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Senior Dog Feeding – Diets, Quantity, Micro & Macronutrients

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Senior dog feeding requirements vary from dog to dog, and some older dogs may need a special diet prescribed by a vet.
  • Protein is essential for older dogs as it helps with muscle mass and the immune system. Senior dogs generally need a higher protein-to-calorie ratio.
  • Calcium and phosphorus levels in senior dog diets need to be monitored, as aging pets develop renal insufficiency which makes them more sensitive to excess phosphorus.
  • High fiber diets may not be suitable for senior dogs who have trouble maintaining weight, while lower fiber diets can help with digestion and weight maintenance.
  • Specialized diets may be necessary for senior dogs with conditions such as heart failure, diabetes, and constipation. These diets should be prescribed by a vet and portion sizes should be determined with their guidance.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Saturday 13 February 2021
Last updated on
Thursday 20 July 2023
senior dog feeding
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As your lifelong companion gets older, you want to make sure they continue to receive the best nutrition possible. But what is the best food for your senior dog? Do all senior dogs require different food? The nutritional needs of senior dogs vary from dog to dog. While some senior dogs may do well on a high-quality commercial diet for adult dogs, others may require a special diet recommended by your veterinarian.

Feeding a senior dog doesn’t have to be complicated. You know your dog best, and your vet will know exactly what your older dog needs. It’s important to keep an eye on your senior dog’s eating habits and make changes as necessary.

Senior Dog Feeding Requirements

As dogs age, their nutritional needs change. All dogs, especially senior dogs, have different nutritional requirements, but there are some basics that apply to all. Among the most important changes are those in protein, minerals, and fiber. But how do these nutritional requirements change? Why are these nutrients so important when feeding a senior dog?


Protein is essential for older dogs. Despite exercising your dog regularly, you may notice a loss of muscle mass. This loss of muscle tissue and protein reserves can impair your dog’s immune system, decreasing your dog’s ability to recover from physical trauma, diseases, and stress. As well as this, loss of protein means that your dog lacks the amino acids for energy metabolism and energy repair.

Generally speaking, senior dogs need a higher protein-to-calorie ratio than other dogs. Your older pooch should get a minimum of 25% of their calories from protein. The exact amount of protein that your senior dog needs will vary depending on their health, weight, and activity levels, so be sure to check in with your vet for more details.


Twelve minerals are essential for dogs. Your dog also needs calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium, chlorine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine in their diet. For your senior dog, calcium and phosphorus perhaps the most important of all to monitor. Aging pets develop renal insufficiency over time, which makes them more prone to feeling the effects of excess phosphorus. So, senior diets are often made with phosphorus levels at the lower end of their reference range.

Also, the sodium requirements of a senior dog do not change unless your dog develops a health condition. Such conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, or kidney disease. If your dog has health needs that may be sodium-sensitive, discuss this with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to prescribe a low-sodium diet if it will benefit your pooch.


Some senior dog diets contain more fiber, along with fewer calories, to help with weight loss. However, very old dogs probably do not need to lose any weight if they do not struggle with any health conditions. As well as this, fiber decreases the intake of essential nutrients when eaten in excess. So what’s right for your senior dog? More, or less fiber? Should you talk to your vet about fiber?

High fiber diets are not always the best choice for senior dog feeding. For example, many commercial, high-fiber diets are not ideal for dogs who have problems maintaining weight, since these foods are usually low in calories. In contrast, other diets are lower in fiber to help senior dogs to digest and absorb their food, helping them to maintain weight. To determine what’s best for your senior dog, it’s best to call your vet for advice.

How is a Senior Dog Diet Different?

Not all senior dogs require a different diet. In fact, many older dogs can continue to eat a high-quality commercial diet designed for adult dogs without any issues. Just like their younger counterparts, senior dogs need essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates.

However, due to internal changes that occur as dogs age, senior dogs have their specific dietary requirements. For example, mature dogs may need 20% fewer calories to maintain weight compared to young dogs. This is because changes in your dog’s metabolic rate cause them to burn fewer calories while storing more as fat.

Every senior dog is different, so you must make sure to consider your dog as an individual. This means identifying what your dog needs, and adapting as needed. If your senior dog struggles to maintain weight, you may consider a commercial diet that is higher in calories and lower in fiber, for example. Likewise, if your older dog suffers from dental problems, they may benefit from smaller or softer kibble size. If your dog loses appetite due to their reduced ability to smell and taste, you may consider a diet higher in fat to increase its tastiness.

Snacks for Senior Dogs

As your dog gets older, you may need to switch their treats to ones that are softer and easier to chew. Soft dog treats and semi-moist snacks are easy for your older dog to chew, making them ideal for dogs with dental problems and sensitive stomachs. With commercial treats covered, what snacks can you provide from your own kitchen fridge?

