Senior Dog Diet – Everything You Need to Know

Dog waiting to eat

Dogs experience several different changes as they age, both physically and mentally.


In order to keep your ageing best friend as healthy as possible, it is important to fully understand how to care for a senior dog. Knowing what you can expect as your dog ages and how you can tailor their diet to one that’s appropriate for them are just some of the ways you can make their senior years a healthy and happy one for them.

At what age are dogs considered senior?

Generally, a dog would be considered senior once it reaches the age of eight, but this also depends on your dog’s breed and their size.


Smaller breeds, such as Pomeranians, aren’t considered senior until they are about 10 to 12 years old, while bigger breeds such as Great Danes, are often considered senior at 6 or 7 years old.


According to an article by Inside Science[1],  scientists have concluded that every 4.4 pounds or approximately 1.9kg of body mass reduces a dog’s life expectancy by about a month. Though, the reason still remains unknown, however, some speculate that the accelerated growth of larger dogs may have a higher chance of abnormal cell growth and death from cancer.


But of course, in addition to the number of years they have under their belt, similarly to humans, there are other changes that you will notice as your pup progresses through life.

What to expect as your dog ages?

The experience of living with a senior dog varies greatly, since each dog ages in their own individual way. Nevertheless, here are some common signs that your dog is getting on in age and being mindful of this  can help you reduce spot these symptoms ahead of time:


  • Loss of vision

Older dogs can experience vision loss, or other ageing eye problems, such as cataracts or glaucoma. One of the tell tale signs is if they start bumping into things around the house or have difficulties picking up their toys. Keeping them on a set routine for their walks may become more important as well as establishing location cues in the house.


Senior dog lying down with cataract in his eyes.


  • Loss of hearing

Though it usually happens quite gradually, losing of their senses can lead them to become more startled around sudden or big movements. A good idea is to teach your pup some simple sign language at an earlier age for commands such as Sit, Stay, Wait, Lie Down and Come. Training them with these hand signals will come in handy as their hearing starts to deteriorate later in their life and they are no longer able to rely on listening to your voice.


  • Oral problems

As dogs age, they become susceptible to periodontal disease, which is the buildup of plaque on their teeth. It may lead to bad breath, or more serious ailments such as gum inflammation and bone loss. Therefore, it is important to develop a good habit of brushing their teeth at least three times a week (daily brushing will be best), and conduct visual checks and sniff checks often. Symptoms of gum disease can include bleeding or discoloured gums, loose teeth, bad breath or a drop in appetite.


Man showing the plaque on a senior dog's teeth.


  • Medical issues

As your dog ages, their immune system can weaken and lead to them being more susceptible to illness and diseases. In addition to external factors, due to their body ageing, medical conditions associated with age such as arthritis, hip dysplasia and hormonal issues like hypothyroid disease have a higher likelihood of manifesting. Regular wellness checks at least every 6 months are recommended for senior dogs.


  • Behavioural changes

Dementia is a condition that is becoming increasingly common in senior dogs, with symptoms including disorientation, confusion and memory loss. Other personality and behavioural changes may also be experienced.


Certain foods rich in phytonutrients, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin, found in items like egg yolk, papaya, and orange/yellow peppers, can play a role in preventing doggy dementia. Additionally, incorporating Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA & DHA, is crucial for ageing dogs as they help enhance overall brain blood flow, and fortify their neuron cell membranes[2].


Mental enrichment also comes into play when it comes to keeping your senior dog’s brain healthy and active. Engaging in “brain teasers” can maintain cognitive function in dogs with dementia.


This includes activities like food puzzle toys, where dogs must figure out how to access their food, as well as other interactive toys and games. If you’re looking for something easy and cheap to create at home, we have compiled a list of DIY mental enrichment toys in a step-by-step blog post, and video.


  • Weight fluctuations

With age, senior dogs tend to be less active as they prefer to snooze away their day. This lack of activity can lead to weight gain if their diets are not adapted appropriately to cater for lower calorie burn. In the worst case scenario, weight related diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease can occur. Therefore, it is highly important to adapt your senior dog’s diet.

What is an appropriate diet for senior dogs?

