Nutrition

 

As a dog ages, metabolism slows, the risk of illness increases, and his nutritional requirements change. This section is all about the nutritional needs of senior dogs (whether in perfect health, or not), and how to best satisfy those needs. 

If you’re like me, you have found this whole issue more than confusing. Choosing a food is a lot more than choosing a brand. What type would you like to feed your dog? By “type” I mean – dry, canned, organic, freeze dried, home cooked, raw, grain free, prescription diet… Whenever I read about why I must buy X brand or X type, the next article will convince me why it’s the worst decision I can make. 

To make it even more confusing, many vets aren’t as well versed in the area of nutrition as you would think. Pet food companies host a lot of the nutrition training their staff attend, and that’s why their practice stocks those brands. Read about some of the food and you’ll be surprised at how many “experts” encourage you to stay away from them.

Sorry, I hope I’m not making this sound hopeless because it isn’t.

I recommend you do some research. Read about the various types before you worry about the brands. You’ll read lots of conflicting views but look at the source as well as the information, and make decisions based on what seems right for you. I assume you have a trusted vet to discuss this with, and if you’re interested in a more natural take on things, it doesn’t hurt to schedule an appointment with a holistic vet. You will likely be offered a free consultation, to learn more about their philosophy, and their attitude towards nutrition. 

I’ve had my issues with finding the “right” food for my senior dog Red. When I first adopted her she was obese, so was on a weight loss than a maintenance formula. When she developed a heart problem she was put on a prescription heart diet, and when she developed kidney problems that was replaced by a kidney diet. 

For a long time I had wanted to take her to a holistic vet, and recently finally had the chance. He was not happy with the prescription diet (and yes many people feel they are of poor quality, while others, my vets included, believe they have helped her condition), and created a home made, whole foods recipe specifically for her. She’s loving it and that’s what we’re sticking with. 

 

Please remember – older pets are more prone to dehydration, so please make sure a big bowl of fresh water is available at all times.

 

44 Comments

  1. Steph

    Hi Hindy:

    You are right. It is always best to take your pooch in for his regular vet appointments, especially when he becomes a senior dog. It is also wise to look for anything different in your dog, such as behavior or mood changes. Is he or she not himself or herself? Is he or she sleeping more than usual? Have they been in contact with other dogs?

    Steph

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Steph, Thanks for your comment. Thanks for calling attention to those behaviour changes as well. As a matter of fact, I just finished writing about signs to look, and will be publishing it shortly. Regards.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    Hey Hindy I didn’t realize there was so much to think about when you have a dog. Especially an older one whose health concerns might go undetected if not spotted early.
    It’s great advice that there’s not a one size fits all nutrition for an older dog. Each one would have different needs.
    Thanks for this information I found it very enlightening.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Chris, Thanks for your comment. There definitely is a lot to think about when you share your life with a dog. Of course the same can be said for any pet you have. Just like we go for regular checkups to maintain our health, the same should be done for our animals. I find the field of nutrition a tricky one, and so much depends on the individual dog, particularly an older one who may be experiencing health challenges. I’m glad you enjoyed the articles.

      Reply
  3. Neil

    Thanks for your advice for senior dogs Hindy. My dog is only 6 years old but it is good advice to think about regular health checks as she gets older. You don’t really think much about having to change their diet but it is something I’ll certainly keep a close eye on as she gets older. Are there any tell tale signs that you think may urge you to get your dog’s nutrition checked out? Change in eating habits or anything?

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Neil, thanks very much for your feedback. No matter what anyone says, I find the whole field of dog nutrition a minefield. For every “expert” that loves X, another “expert” will tell you how much they hate it. In this instance I’m pretty much going with my own experience of sharing my life with senior dogs. Don’t forget, the age at which a dog is considered “senior” depends on her size and breed. I think the most important thing when it comes to deciding what to feed your senior dog is having regular health checks, to make sure she’s doing well. If she’s healthy and okay with what you’re feeding her, you may be fine with adding a supplement of some kind (should your vet, or your research then your vet!!) feel it would be helpful. For example, maybe your dog has a bit of stiffness. You may not have to change her food entirely, but add something to help her walk a little easier. If your dog starts suffering from diarrhea, loses interest in food, or just doesn’t seem like herself, it’s always a good idea to call the vet right away, and ask for an appointment as soon as possible. If an issue is detected, a change of food is often recommended for support.

