manufacturers consider food-grade meat or poultry!
While meals and fats are great sources of protein (although they may not sound appetizing to people), you want to make sure there’s whole meat products in the food as well.
Unprocessed Whole Grains And Vegetables
When food is processed, it loses much of the nutritional value that you want your dog to have. With only three primary types of ingredients that you should be looking for in the dog food’s ingredient list, it sounds simple enough, right?
That would be the case, except dog food companies are about making a profit and they will include less than wholesome ingredients in your dog’s food. Because of this, here are the ingredients that you’ll want to avoid.
By-products are the refuse that’s left on the slaughterhouse floor. This includes things like hooves, tails, snouts, beaks, and unfertilized eggs.
Unnamed Fat Source
If a dog food says “fats,” and nothing more, those fats could be anything from a combination of animal fat to even recycled grease from a local restaurant.
Any Artificial Additives
There shouldn’t be anything artificial ingredients in your dog’s food. This means artificial color, flavor, or preservatives. These are all chemicals and frankly, your dog doesn’t care about the color of the “peas” or “carrots” and the food should have plenty of flavor from the natural ingredients!
As for the artificial preservatives, these chemicals allow you to buy more food and it won’t go bad, but there are natural preservatives that will keep the food good, just not for months on end. Natural preservatives include tocopherols (they are compounds typically found in Vitamin E), vitamin C, and even rosemary extract.
Just like us, our dogs have a hankering for sweets. And just like us, you should avoid giving your dog any sort of sweetener, as it could make them sick (or sicker!) Dog food manufacturers use these sweeteners to entice your dog to eat more of the food. So while you think your dog enjoys the taste of the food, they are actually enjoying the sweeteners.
Other ingredients that will be beneficial for older dogs include:
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin – These supplements are going to help your senior dog move around more because they help support healthy joints.
- Antioxidants – Older dogs will benefit from the added support to their immune system that antioxidants can give.
- Lower Amounts of Phosphorus and Sodium – Low amounts of phosphorus can help keep your dog’s kidneys working, and lower levels of sodium can keep your dog’s blood pressure at a normal level.
- Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids – These oils can help decrease inflammation and also support kidney health.
- Extra Fiber – Older dogs sometimes has problems with constipation. You can help relieve those problems by feeding them a dog food that is high in fiber. Of course, you don’t want to give them too much fiber because that can be problematic too. If the constipation isn’t a constant problem, you can increase the amount of exercise your dog gets. When they do have a problem, add some extra fiber (like canned pumpkin puree, for example) to their food, which will loosen them up considerably.
Caring for your elderly dog isn’t something that you should put on the back burner. Your dog has been a loyal companion for many years and you’ll want to make sure they are eating food that is going to help them stay healthy and active. You might be wondering when is a dog a senior, and the best rule of thumb to go on is when they’ve reached half of the breed’s life expectancy.
This means if your breed is supposed to live for 16 years, then they become a senior at 8 years old. This is the time when you will want to consider switching from an adult food to a senior food. The formula in a senior dog is going to help your dog maintain a healthy weight, stave off typical health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure and allergies.
But not only will the food help them avoid those health problems, but the dog food will also help them have energy so they can keep being the fun loving pups they used to be.