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Updated November 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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Best senior dog food

Every dog deserves to lead a happy, healthy, safe life. While they all age at different rates, the nutritional needs of a senior dog are unique enough to warrant a senior dog food.

Just like humans, senior dogs may develop challenges relating to their joints, energy level, metabolism, and digestion. If this occurs, your dog’s food likely needs to be reassessed. Plenty of options exist. In fact, most dog food companies offer formulas specific to age and size.

If you’re making the switch to senior dog food, you may decide to continue with your current brand or try a new one. Look for a recipe that takes into account any needs, sensitivities, or other issues your dog has as well as their breed and lifestyle.

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You don’t necessarily need to choose between dry and wet food. Many dogs, particularly seniors, enjoy a mix of both.

Key considerations

Needs

Some older dogs may start to lose their appetite or have sensitive teeth. Some need a mental or cognitive boost. Some need attention given to their weight and activity level, as senior dogs tend to be less energetic and thus require fewer calories. Man dogs, especially medium and large ones, develop issues with their hips, joints, and bones. It’s important that senior dogs don’t become overweight or obese, as that can lead to serious illnesses or diseases.

In general, senior dogs require fewer calories, more fiber, and more hydration. A reduced protein intake and moderate fat intake are common adjustments. Omega-3s and antioxidants, which help battle arthritis and boost the immune system, are highly beneficial and should be found in most senior dog food formulas.

It’s important to understand the nature and tendencies of your dog’s breed. Consult with your vet about what you can expect and what you should focus on.

Wet vs. dry

Wet senior dog food

Although dry food is popular with consumers, you may wish to switch from dry to wet as your dog moves toward seniorhood. Wet dog food tends to be more enticing and aromatic, appealing to dogs who are picky eaters or who become selective later in life. What’s more, wet food is easier on the teeth and gums, particularly for those older dogs whose teeth aren’t in the greatest condition.

Furthermore, wet food contains water that keeps dogs hydrated. Wet food comes in cans that often contain two to four meals apiece. Once opened, wet food only lasts a few days and should be sealed and refrigerated.

Dry senior dog food

Plenty of quality senior dog foods exist that are dry, and these foods tend to cost less. If your dog’s teeth are in good shape, dry food may be suitable to help maintain dental hygiene. Some dry dog food is on the soft side, which makes it easier for seniors to chew.

Dry food comes in bags of various quantities. Store unused dry food in an airtight container in a  cool, dark place to maintain it.

Ingredients

Ingredients are listed in order of prominence. Often, a meat like chicken, duck, lamb, or beef is the primary ingredient. Senior dogs tend to need less protein, so you’re unlikely to find exotic or game-type meat in these recipes.

Senior dogs may become pickier or less fond of certain foods over time, so you may want to experiment a little. A dog who didn’t like salmon before may enjoy it now. Just make sure the fiber and calorie levels are appropriate. Note that anything that is a “meal” is simply a powdered version of that ingredient, not unlike cornmeal or flax meal that humans enjoy. “Byproduct'' is another term to know: it’s a piece of the animal that is of secondary concern and usually less appealing.

Sensitivities

Your dog may have lifelong allergies or sensitivities or those brought on by age. It’s important to monitor for new allergies and sensitivities and to change the diet accordingly. Chicken, soy, and grain are common sensitivities for dogs. Always read the entire ingredients list to check for questionable or unwanted bits.

Size

Bags of dry dog food come in various sizes. Generally speaking, you can find small bags under 10 pounds, medium bags from 10 to 20 pounds, and large bags from 20 to 30 pounds. Extra-large bags will top that. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll find many extra-large bags of dry food for senior dogs.

Getting large bags of dog food can cut down on your overall cost. In many cases, you pay more upfront but less per pound. Some companies offer full refunds or exchanges if your dog doesn’t like the food.

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Expert Tip
Is your senior dog averse to their food? Incorporate some fresh veggies, broth, or other aromatic home-cooked, dog-friendly foods to make the food more enticing.
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Features

Veterinarian authorization

Some senior dog foods can only be purchased with a veterinarian’s prescription. These formulas target serious ailments, old or new, as well as other needs. Prescription dog food may include formulas for such issues as diabetes, urinary tract infections, and weight management.

Multi-stage formulas

Some companies offer recipes that do not cater specifically to age. Instead, they offer formulas that work for all ages. A multi-stage formula like this may work for your dog if they’ve enjoyed that kind of food during their adult years while staying healthy and energized. However, a senior dog with new health issues might need a more specific recipe that targets those concerns.

Extra nutrients

You may want to consider providing your dog with extra nutrients. Some senior dog food formulas do just that. For example, glucosamine-chondroitin is frequently incorporated into a senior dog’s diet to help with joint pain.

Other supplements may feature fatty acids that help boost your dog’s immune system. These supplements may be purchased in a specific formula, added as a supplement, or incorporated as a topper to your dog’s meal.

Treats

Some treats are geared specifically toward senior dogs. These treats may be higher in fiber and lower in calories and protein than treats for younger dogs. Some senior dog treats offer dental benefits or feature helpful vitamins and nutrients.

For elderly dogs, you may want to favor moist treats and those that are easy to chew and digest. Aromatic treats may also be more enticing for senior dogs.

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Expert Tip
Water consumption is important for all dogs, but it’s especially important for seniors. Keep fresh, cold, clean water available at all times.
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Senior dog food prices

Inexpensive: Most small bags of dry food cost under $20. You can also find cases of wet food in this range.

Mid-range: Spending between $20 and $40 will earn you most “medium” sizes of dry bagged dog food. This range may also include premium cases of wet food.

Expensive: For over $40 and up to $60, you’ll find large bags of dry senior dog food. Pricier options often cater to specific ailments.

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Expert Tip
Make sure your dog’s bowl is at an appropriate height to avoid excess air intake while eating. An elevated bowl can also help with joint issues.
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Tips

  • Add water to dry food. Senior dogs may have a reduced appetite and are often less hydrated. Pour a bit of water over the dry food to enhance aromas and help your pal avoid thirst.
  • Transition gradually to new food. Any time you switch dog food, and even when you open a new bag of the same food, you should slowly transition your dog to that bag. Add about a quarter of a bowl of new food to the old every three days until fully switched over.
  • Dogs age differently. The point at which one dog moves into senior life may not be the same as another dog. Consult your veterinarian to understand when and how your breed ages.
  • Weigh your dog regularly. Weight management for seniors is important, as it can reduce joint pain and keep the heart and other organs functioning properly. Weigh your dog every few weeks to keep tabs on it.
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Feed your senior dog on a regular schedule. Consistency helps with mental and emotional well-being, and it also helps keep the dog’s body functioning regularly.

FAQ

Q. How do I know if a particular senior dog food is good for my dog?
A.
When switching to a new dog food, monitor your dog closely for the weeks that follow. This is especially important for older canines. Watch for excessive panting, drooling, scratching, itching, or shedding, as this could be a reaction to the new food. Monitor their business as well, taking note if the frequency, amount, or consistency is unusual. Vomiting and diarrhea are signs that something is wrong, though it may not necessarily be food related. As mentioned, always watch their weight, too, as a healthy weight is crucial to staying healthy later in life.
 

Q. How much should I feed my dog?
A.
Senior dogs have lower metabolism and energy levels, so they generally need less food than they used to. Most brands provide a recommended daily allowance based on size, age, and breed, although you may want to do further research or consult your veterinarian. You can always adjust the amount slightly over the course of several weeks, depending on weight loss or gain.

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