      Reply
  4. Naeem

    Hi Hindy,

    I think this topic is a very personal one and i think you have done an amazing job on informing people how to take care of a senior dog. I think once you add some affiliation links to Amazon for example who supply stuff which you have recommended and review. I believe you could make some revenue from this niche. Very nice topic Well Done!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks very much Naeem. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. Animals are my passion, particularly senior dogs, so if I can help others caring for their older dogs, then I’m happy.

      Reply
  5. Oscar

    Hi Hindy. I appreciate very much the time you took to share your knowledge on how to care for Sony, my many years loyal friend. I’m a bit older than him but, unlike me, he is starting to show his age :).
    I appreciate as well the fact that you didn’t try to push any brand, there is a lot of that on the internet, don’t you think?
    Best regards

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Oscar, thanks for your kind words. I’m a sucker for senior dogs, and do what I can to help others care for theirs. How long have you shared your life with Sony? I agree with you about pushy people out there. Of course there’s nothing wrong with promoting a product you believe in, but more often than not it feels like they’re just after the hard sell, chasing the money, with no genuine care or compassion for the dog, or his human. That I find upsetting – like they’re taking advantage of a person’s bond with their pet.

      Reply
  6. Sammi - www.alittlebitofextrahelp.com

    Hi, another really useful article on senior dogs. So, it you take a dog in and the medical conditions of the dog are not known until they have been checked out, what food would you advise under those circumstances? Would you opt for the meaty food in tins or the biscuit based dog food? Sammi

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Sammi, thanks for that, and glad you’ve asked me this question. Sometimes even without test results, your vet may recommend a slight change in diet. For instance – if your dog has been suffering from diarrhea he may simply recommend a bland diet until a determination can be made as to the cause. It’s usually boiled chicken breast, rice, and some even recommend cottage cheese. If there are other issues of concern, ask your vet if he thinks diet could be a contributing factor, and what foods would best support your dog at this stage. The thing is, even if a medical condition determines the need for a change in diet, it’s never advisable to suddenly start him on a new food. It should happen gradually over the course of about a week by adding a bit of the new to the old, then each meal adding a bit more until you have completely switched over. Should your dog require a prescription food for a specific condition, they are usually available in both wet and dry formulations. Some dogs get the runs from tinned food, others don’t. Some dogs aren’t able to chew much biscuit based foods due to dental reasons. I give my dogs both. I give them biscuit based for their teeth, and tinned for some interest. I hope this rather long-winded reply helps. Feel free to contact me anytime.

      Reply
  7. Emily

    hi Hindy
    I have a friend who has a senior dog and she has been trying to adjust his diet for months now due to his health issues. I know it has been a struggle but it seems like there is also some trial and error involved. As you stated, there is no one size fits all here. It depends on the dog’s issues, health, size, etc. It seems like she has finally found something that keeps him stable, combined with medication though.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Emily, it can certainly be a struggle, especially with a finicky dog. I’ve had more than one dog turn up his, or her, nose at a special diet. I’m glad to hear she finally found something that satisfies him. Sometimes adding a little extra to the food helps – vegetables perhaps!! With vet permission of course.

      Reply
  8. Ken

    Hi Hindy. Wow you’ve hit one of my hot buttons! I’m very concerned with keeping my aging dogs as healthy and functional as possilble. Two of my dogs are mobility assistance dogs for me. One is middle aged,so functionality is a big deal for us. I have studied a bit on nutrition and am avoiding grain based products with some refrigerated fresh type added in. I have a recipe to improve the dog’s drinking water which I used initially for long term health and ageing. Surprisingly I saw short term positive results with my assistance dogs because they work and their ability increased. No product, just a recipe. If interested you could review it here:
    http://mypackofdogs.com/articles
    All the best,
    Ken

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Ken, We definitely want to keep our aging dogs as healthy and comfortable as possible, and of course your dogs are so helpful to you in your day to day life. Thanks for sending that link. I’m sure everyone will be happy to have a read. I like it that you’ve tried it out first, so you can speak to the positive results you’ve seen. I wish you well, and may happy years with your dogs.

