Aging can affect your dog’s nutritional needs. Many senior dogs have lower energy requirements. They can tend to gain fat and lose muscle. Their immune function and kidney function can decline as they get older. Some older dogs can continue to eat a good quality commercial diet but other aging dogs can benefit from changing to a senior diet. When to start feeding an adult dog a senior dog food will also vary depending on the individual dog.
Senior Dog Foods
Before we go any farther, you should know that there is no legal definition for “senior” or “geriatric” dog food. The diets that are marketed as senior dog foods only have to follow the same legal parameters as the foods for young and middle-aged dogs. Many people assume that “senior” dog foods imply that the foods have lower protein, lower phosphorus, and fewer calories, but these levels vary according to the manufacturer. Each company’s senior dog food has its own properties. That means that some foods might be more appropriate for your individual dog than others.
There also needs to be more research into the nutritional requirements for senior dogs (and cats). Much of the research that is currently used to formulate senior pet foods is based on research for humans.
Many senior dog foods do have fewer calories. In fact, some pet food manufacturers market their senior dog foods as weight control foods, too. As many dog owners know, not all senior dogs are overweight. If you have an elderly dog you might be trying to get your dog to gain weight. Before buying a senior dog food, look at the calories in the food, as well as the ingredients and the dry matter basis (DMB). Make sure that the food is appropriate for your dog’s health. Talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate food for your senior dog. If you need precise information about the nutrient contents in the food, call the company and ask for it. Every company should have this information and they should be able to answer your questions over the phone.
When to Start Feeding your Adult dog a Senior Dog Food
If your senior dog is healthy, in good body condition, and he’s eating a good quality, nutritionally-balanced diet, you don’t have to change his food to a senior dog food. (I have a 12-year-old dog who is still eating a good regular dog food. She runs and plays every day. Knock on wood.)
However, if your dog has a disease that is associated with aging such as arthritis, cancer, dental problems, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease, then making changes to the diet might improve some symptoms or even slow the progression of the disease. You might be able to optimize the health of your dog and manage disease through dietary modification.
Every dog is different but, in general, the bigger the dog, the earlier it is considered to be a senior. Most dogs are considered “seniors” when they are 7-8 years old but it really depends on the breed, the size of the dog, and the overall health of the individual dog.
- Giant dogs often have a shorter lifespan than other dogs. Many of these dogs are very old by the time they are ten years old. They can be considered seniors by the time they are 5-6 years old. You can start feeding a senior dog food at this time.
- Many large breed dogs will live to be 12-14 years old so they may not be seniors until they are 8-10 years old. You can consider feeding a senior dog food at this time.
- Medium-sized dogs can also live to be 12-14 years old – or older. They would be considered senior dogs when they are about 8-10 years old. You can consider senior dog foods at this time.
- Toy and small-breed dogs usually live the longest lives of any dogs. Some of these dogs live to be 16-17 years. These dogs may not be seniors until they are 10-12 years old. You can consider feeding them a senior diet at this time.
Once your dog reaches his senior years, having a yearly vet check that includes bloodwork is recommended so your veterinarian can catch any problems early. Knowing the status of your dog’s health will also help you choose the best diet for your dog. Talk to your vet whenever you have questions about your senior dog’s diet.