Age, as they say, is only a number—and that’s especially true for dogs! According to a study by Banfield Pet Hospital, our canine companions are living longer, healthier lives thanks to better veterinary care and improved nutrition.
To make the most of your pup’s promising golden years, it’s important to address their changing needs, which may include food. While some pets continue to thrive on the same diet they ate in “middle age,” others benefit from switching to formulas crafted specifically for older pets.
In the ever-expanding pet food industry, there are countless formulas marketed toward senior dogs—and they vary widely in terms of content and quality. What’s worthy of your pup? What ingredients should you look for? What exactly is senior dog food, anyway? Read on for veterinarian-approved tips and our top picks.
Senior Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food: What’s the Difference?
Just like humans, dogs require different amounts of nutrients and calories at different points in their lives. For this reason, you’ll want to select the correct formula (and serving size!) for your pup’s age.
“It is very important to feed your dog appropriately for their life stage,” says Dr. Jessica Herman, a Kentucky-based veterinarian at Fuzzy Pet Health. “An adult or senior dog that eats puppy food will be eating too many calories, which in turn may lead to weight gain. Conversely, puppies eating adult food may not be getting enough calories to properly grow.”
There’s no one magical recipe for seniors. Instead, senior dog foods contain nutrition profiles meant to manage conditions commonly associated with aging. Many senior formulas contain the following, says Herman:
- Less calories: Up to 45 percent of dogs ages 5-11 years are obese, which can impact lifespan and lead to chronic health conditions including diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Senior foods are usually lower in calories to compensate for decreased activity levels and slowing metabolisms.
- More fiber: Added fiber can help constipation, which is more common in older dogs.
- Added protein: A hearty helping of high-quality protein can help maintain healthy muscle mass (and, in turn, mobility) as dogs age.
- Joint health supplements: Supplements including glucosamine and chondroitin are common in senior foods formulated to support joint health.
- Better taste: Very old dogs and those with certain health conditions, such as cancer, may need help maintaining or gaining weight. Highly palatable formulas with extra fat can make mealtime more enticing.
Senior Dog Food: What to Consider
Ready to shop for senior dog food? The following are important when selecting an appropriate, high-quality diet for your gray-muzzled bestie:
- Your veterinarian’s approval. It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before switching dog foods, especially if you think your pet needs aging support. If your dog has certain medical conditions, a prescription diet may be advisable. “In some instances, the food acts as medicine itself and greatly improves the symptoms,” says Herman.
- AAFCO standards. All dog foods should meet standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a nonprofit that ensures pet foods contain the necessary nutrient profiles.
- Quality of ingredients. Lower quality pet foods contain cheap “filler” ingredients to add calories and bulk. If the ingredient list reads more like a science experiment than your own grocery list, consider it a red flag.
- Your individual pet. No two senior pets are the same. While some dogs slow down and are prone to weight gain, others remain active or even need to gain weight. Your one-of-a-kind pet should inform which formula you choose.
6 Best Senior Dog Food Formulas to Try
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Selecting a new dog food can be overwhelming, especially when your pet has age-related health conditions. We’re here to help! These are some of our favorite formulas on the market for mature mutts.
Best Overall Senior Dog Food: Dry
Our pick: Open Farm Senior Recipe
Using humanely raised and ethically sourced ingredients, Open Farm sets industry standards when it comes to sustainable pet food. But their premium recipes aren’t only good for the Earth—they’re super nourishing for pets, too! Free from fillers, byproducts, and unnecessary preservatives, each formula is crafted from hormone-free meats and non-GMO fruits and veggies.
For older and wiser canine customers, Open Farm Senior Recipe contains a high-protein blend of Certified Humane turkey and chicken, digestion-friendly pumpkin, antioxidant-rich coconut oil, and glucosamine and chondroitin to help promote healthy joints.
- No antibiotics, added growth hormones, artificial flavors or colors
- Meats from audited higher welfare farms
- No rendered poultry or meat meals
- 100% traceable ingredients
- Added glucosamine and chondroitin to promote healthy joints
- Recyclable packaging
Things to Consider
- Smaller kibble size is suitable for all breeds, but might require adjustment for dogs accustomed to larger bites
Sample buyer review: “Switching our dog food to Open Farm was one of the best things we could have ever done! Their coats are shinier and they are acting younger than ever.”
Best Overall Senior Dog Food: Fresh
Our pick: JustFoodForDogs Lamb & Brown Rice
Formulated by veterinarians, JustFoodForDogs is freshly made from human-grade, whole-foods ingredients. Their fan-favorite recipes are packed with all thriller (nutrient-rich superfoods and premium proteins!) and no filler (such as preservatives, dyes, starches, and synthetic nutrients).
For seniors in need of extra calories or an ultra-tempting meal, we love their Lamb & Brown Rice Fresh Frozen recipe. High in calories and protein, it’s an excellent source of essential vitamins including zinc and iron, as well as B vitamins, which have anti-inflammatory properties. It’s frozen and vacuum-sealed immediately after preparation, keeping the nutritional integrity (and delicious taste!) intact.