      Reply
  9. Angela

    I am all for providing pets with the highest quality nutrition possible. God knows I splurge on my cats! I’ve never had a dog, but I would like to adopt one when I am able to.

    Since you’ve recommended purchasing the highest quality food affordable, my question would be this: what are the factors that make for a high quality dog food? I realize there are a number of variables involved, such as breed, age, special health conditions, etc., but I assume there are general guidelines to follow. So what would those be?

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Angela, first of all, apologies for the delay in responding. I try and reply as quickly as possible, but unfortunately I found myself at the vet yesterday evening.

      As with ingredient lists on packages of human foods, what appears closest to the top is what’s found most. Like when you see sugar as a primary ingredient in cereals and other food. In this case (and this applies to cats and dogs), you’re looking for meat. Look for quality protein where the type of meat is listed – beef, turkey, chicken, lamb. Avoid those that just say meat or animal.

      The next ingredient would be chicken meal, turkey meal. You’re also looking for vegetables and whole grains after that. Avoid things like corn, soy and by products. Just like we’re bombarded with terms like “all natural” “organic” “naturally sourced” we’re seeing that on pet food packaging as well. Read the ingredients, don’t rely on sales talk.

      That’s it in a nutshell. Having said all that, when it comes to senior dogs, and any health issues they may be experiencing, or facing in the future, I still talk to my vet about nutritional needs, what should be included and avoided. I then research the better quality brands, and get his opinion about my choice to make sure it’s the right one for my pet.

      Reply
  10. Ken

    I have been a dog love all my life. I have have at least 4 dogs in their senior years. As a kid we had a Collie/Shepard that was 17yr and a Lab that was 15. I have also owned 2 Shepards into their senior years at 14 and 16. Regular car for these family members is like everyone else. Regular visits to the vet and occationally a special diet. Thank you for the memories.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Ken, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. You all certainly took great care of your dogs, how lucky you got to spend so many years in their company.

      Reply
  11. Emmanuel

    Hello Hindy, I like you site for one simple reason, it talks about senior dogs. I had a 12 year old dog. I became so attached to it that when it died last summer I could not even eat.
    If I had found some of the tips you give here earlier, may be my dog would have been alive. Please, keep up what you are doing, I have a new dog now, and well I am getting attached to this one too. But now I am wiser, I am going to get it to, 20 years. That should be my retirement.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Emmanuel, I appreciate you taking the time to comment, and share your experience. I know exactly how you feel. It’s impossible not to get attached to them, they’re so much a part of our lives. My senior dog isn’t doing well at the moment, and I can’t bear the thought of life without her. With the help of my vet we’re doing what we can. Good luck with your new dog, and if you need any help or advice, let me know I’m happy to help.

      Reply
  12. Debra

    I really can’t wait for you to add to this part of your site. I have a poodle who is old and struggles to get through her day. I have her on wheat I thought was a good diet but it doesn’t seem to have made any difference yet.

    Perhaps there is a supplement I could give her? I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Debra, thanks I’m getting there. I always find the area of pet nutrition such a minefield, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m assuming she’s been to the vet recently. Could you tell me what’s going on with your dog? In what way does she struggle? Does she have any specific health issues? Let me know, and perhaps I can advise you. Look forward to hearing back from you.

      Reply
  13. Shawn

    Hi Hindy,

    I don’t know where to start. I truly like your site! You’ve covered so much valuable information, and it’s very in-depth. I especially like Alternative Treatments for Dogs With Arthritis. I’ve tried some of the treatments that you’ve suggested. I’m a big proponent of alternative therapies and a raw diet. Like you, I don’t believe it to be a cure all for everything but it certainly can’t hurt. My dog’s difficulties with jumping disappeared once I placed him on a raw chicken patty diet. He actually appeared a few years younger.

