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Feeding Your Senior Dog

Posted Thursday, 22 Jun 2023

Affiché : Thursday, 22 Jun 2023

Feeding Your Senior Dog

Do you own an older dog? You're not alone! About one-third of our pet population is considered senior or mature. In general, a large or giant breed dog is mature at 6 years of age, and senior at 10 years. For a small or medium breed dog, they are mature at 7 years of age, and senior at around 12 to 14 years.
We want our dogs to live their best lives and stay healthy as long as possible. Your veterinary team – important throughout the entire life of your pets – becomes even more vital during these later years. There are many diseases and conditions that are common in older dogs, and in many cases the earlier these are identified, the better the outcome.

How our dogs age is very individual. We have likely all seen the dog that, when asked what age he is, we can’t believe he’s that old. He looks so young! The changes that occur with age do not happen at the same age or rate of progression (or even at all) in different pups, so each senior dog should really be treated like the individual we know they are.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about nutrition for your senior pet.

Skinny or overweight?

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for senior dogs to lose weight. In many cases, this can be due to an underlying health condition, so it’s always best to see your veterinarian when you notice weight loss. Even if the weight loss makes sense, like if they seem less interested in their food and are eating less, those changes in behaviour could suggest something is wrong, and so it’s best to get to the bottom of things first.

In general, mature dogs seem to have lower energy needs than younger dogs. This means they have a risk of gaining weight as they get older, especially if their food amounts aren't adjusted or monitored.
If your dog is overweight or obese, a trip to the vet is in order. Healthy weight loss in dogs should be done under veterinary supervision, especially during a life stage when health issues can develop. In fact, obesity can increase the risk of other medical conditions!

Bony or well-muscled?

This can be harder to appreciate, but as dogs age we can expect to see changes in muscle mass. This could be a normal loss of muscle due to age, or due to an underlying disease. It is very difficult to tell which is which just by looking at your dog, so again, it’s time to see your veterinarian if you notice that your pup appears to be losing muscle.

How can you tell? Your veterinary team can help, but you can start by feeling over your dog’s spine, shoulder blades, skull and hips. If your dog is feeling especially boney and no longer has as much muscle covering these areas, some muscle loss is likely happening. Obesity can make this harder to appreciate, since fat can cover these areas, making it harder to feel muscle tone.

Protein is often thought of as the solution to muscle loss, and higher protein diets are sometimes recommended. While older dogs can experience some changes in their ability to digest protein, we should consider both quality of the protein as well as quantity.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which is what is what our bodies use to support day-to-day functions. Highly digestible proteins will be broken down more readily, allowing the body to use the amino acids more efficiently. Additionally, certain types of amino acids are found in higher levels in certain tissues, like lean muscle. Therefore, proteins should always be selected based in their amino acid profile and digestibility, to ensure the pet is able to get the most from the ingredient.

Any changes in behaviour?

As dogs age, they see a decline in their senses of sight, hearing and smell. Smell is really important for dogs; they possess many more smell receptors than humans do, and their sense of smell is stronger than their sense of taste. So, when senior dogs start to lose their sense of smell, we can understand why they’re maybe less enthusiastic about their food.
Dealing with a fussy eater? Check out our tips for enticing appetite!


Cognitive decline can occur in older dogs just like it occurs in older humans. Diets can include additives to support brain health, such as antioxidants to combat cell damage, or amino acids like tryptophan to manage stress and cognitive dysfunction.

How about making the food more entertaining? Introducing puzzle feeders, snuffle mats, lick mats and mini training sessions around mealtime can be a great way to encourage mental stimulation, as well as healthy physical activity.

Make sure your senior dog gets the check up that they deserve to rule out any health issues, and then chat with your breeder or veterinarian about specific nutritional needs. Consider both what to feed as well as how to feed to keep senior dogs living their best golden years.

  1. Perrin (200). Can Vet J 50(1)
  2. LaFlamme (2005). Vet Clin Small Anim 35 
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