As dogs age, their individual body systems start to slow down. The digestive capacity of a 2 year old boxer will be a lot faster and more efficient than that of a 12 year old. An older dog has decreased respiratory capacity and immune function, slower recovery from injury and reduced muscle mass. Just like in humans, each canine system also slows down and contributes to the general ‘winding down’ process. As owners, we can do a lot to slow down these processes in our furry friends. By altering the pet’s diet and environment we can prevent premature degeneration of the systems. A dog who eats a diet deficient in vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fatty acids and minerals will suffer a more rapid degeneration than one eating a diet rich in these nutrients. With this in mind, let us study senior dog food vs regular and the best dog food for senior dogs small and large breeds.
Is there such a thing as senior dog food brand?
Different dog breeds age differently. For example, a Great Pyrenees at age 7, will be considered geriatric but a Shih Tzu at the same age will be considered in its prime. The bigger the dog, the shorter is its lifespan. Older dogs burn fewer calories than they did in their younger years. They are also prone to diseases like cancer, heart disease, kidney and liver failure etc. In short, no dog dies of old age-there is always a diseased organ involved. The most common cause of death in many aging dogs is feeding too much. Thinner dogs are less likely to develop osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia. Today, pet stores are filled with so called ‘senior dog foods’. However, many of these foods are not manufactured scientifically. Some even contain tons of sodium which can aggravate heart disease. Likewise, dogs with kidney disease should not be fed food containing too much protein and phosphorus as these tend to strain the kidneys even more.
Bottom line-the term senior dog food means nothing. It just means whatever the manufacturer wants it to mean.
What to look for in senior dog food?
When you read the labels on best senior dog food brands here are the things to consider:
- Is the food complete and balanced?
- Has the food been tested on dogs through feeding trials?
- Is the food is appropriate for maintenance as opposed to gestation or lactation or growth foods for puppies?
There is a body called Association of American Feed Control Officials which regulates the production, labeling and distribution and sales of animal food. A good senior dog food brand will state that it is ‘complete and balanced nutrition’ and also for ‘maintenance’. Look out for these terms when selecting best senior dog food for small breeds or large breed dogs.
Other things to look for when choosing best senior dog food large breed or small breeds:
- Does the brand employ its full time nutritionist who formulates the food and monitors feeding trials?
- Do they continually research to improve line of foods with pet health in mind?
- Does the brand have their own manufacturing facility
- Do they have good internal quality control standards.
Dry or wet food for senior dogs
- Dry or wet does not matter-feed what your dog likes and is comfortable eating.
- In most cases, dry food is cheaper but cheaper can also mean inferior. So learn to read food labels.
- Dry dog food is sometimes better for dog’s teeth as it helps remove tartar although you must still brush his teeth daily/weekly.
- If your senior dog has dental issues, mix the food with moist food or grind it a bit.
Raw food-should you feed your senior dog raw food?
The option about this are divided. Many vets are against feeding raw food –to young or old dogs. Many claim to have seen cases of dogs coming in with bones stuck in their esophagus, needing emergency surgery. Some dogs have reportedly fractured their teeth while eating raw meat on bones. Cases of damaged GT tracts owing to raw food are also reported. Uncooked food also contains bacteria and can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. Bottom line: be careful when it comes to feeding raw food especially if your dog is not used to it. Follow strict standards of hygiene. Read more about raw dog food diet here.
Meat free/vegetarian diets for dogs
Dogs need meat. Period. There is no need to deprive your aging dog of meat.
Home cooked food
Home cooked food is great for senior dogs but can still be nutritionally deficit. Talk to your vet about the best home-cooked meals and right ingredients for your aging buddy. Most vets however recommend buying your dog’s food from best dog food brands for senior dogs.
Always provide water
Irrespective of what you feed your pet, always provide fresh clean drinking water. Change the water daily and wash all the bowls before use. Use multiple bowls if you have multiple dogs. Dogs on medication for kidney stones, heart disease, bladder infections etc need to urinate more so they need to drink more.
Supplements for older dogs
Your senior dog needs 3 supplements:
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids
Many dog foods for senior dogs contain these nutrients. Talk to your vet if additional supplementation is necessary.
Focus on keeping dog’s weight stable
More the pounds your dog carries, greater is his/her risk to developing diseases. Also, weight gain exacerbates many conditions like arthritis and heart disease. Ensure that there is no underlying disease like hypothyroidism in dogs that can cause unexplained weight gain. If all test reports are normal, you might simply need to change your pet’s diet and/or something in the dogs environment.
- Avoid table scraps and treats
- If you wish to treat, feed non starchy vegetables like carrots or beans
- Feed low calorie food.
- Exercise the dog twice a day or as per his health.
Your vet can recommend the right calories based on your dog’s weight and also recommend the best senior dog food accordingly. Many owners happily report that their senior dog is “like a puppy again” just by dropping a few pounds.
Diseased senior dogs
If disease does strike, you need to switch dog food based on vet’s recommendation. Only 4 companies make therapeutic dog food available by prescription: IAMS, HILL’s, PURINA and Royal Canin. A dog with advanced kidney disease will need protein restriction. Likewise, based on the degree of heart disease severity, your older dog may need mild, moderate or severe sodium restriction.
Feeding senior dogs with no appetite
- Hide regular food in treats jar. Dogs often believe treats are better than their regular food.
- Try feeding your pet from your special plates-they feel part of the pack.
- Keep your dog’s bowl near your dining area. Feed him/her immediately after you have eaten.
- Get him examined to ensure there is no underlying cause behind reduced appetite.
Best dog food for senior dogs large breed
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula
This food for adult, senior large breed dogs comes in flavors like chicken with brown rice, fish with brown rice, oatmeal and fish etc. Nearly 5000 users have given this dog food 4 star rated positive reviews. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin for better joint health. Lean protein is ideal for aging muscles and an optimum balance of omega 3 and 6 gives a healthy coat. It is perfect for dogs having skin issues and allergies.
Canidae All Life Stages Dog Dry Food
If you have multiple dogs of varying ages, this may be the solution for you. Mealtimes will be a lot easier-whether you have a Mastiff or a Chihuahua. This is the only bag you need. It contains chicken, barley, brown and white rice, and is fortified with glucosamine and chondroitin. Probiotics support healthy digestion, while the omega 3 and 6 help add shine to your pet’s coat.
Best Small Breed Senior Dog Food
Hill’s Science Diet Senior Dog Food Small Breed
This is one of the best, Vet recommended dry dog food for small breeds in their senior years. Many people have switched their pets to this with excellent results. If your toy breed has tummy issues, this is the food for her! Dogs with allergies will particularly benefit from this grain free and allergen free formula. Yes it is expensive but at least you won’t be dealing with diarrhea or wet stools. Dogs love this food and eat it without fuss!
We hope this brief guide helps you choose the best food for your senior dog.