    Good luck with your endeavour,

    Shawn

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Shawn, thank you for your kind comments, and so glad you like the site. I like alternative treatments for myself, so why not for dogs. I think of all the “drugs” my dog is on, and I find it a bit disturbing. I’m trying, when possible, to use an alternative that will still keep her well. I’m just writing a new article about nutrition for senior dogs, and I know how many people have seen amazing results with a raw diet. I must admit I’m on the fence about it myself. A future post will cover raw diets for seniors, so perhaps it will become clearer whether or not it’s right for my dog. So glad your dog is doing so well.

      Reply
  14. JohnCWS

    Our dogs are our best friends. It’s very sad that they don’t have a longer lifespan. The oldest dog I’ve ever owned made it to 18 years old. Toward the end his health just went downhill pretty fast. There is only so much you can do. Nutrition for senior dogs, as you mention, is important. As well as hydration. Depending on the breed they may require certain things vs other breeds. In my case, my German shepherd had joint deterioration and became unable to move. It’s a sad process but keeping up with care can really add a few extra years on to their lives.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hello John, thank you for your comment. It is sad indeed. That’s a really good age, but it never seems long enough does it? Proper nutrition, supplements when needed, physical exercise, mental stimulation and regular checkups can definitely make a big difference in the quality, and even length, of their lives. I wish more people took that on board!

      Reply
  15. James

    I have two dogs: an eleven year old long haired chiuahua and a ten year old rat terrier. Over the years I can see that my chiuahua has gained some weight but my rat terrier is in great condition. People actually confuse her with a puppy because her weight is way down and she is small. This must be genetics from the different breeds.
    We switched to a better quality food and did notice a drop is his weight so this seems to work. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hello James, thanks for your comment. It does seem that Chihuahuas can get a bit chubby – I know mine gains weight very easily, even though I monitor her food intake carefully. It doesn’t take too much extra to tip the scales. Glad to hear a switch to better quality food made such a difference. Hope your dogs are keeping well!

      Reply
  16. Darren

    Thanks for posting this, Hindy. You are building up a very informative website.

    We all need to be more aware of our dog’s nutritional needs as they get older. They’re not too different to humans in the way they age. Unfortunately it just happens a hell of a lot quicker. My little Shih Tzu is now 7. Now while that’s not old for this breed, she is starting to get up there in age, and the older she gets the more I feel like I should look after her better. I want her to be healthy as possible and live a long and happy life.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Darren, thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s definitely challenging building a site like this from scratch. I have posts scheduled for the next couple of weeks, but I always feel like I want to post everything right away so people get to read as much content as possible. You’re right, 7 is not old at all for a Shi Tzu, she should have lots of years ahead of her. Feel free to check back often, and if there are specific topics you’re interested in, please let me know and I’ll be happy to write about them if I haven’t yet!

      Reply
  17. Stephanie

    Hi Again Hindy!

    Your website is a great resource for people wanting to get additional advice on how to care for their senior dog. Just as people age and require additional nutrition and supplements, so do dogs. When searching for a proper vet for your senior dog, what suggestions do you have? What kind of questions can you ask a vet to see how familiar they are with the unique challenges of senior dogs? Just as there are pediatricians who specialize in young children’s health, there are doctors who specialize in geriatric medicine. But what about when it comes to vets? Are certain vets more specialized with geriatric canines than other vets?

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Stephanie, thank you, that’s my goal with this site – to be a one stop resource to help people caring for senior dogs. I just published a new article with questions people should ask themselves when looking for a vet. Perhaps there are vets who specialise in treating older dogs, but that’s not something I’ve ever heard of. Specialties are oncology, eyes, dermatology… Vets treat all ages, and do promote senior health checks.

      Reply
  18. Samantha

    Giving senior dogs the proper nutrition to help them stay healthy in this new stage of their life is so important! I’m looking forward to your advice about nutrition for older dogs.