- Vet-trained consultants are available to help build your dog’s nutritional plan
- Meats are inspected and approved by the USDA for human consumption
- JustFoodForDogs uses the same premium suppliers as the restaurant industry
- JustFoodForDogs recipes are crafted by hand in open-to-the-public kitchens as well as in their own kitchens in Irvine, California, and New Castle, Delaware
- May be frozen for up to a year
Things to Consider
- Dogs who are currently eating processed kibble or canned food require between 5 and 10 days to transition to JustFoodForDogs in general
- Requires frozen storage in transport
- Available for home delivery packed on dry ice, so ensure it is not left in the sun or front porch for extended periods of time
Sample buyer review: “Our dog’s energy, coat, and personality have improved remarkably! It’s like having a different dog despite her age.”
Best Large Breed Senior Dog Food
Although arthritis affects dogs of every size, it’s more common in some large and giant breeds, which are genetically predisposed to joint problems. With this in mind, Nutro’s formula for large breed seniors is infused with natural glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health, as well as an extra boost of antioxidants. Made with non-GMO ingredients, it includes no chicken by-product meal, corn, wheat, or soy.
- Formulated for senior dogs 6 years and older
- Contains natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin
- Made with non-GMO ingredients
- No corn, wheat, or soy
- Added antioxidants to support immune health
- Natural fiber to support digestion
Things to Consider
- Large kibble size may be difficult for some dogs to chew
Sample buyer review: “I’ve been feeding this to my German Shepherd for almost five years now. I love the ingredients and the added glucosamine, and she loves the food.”
Best Small Breed Senior Dog Food
Adult dogs have 42 teeth, which Great Danes have no problem accommodating in their spacious jaws. But smaller breeds often have cramped and crooked teeth, leading to dental disease and gum inflammation. Designed specifically for petite pups and tiny teeth, Blue Buffalo’s formula uses small-bite kibble specially shaped to remove tartar.
Additionally, the company’s senior formulas are enhanced with a “Super 7” infusion of antioxidant superfoods, including apples, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate, pumpkin, and spinach.
- Kibble shape helps promote healthy teeth and gums
- Added glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coats
- Essential vitamins for strong bones and teeth
- No corn, wheat, soy, or chicken by-product meals
Things to Consider
- Formulated specifically to meet the dietary needs of small and extra-small dogs
Sample buyer review: “My picky Pom likes this with wet food mixed in. Good size kibble for senior toy breeds that are missing teeth!”
Best Senior Wet Dog Food
Fussy eaters, meet your match. This senior-specific wet food from Royal Canin is designed to stimulate appetites with a super yummy (by dog standards!) sauce and easy-to-chew loaf consistency. B vitamins and fish oil help to maintain nourished skin and coats, while biotin supports a healthy nervous system.
- Extra tasty
- Good for dogs with missing teeth
- Formulated for dogs over 5 years
- Added fish oil and B vitamins
Things to Consider
- Although dogs love it, the gelled loaf consistency and strong smell is off-putting to some human customers
Sample buyer review: “I was looking for a canned dog food for my senior dog, who was losing interest in his dry kibble. As soon as I open the can, he goes bonkers! I’m so happy I tried this dog food for him.”
Best Senior Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs
If your senior has digestive issues, a diet made for sensitive stomachs could help. This gentle formula from Diamond Naturals contains a gut-friendly probiotic blend to help support your pup’s digestive tract. The whole-foods recipe contains plenty of natural fiber in the form of peas, kale, blueberries, oatmeal, and coconut, as well as lean protein from cage-free chicken and egg.
- Highly digestible recipe with added probiotics
- Added vitamins and antioxidants from real fruits and veggies
- No corn, wheat, filler, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
- Glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint health
- Budget-friendly price point
Things to Consider
- Large dogs might need to adjust to smaller kibble size
Sample buyer review: “Our Lab actually ran like she was a puppy again, and our hound is more active, as well. They eat the food with no problems, and it didn’t cause stomach issues.”
Senior Dog Food: Tips and Advice
As pet parents, we want to do everything we can to make meals as healthy—and enjoyable!—as possible. With that in mind, consider these senior-specific tips.
Wet Food vs. Dry Food?
It’s an age-old pet parent debate: wet food, or dry? While kibble is appropriate for many seniors, wet food is easier to chew, making it a better choice for some dogs with missing teeth. It also has a higher water content, which is helpful for dogs with kidney disease, and is more palatable for reluctant eaters.
Most pet parents know how to properly store kibble. (For the record: in the original bag, placed in an airtight bin!) But if you’re switching your senior to wet food, there are some dog food storage tips to keep in mind. After opening, canned food should be covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator. Be sure to use the remaining portion within three days to avoid contamination.
Aging dogs may have different caloric needs, or benefit from smaller, more frequent meals. Consult your veterinarian to ensure your pup is receiving the right amount of food at the right times!
If your dog has mobility issues, raised feeding bowls can make eating more comfortable.
When switching dog foods, take things slow, especially with older pups who have sensitive stomachs or digestion issues. Choose a diet transition timeline, and talk to your vet about incorporating a probiotic as needed.
Senior Dog Food: Bone Appetite!
To know a senior dog is to love a senior dog! As our pups age, we want to do everything we can to make their golden years twinkle a little brighter. Along with regular veterinary care, a nutritious, age-appropriate diet can help ensure you enjoy many more years together.
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