Editor's Note: This is a guest post on the Grey Matters Blog and not written by anyone affiliated with Grey Muzzle. We allow guest contributors from time to time in order to provide our supporters with a wide range of topics pertaining to senior dogs.
As our dogs get older and enter their senior years, their bodies change. Their activity levels may drop and new health issues may pop up. One of the key pillars of health is diet - what we feed our dogs is important. So do we need to feed our dogs “senior dog food” to keep them healthy? Is it worth switching them to a different dog food if they’re already eating “adult dog food”? These are the questions we’ll try to answer by comparing senior dog food against other dog food lifestages.What is Senior Dog Food?
Many dog food companies create dog foods with “senior” in the name, or labeled for the “senior” lifestage. It might surprise you to learn that there are no standards for what makes a “senior” dog food. The AAFCO has no “senior” lifestage guidance for dog food nutrients, so every manufacturer can create any formulas they want to market as a senior dog food.
This is the first important thing to remember. Senior dog food may be marketed as a better diet for older dogs, but there’s no agreed upon standards for that actually being the case. As a result, you shouldn’t feel that you need to feed your dog a senior dog food or that you need to switch them from an adult dog food as they get older on the basis of age alone.How Is Senior Dog Food Different?
Keeping in mind that senior dog food doesn’t need to be any different from other dog foods, there actually are some minor differences and trends that you can pick out when looking at thousands of dog foods.
Senior Dog Food Nutrition
Senior dog foods do have some differences from those labeled as Adult and Puppy formulas when it comes to nutrition composition. On average, senior dog foods have less protein, less fats, and higher carbohydrates than adult and puppy diets.
This may or may not be a good thing for your pet. Typically, higher carbohydrates and less fat isn’t a good thing and may be an indication of a cheaper dog food that uses more fillers. When it comes to senior diets however, this may be intentional as many senior diets are based on weight-management.
As pets age, some may put on weight as they’re less active which can be a big detriment to their overall well-being. Obese pets are more likely to have arthritis and shorter lifespans. Some senior formulas try to have less fat and less calories to help manage weight. This can be seen by looking at the average calories across lifestage formulas. Senior dog foods have less calories per cup than other dog foods, on average.
While weight management dog foods can be useful, they’re not really necessary. You can make some easy changes to how you feed your dog to manage their weight better.
Give no human foods except low calorie options like carrots
Don’t let your dog “free feed” throughout the day. Give them 2-3 meals with measured portions.
Slowless reduce their feeding portions by ¼ cup at a time. Give at least a month to see the impact on their weight to see where it stabilizes.
If your dog seems dissatisfied with the reduction in food, you may talk to your vet about a weight management dog food that could help them feel fuller while eating less calories.
Other Health Concerns for Older Dogs
While the makeup of the dog food itself typically isn’t a reason to switch to a senior dog food, there are other cases where it makes sense. If your dog has joint issues, your vet may recommend a dog food with added glucosamine, which many senior dog foods have. This can help alleviate pain and let your dog get around easier if they’re arthritic. You can also buy glucosamine supplements and feed in addition to your current dog food.
As your dog ages they may lose fur or develop strange skin issues they never had in the past. Your vet may recommend dog food with higher fat content (specifically Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats). You can also get these beneficial fats through fish oil supplements that are widely available. Most dogs love the taste!
If your dog has dental issues, then you may want to get away from dry kibble altogether. You can switch to a softer dog food such as wet canned dog food or fresh delivered dog food, both of which have a lot more moisture. This lets your dog comfortably eat even with missing teeth or sensitive gums.
One other common medical reason to switch your dog’s food as they age is if they have kidney issues. This would be diagnosed from a urine test by your vet, and if they’re seeing something they don’t like they may recommend a lower protein dog food which will let your dog’s kidneys not have to work as hard.
When It’s Time to Switch
To summarize everything we looked at in this article, most dogs will not need a special senior dog food to live a healthy life. If your dog has been eating a certain kind of dog food for years, there’s no reason to switch them to anything else just because they’re older.
Your veterinarian will help guide you to making the decision to switch dog foods if and when the time comes, as there are valid medical reasons that occur. For most of us though, we can do best for our senior dogs by being mindful of our dog’s weight and keeping up with regular vet visits.