With all the changes going on in your dog’s body as they age, dietary adjustments are key. Your dog’s dietary needs evolve with age. Here are some of the key changes you should take note of:


  • Higher fibre, less fat and calories

Fibre can help your older dog feel fuller without consuming as many calories and cutting down on the amount of fat in the diet can help prevent weight gain. On top of that, fibre helps them to have regular bowel movements and healthier poops.


  • Higher quality protein sources

Higher quality protein contains much more amino acids which are beneficial to maintaining  healthy tissues and muscle protein stores which are essential for a elderly dog. As they age, senior dogs often stop synthesising the same amount of protein on their own [3], in comparison to their more youthful years. This greatly increases the need for more high quality proteins in their diet. A gently cooked diet with higher quality protein primarily from fresh, whole meat is also much easier for your senior dog to digest compared to extruded diets such as kibble.


  • Omega fatty acids

Adding Omega fatty acids such as Omega-3 in particular, into your senior dog’s diets is proven to improve cognitive function in older dogs according to a study done in 2017, published in the National Library of Medicine [4]. A group of senior beagles were given an Omega-3 fortified diet for 25 weeks and subsequently underwent cognitive evaluations, assessing visual object discrimination, learning, and memory consolidation. The findings indicated that the inclusion of Omega-3 in their diet contributed to promoting healthy brain function.


Additionally, a 6-month study involving 127 dogs with osteoarthritis found that those on a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids showed improved mobility, compared to dogs on a regular diet [5].


  • Antioxidants

In a study done by the University of Kentucky, a longitudinal study on a group of beagles and the effect of a antioxidant rich diet showed that they have improved cognition, and reduced oxidative damage, a factor that leads to cancer [6].


Simply put, the very best diet for a senior dog is one that contains natural and fresh foods, full of the above mentioned.

What’s Wrong with Commercial Dry Dog Food?

Firstly, older dogs require high quality protein sources, and this is something that you will very rarely find in a commercial dry food. In most countries, dog food is legally allowed to contain 4-D meat, which means that the meat has come from diseased or disabled animals. Of course, this isn’t something that any company would state on their packaging as they are not required to do so.


Even with a kibble brand that claims to have been made with high quality protein and ingredients, the process of extrusion – a high heat cooking process to make commercial dry dog food shelf stable, and hence, cheaper, causes the majority of vitamins and nutrients to be lost, which is why they tend to use additives.


In addition, many commercial dry foods also contain filler ingredients to make the food affordable. For example, peas, potato starch, soy– these can lead to obesity and diabetes in dogs.


A huge myth that is floating around pet owners is that dry food can help with dental hygiene. However, not only is this untrue, but the sugars found in many dry food formulas actually contribute towards poor oral health in dogs as they lack salivary amylase to break the sugars down in their mouths. Instead, these sugars cling to your dog’s teeth, causing plaque buildup over time.


Finally, if you think your senior dog has become picky over the years, it is worth reviewing his diet. As your dog begins to lose his sense of smell, dry food will become quite unappealing. Try converting them to a fresh food alternative which can be a welcome change for them.

A Fresh and Natural Alternative

Ideally, your senior dog’s meals should feature a variety of quality animal proteins. To ensure that they have the maximum nutrients retained, opting for an AAFCO complete & balanced gently cooked or raw meal (if they can tolerate it) with species appropriate ingredients can ensure that they are receiving the most bioavailable nutrients with every bite.


As dogs are omnivores just like us, they can benefit from an array of dog-safe vegetables. Here is a list of vegetables that can be extremely beneficial in their golden years:


Pureed sweet potato to add fibre and vitamins to a senior dog's diet.

  • Sweet potatoes and carrots

Both are high in fibre, low in fat and packed with vitamins. Try adding these veggie treats into your senior dog’s diet by steaming them lightly.


Bowl of spinach for senior dog diet.


  • Spinach

High in vitamins A, B, C and K, as well as minerals and antioxidants, spinach can be a good addition to their fresh meals. Some dogs may struggle to digest raw spinach, so lightly blanching, or steaming this vegetable will help.


3 colored bell peppers, red, green, yellow capsicums for senior dog diet.