    I also didn’t know that older dogs are more prone to dehydration. It would certainly make sense, as my dog has been drinking a lot more over the past year or so – she’s getting close to her senior years!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Samantha, thanks for your comment. Yes, senior dog’s nutritional needs do change, particularly if there are health challenges involved. Just wondering if you’ve taken your dog to the vet, when you started noticing her drinking more water. That could signal something is going on. Don’t want to alarm you, but it’s always good to have the vet take a look.

      Reply
      1. Samantha

        I appreciate the concern! I will mention it to my vet, just in case. Thank you!

        Reply
        1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

          No problem, anytime.

          Reply
  19. Pollywotsit

    Hi there,

    I have been a dog lover for many years; I had to have my elderly Jack Russell put to sleep last year and I was devastated as she went everywhere with me – I wish I had seen your website before she died as you have so much information about looking after an older dog. The nutrition and dental section was interesting as I had a few problems with her regarding dental problems.

    I now have a rescue dog – we are not sure how old he is but think around 5 – 7 years. Would you recommend we feed him as a senior dog? He is a cross between a lurcher and whippet – I have never had a rescue dog before.

    Your site is now in my bookmarks as I know for certain I will be coming back again and will be recommending it to friends. Thank you for all the information, its fantastic

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Catherine, first let me say how sorry I am about your dog. I know how devastating it is. Next I’d like to say how happy I am to hear you rescued a dog, and gave him a second chance. A dog is still a dog, no matter where he came from. Are you having any behaviour issues you need help with? It isn’t necessarily as simple as that when it comes to nutrition. I don’t know how long you’ve had your new dog, but has he been to the vet for a thorough check up? It’s always good to have a starting point before making a plan. Does he have any health issues that would require a condition specific diet? Are you interested in a more natural diet? Do you want to supplement his regular dog food with some fresh meat and vegetables? Have you considered a raw diet? So many considerations, and so much conflicting information. Do you want to start him on some supplements and homeopathy now, to hopefully prevent/reduce the likelihood of him developing certain conditions? If you’d like to send me a PM, I’d be happy to help any way I can.

      Reply
  20. Michael Maamari

    Awww, this page made me so sad because the picture just reminded me of my old, continuously aging dog who is practically on his death bed 🙁 I’m willing to do anything to keep him as healthy and happy as possible in what appears to be his final year! Thank you for all the helpful information on your website and hopefully all of our dogs live forever! haha

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Michael, thank you for your comment. It’s definitely sad to watch our dogs grow older, but I consider myself lucky to be able to share my senior dogs’ lives with them.

      Reply
  21. LSeulu24

    Hi Hindy,

    I have a big heart for dogs but more so for senior dogs. I’m so blessed to have visited your site. It’s so important for dog owners to ensure they provide the best care for our older dog community.

    What are you thoughts on orthopedic beds? Do you think that they are a must have for all dogs? I currently have six dogs in our home rescue all babies (under 3 years old) and we are trying to do our best from a preventative level.

    We have invested in buying them all orthopedic beds. We have had others say that we are wasting our money, but I don’t think so. What do you think?

    thanks
    Layne

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Layne, Thanks very much for writing in, and I’m so happy to hear about your soft spot for seniors, and rescues. How can you not love them!!

      Like with everything, you will have people who love a product, and those who have gotten no value from it. In my opinion, that holds true in the case of orthopedic beds. Typically people will buy them for their arthritic dogs, especially because some come with magnets which are seen as beneficial. I don’t usually hear of a need for these specialised beds for such young dogs, and certainly they can be costly. Personally I have never used an orthopedic bed for any of my dogs. I tend to have a few different types, and each dog ends up choosing what’s comfortable for them. I usually have one big round bed with a round pillow in the middle – a 3 sided bed so they can lay their head against a side, but a lower front for ease of access, and a regular human comforter with a comforter cover so they can fluff them up as they like. I also usually have a blanket on each bed for them to fluff, or wrap themselves up in if they are cold.

      My advice – there is no right or wrong thing to do,and I am not a vet, but I don’t know if they would help as a preventative. Buy some regular beds, buy each one a different type and style, and see what they like.

      I think it’s amazing you’re doing what you can to give all your dogs a great start. Plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and good quality food are setting your dogs up for a great quality of life.

      Reply

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