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Best Diet for Senior Dogs (Total Nutrition for Optimal Health)

As your beloved furry friend ages, their nutritional needs change. Senior dogs require a different diet than younger dogs to maintain optimal health and quality of life.

I’ve raised several dogs over the years and found that an aging dog’s diet often needs to change as its body requirements vary. A well-balanced diet for senior dogs can help prevent health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and joint problems.

Senior dogs need a balanced diet with lean proteins, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The diet should also be low in sodium and include a variety of vitamins and minerals. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals is also beneficial for older dogs. 

In this article, we will explore some key considerations when choosing a diet for senior dogs and provide insights into the best options available to ensure total nutrition for optimal health.

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Best Diet for Senior Dogs
Best Diet for Senior Dogs

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At What Age Is A Dog Considered A Senior?

Determining when a dog is considered a senior can vary based on several factors. In general, most dogs are considered senior when they reach the age of 7, which is undoubtedly the case for my German Shepherd. 

However, smaller breeds tend to have longer lifespans and may only be considered seniors once they are 9 or 10. And giant breeds such as Great Danes may become seniors as early as 5 or 6 years old.

But breed and size are not the only factors to consider when determining a dog’s senior status. Other factors such as genetics, diet, and lifestyle can all play a role in how quickly a dog ages and when they are considered a senior.

What Are The Signs Of Aging In Dogs?

You must watch for signs of aging as your dog matures. As my German Shepherd, Willow, is now eight years old, I can definitely say I’ve experienced many of these signs.

Here are a few things I witnessed as my dog got older:

  • I noticed that my dog slowed down quite a bit compared to when she was a young pup. She’s not as energetic as she used to be and not as interested in playing or going on long walks. 
  • She seems to tire more easily and needs frequent breaks during activities.
  • She started to experience some age-related health issues, such as joint stiffness and decreased mobility, especially when getting up from a lying down position. After getting her checked out and undergoing a CT scan, unfortunately, she was diagnosed with spinal arthritis.

Here are some other signs of aging in your furry friend that you may witness:

  • Changes in your dog’s coat and skin. Your dog’s fur may not be as shiny as it used to be, and his skin may be drier and more prone to irritation. 
  • Skin tags and benign growths. Your dog might develop some age-related skin tags and other benign growths.
  • Dental issues. If your dog suddenly develops smelly breath, he could have gum disease or a bad tooth.
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Your dog’s stools may become irregular, and you may need to adjust his fiber intake.
  • Incontinence. Senior dogs are more prone to urinary infections, which could be the cause of increased puddles around the house.
Senior Dog - Best Nutrition and Diet

Why Do Senior Dogs Need a Different Diet?

Senior dogs need a different diet because their metabolism slows as they age. 

This means they require fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight, and a diet that is too high in calories can lead to obesity, increasing their risk of other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

Additionally, senior dogs may have different nutrient requirements than younger dogs. For example, they may need more protein to maintain muscle mass and specific vitamins and minerals to support bone health and cognitive function. 

Above all, the diet of a senior dog has the potential to alter its behaviors. A study on behavior and nutrition identified that dogs tend to develop canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome as they age. Diet plays a key role in addressing deficiencies and improving physiological performance.

Senior Dog on Grass

What Are The Differences Between Senior Dog Food vs. Regular?

As a dog owner, I’ve always been conscious of my furry friend’s nutritional needs. But as my dog has aged, her dietary requirements have changed, and I’ve had to adjust her diet. 

Here are some of the critical differences between senior and regular dog food:

  1. Senior dog food is generally lower in calories than regular dog food. As dogs age, their metabolism slows, requiring fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. Don’t compel your senior dog to consume the same quantity of food he used to have!
  2. Senior dog food typically has more protein than regular dog food. Over the years, aging dogs may lose muscle mass, and protein can help maintain muscle and support overall health. It is formulated to meet older dogs’ protein needs while being easily digestible to prevent gastrointestinal issues and having a softer texture to fight dental disease.
  3. Senior dog food may contain additional nutrients that support joint health, cognitive function, and overall well-being. For example, it may contain glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health, antioxidants for cognitive function, and omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. This study of the diet of senior dogs identified that diet has the potential to alter serum chemistry, hematology, and nutrient digestibility.

What Nutrient Adjustments Do Senior Dogs Need?

There is currently no senior dog food nutrient profile recognized by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which set the standards for pet foods. The recognized life stages are gestation, growth, maintenance, and all life stages.

So, what is the best diet for older dogs?

The best diet for senior dogs is a complete and balanced diet that contains an excellent blend of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to help support their joints and other tissues. Feeding a diet containing Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil can help reduce inflammation and improve coat and joint health.

Let’s look in more detail at the nutrients your senior dog needs.


Older dogs may require more protein than younger dogs because their protein stores turn over more rapidly, and they can lose muscle mass as they age. In general, a minimum of 25% protein from a quality source should be considered, such as beef, chicken, lamb, or fish.

However, there is one caveat to consider when feeding older dogs a high-protein diet. 

Phosphorus content tends to increase with the amount of protein, and too much phosphorus can be harmful to senior dogs with kidney disease. In these cases, it may be necessary to find ways to reduce phosphorus intake while still providing enough protein to maintain muscle mass. 

While it’s still controversial whether protein needs to be restricted in dogs with kidney disease, I’m aware that high-protein diets have never been associated with a higher likelihood of developing kidney disease in dogs.