  • Bell pepper

A great source of vitamins and antioxidants. Red bell peppers are the best as they contain the most nutritional value, compared to their green, or yellow counterparts. Do take note not to confuse bell peppers with spicy peppers as those can cause gastrointestinal discomfort! You can finely chop up the peppers before feeding or give them as small cubes.


Pureed pumpkin for fibre to incorporate into diet for senior dog.


  • Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a good source of soluable and insoluable fibre which helps dogs from all ages have healthy poops. In addition to that, the naturally sweet taste of this vegetable is something that most dogs love.

Natural Supplements for Senior Dogs

In addition to fresh meals, here are some supplements that you can incorporate into their diet, as they can benefit your senior dog greatly:


  • Turmeric

This can help with health issues pertaining to inflammation as it is one of the best anti-inflammatory ingredients mother nature can offer. For senior dogs, it is proven to help improve their joint health too. Here is our tutorial on how to make golden paste, a special turmeric concoction to top your dog’s meals with.


DIY supplement: golden paste for senior dog's inflammation.


  • Sea Kelp

Sea kelp proves beneficial in addressing low iodine levels, resulting in increased energy, enhanced brain function, and improved health of the thyroid glands. Its rich iodine content is especially advantageous for senior dogs, elevating energy levels and supporting overall cognitive health.


  • Probiotics

As dogs age, their immune systems and digestion may weaken, and it is crucial to prioritise these systems for their overall health. Providing probiotics to your senior dog can support a healthy gut, enhance nutrient absorption, and boost the immune system, ensuring they stay in optimal condition in their golden years.


  • Wild fish oil

Fish oil is another fantastic source of Omega 3 fatty acid. But make sure to find an oil that has been cold-pressed to ensure that it retains the majority of its nutrients.


There are many other natural supplements out there that can help you to care for your senior dog. Keep in mind that some dog foods may already be formulated with a few supplements, so make sure that you check the ingredient list for these before adding in some of your own.

How much to feed a senior dog?

As mentioned above, senior dogs tend to experience weight fluctuations, meaning that the amount you need to feed varies greatly depending on the dog, as well as the type of food you are feeding.


For many older dogs, metabolism slows down with age, meaning that the dog does not need to consume quite as many calories.


It is important to make sure that you’re feeding your senior dog just the right amount of food as most might think that feeding your senior dog a little more than necessary is harmless. Signs of overfeeding include weight gain, normal consistency poop in the morning and softer poops at night, flatulence, and lethargy among a host of other telltale signs. 


Even if your dog is only carrying a couple of extra kilograms, this can put so much unnecessary strain on your dog’s joints and organs and can also lead to the loss of muscle tone and strength. If your dog is significantly overweight, many health issues could arise, from joint and heart problems to respiratory difficulties.


It goes without saying that these are all issues you want to avoid, making weight management so important. Speak to your vet about putting together a diet plan, making sure that you also combine this with regular, but gentle, exercise.


One more thing to keep in mind is that you need to ensure that your pooch always has a supply of fresh water available. This is important for all dogs, but senior dogs in particular have a harder time maintaining the moisture balance in their body, meaning that they are likely to drink more, as well as more frequently, than younger dogs.


A good tip will be to add water into their meals, or, bone broth, which is an appealing and healthy alternative to water. Bone broth contains ample glucosamine and chondroitin, which can alleviate the discomfort caused by arthritis.


If you’re unsure on how to start making the right dietary adjustments to minimise the ageing-related conditions that your dog may experience and extend your dog’s lifespan for as long as possible, we have more valuable information on our blog, and feel free to visit our website for feeding recommendations.



[1] Large Dogs Age Faster, Die Younger – Inside Science, March 2013

[2] Omega‐3 fatty acids are associated with blood–brain barrier integrity in a healthy aging population – National Library of Medicine, August 2021

[3] Choosing food for your senior dog – College of Veterinary Medicine

[4] The oil-rich alga Schizochytrium sp. as a dietary source of docosahexaenoic acid improves shape discrimination learning associated with visual processing in a canine model of senescence – National Library of Medicine, February 2017

[5] Multicenter veterinary practice assessment of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on osteoarthritis in dogs – National Library of Medicine, January 2010

[6] Antioxidants in the Canine Model of Human Aging – University of Kentucky, May 2011