“Overall, I’ve understood the importance of providing my senior dog with the right balance of nutrients, including protein.” 

You must also monitor your furry friend’s calorie intake as he enters his golden years. You can use a pet food calculator to check your dog’s calorie intake. Below is the one I use, as it’s pretty simple – just input your dog’s weight and type, i.e. senior dog.

Dog Food Calculator
Old Dog


Senior dogs may require different fat levels in their food depending on their needs. 

If your dog is losing weight, talk to your vet about any potential underlying medical conditions that could affect his appetite, calorie needs, and/or digestion.

A high-protein diet can be crucial for maintaining muscle mass in these cases. However, if your dog is thinning for other reasons, your vet may recommend a diet higher in fat to help put on weight.

On the other hand, if your senior dog is struggling with obesity, a diet with reduced fat may be necessary to help shed some extra pounds. As excess weight can strain your dog’s joints and other organs, it’s essential to work with your vet to find the right balance of nutrients and calories for your furry friend. 

By keeping an eye on your dog’s weight and adjusting his diet as needed, you can help him stay healthy and comfortable as he ages. I always take my dog for a check-up every 6 months and pop her on the scales.


One important consideration is the fiber content in your dog’s food. Depending on your dog’s digestive system, he may need more or less fiber. 

Some senior dogs may have trouble with constipation, and a diet higher in fiber can help keep them regular. However, others may require less fiber to avoid diarrhea.


Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin are said to help combat osteoarthritis. 

While the evidence for these supplements is limited and further research is still required, positive signs have been shown.

I’ve been giving my dog YuMove joint supplements from Amazon since my dog’s osteoarthritis diagnosis over 18 months ago, and along with exercise modification, I’m thrilled to say that she is thriving.

I chose YuMove Joint Care because they are backed by scientific research, and when my veterinarian confirmed they were a good choice, it was an easy decision.

Senior dog with joint supplements
My German Shepherd, with her YuMove joint supplements

Another supplement that I’ve started adding to my dog’s diet is omega-3 fatty acids. These are said to be especially helpful for combating osteoarthritis and cognitive function.

If you’re looking for further info on supplements, here’s a helpful video to watch:

How To Care For Senior Dog (7 KEY Nutrition Supplements Boost Health Fast)

What Is The Best Senior Dog Food?

With so many options available, choosing the best dog food for your senior dog can be overwhelming. But don’t fret, as I narrowed it down to the best two.

Purina Pro Plan Senior Dog Food

Purina Pro Plan Senior Dog Food 7+ ticks all the boxes for arguably the best dry dog food for seniors. It has a minimum of 29% crude protein and has chicken as the main ingredient.

It is fortified with probiotics for immune and digestive health, contains glucosamine for joints and mobility, omega-6 fatty acids for coat and skin, and antioxidants for a healthy immune system.

The advanced nutrition of Purina Pro Plan Senior is a trusted choice by many veterinarians and experts.

Hill’s® Science Diet® Dog Mature Adult Canned

Hills Science Diet Mature Adult is a canned food that has all the nutrients and vitamins your dog needs to stay healthy as he ages. It’s made with quality slow-cooked natural ingredients.

This food also contains clinically proven antioxidants to support a healthy immune system and has balanced minerals for heart and kidney health.

Hill’s continues to excel in pet food science and research and is recommended by veterinarians as they continue to see improved pert health in their patients

My dog’s favorite flavors are real beef and barley or the chicken variety. But I don’t feed her a wet diet! Instead, I choose to mix kibble and wet food, and I’ll even mix dog food brands or simply add warm water to her kibble.


What If My Senior Dog Won’t Eat Their Dog Food?

If your senior dog won’t eat, it could be due to dental problems, health issues, or changes in appetite. Try adding wet food to their dry food. Sometimes, moistening the food can also make a difference. Here’s a video explaining the same:

What Happens If You Add Water To Dry Dog Food | Tested For My Dog | Dog Care | World Of Dogz

You can also try offering them different types of food or a mix of wet and dry. The below photo is my dog enjoying her kibble mixed with a wet food topper.

Dog Eating a Mix of Dry and Wet Food.
My senior German Shepherd eating a mix of dry and wet food

Can I Make My Own Senior Dog Food At Home?

Yes, you can make your senior dog food at home. Homemade food can be a good option for dogs with dietary restrictions or health issues, but it’s essential to do it correctly to avoid causing harm to your dog’s health.

Some owners like to mix kibble with home-produced food.

Starting with homemade food? Here’s a guide to read: A Beginner’s Guide to Homemade Food for German Shepherds.

How Often Should I Feed My Senior Dog?

Senior dogs typically need to be fed smaller, more frequent meals to aid digestion and prevent weight gain. Aim to feed your senior dog two to three meals daily, with a total daily calorie intake appropriate for their age, weight, and activity level.

Final Thoughts

There are many variables to consider when choosing the best diet for a senior dog. The ideal nutrition depends on your dog’s needs, health, and preferences. Here’s a recap of the main points:

  • Senior dogs need complete and balanced nutrition.
  • A minimum of 25% protein is recommended.
  • Overweight and inactive dogs should be fed lower-calorie foods.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids high in EPA & DHA can reduce inflammation, improve mobility, and are good for healthy coats and skin. Consider a fish oil supplement.
  • Offer extra fiber if your dog has trouble passing stools.
  • Use joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin.
  • Consider adding a live probiotic for good digestive health.

Happy feeding!


  • Sharon Waddington

    Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Find her on Linkedin!