Your senior dog might benefit from eating fruits and vegetables as a snack. Not only are these snacks healthy and interesting for your dog, but they are a great way to sneak in key vitamins alongside your dog’s normal diet! Kale, spinach, carrots, broccoli, and cucumber are just a few of the many healthy vegetable snacks for dogs. Your senior pooch will also enjoy apples, bananas, raspberries, and watermelon.

snacks for senior dogs
Switch to a softer treat for your senior dog!

Special Diets for Old Dogs

As your long-time friend grows older their risk of becoming unwell increases. You are a responsible owner who would do anything for their senior dog, including changing their diet to something a little more specialized. Dogs with heart failure, diabetes, and constipation often need a change in diet to support their health. But where can you buy these diets from? Are they prescription-only? How do they help your furry friend?

Diet for Dogs with Heart Failure

There are some key nutritional factors to consider for dogs with congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF is associated with chloride, water, and sodium retention. This makes the sodium content in your dog’s food very important. The sodium intake for your dog should be restricted to 0.08 to 0.25% on a dry matter basis. Similarly, chloride intake should be restricted to 0.12 to 0.38%. While a lower sodium and chloride content will not prevent heart disease in senior dogs, it helps to manage the symptoms of CHF. You may also need to provide distilled water rather than tap water if your water contains more than 150ppm of sodium.

Sound complicated? Don’t panic. Your vet can prescribe a suitable diet for your dog. Such diets include Royal Canin® Veterinary Diet Canine Cardiac, Hill’s® Prescription Diet® h/d®, and Rayne Clinical Nutrition™ Restrict-CKD™. If your vet prescribes a therapeutic diet to your dog, you must work closely with them to figure out the best portion sizes for your pooch.

Diet for Diabetic Dogs

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a complex condition that may require a change of diet for your dog. For feeding a senior dog with diabetes, most veterinarians recommend a controlled diet that is low-fat and high-fiber. This is because fiber slows the entrance of glucose into the bloodstream, and allows your pup to feel full for longer. Pairing this with the low-fat content, the diet helps your dog to eat less while also losing weight. Along with this, your dog’s diet should help them to achieve glycemic control, avoiding highs and lows in blood sugar.

To achieve these goals, your vet may prescribe the Royal Canin® Canine Diabetic or Hill’s® Prescription Diet® Multi-Benefit w/d™ diet. These diets are only available from your vet, who will help you to determine the best portion size for your dog. You may need to give this therapeutic diet to your pooch for the rest of their life to keep their blood glucose levels consistent.

Diet for Constipated Dogs

Constipation is a common and uncomfortable problem for senior dogs. As a doting owner, you want to help them quickly. If your senior dog frequently has trouble going to the toilet your vet might prescribe a special, high-fiber diet. One such special diet is Royal Canin Gastrointestinal High Fiber. This is veterinary-exclusive dry dog food for dogs with digestive sensitivities. What also excites us about this exclusive dry food is that it contains highly digestible prebiotics, further aiding your elderly pooch’s digestive system.

If your vet does not prescribe a special diet, they will suggest ways to help your dog with constipation at home. Such methods include adding organic canned pumpkin, probiotics, or Metamucil to your dog’s meals. Feeding a senior dog with constipation can be a tricky situation, so make sure to talk to your vet about any changes you make to your pet’s diet.

Supplements for Senior Dogs

Also known as EFAs, essential fatty acids are important for improving your senior dog’s skin and coat condition. They also provide a whole host of anti-aging benefits, including bolstering the immune system and supporting healthy brain function. Indeed, studies show that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help to ease the pain of arthritis. If this sounds ideal for your senior dog, consider adding a healthy dose of fish oil to their meals!

Glucosamine and chondroitin are among the most popular arthritis supplements for senior dogs. If your dog suffers from joint pain, the compounds in this anti-inflammatory supplement may help to relieve some discomfort. This is because it helps to support cartilage regeneration. Overall, the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin is not entirely agreed upon by researchers. While some dogs benefit from supplementation, others feel no significant benefit after taking it.

Senior Dog Feeding – FAQs

Have any questions or concerns about senior dog feeding? We’ve got you covered. Feel free to browse our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice!

Do senior dogs need senior foods?

Not all senior dogs need a “senior” diet, as many older dogs can continue to eat a high-quality commercial diet for adults. Other aging dogs, however, will benefit from swapping to a senior diet. However, it is important to know that there is no legal definition of what makes a senior diet. Diets marketed as being for senior dogs must only follow the same guidelines as a regular adult diet. Although this label might imply lower protein, phosphorus, and calorie content, the levels will vary considerably from one manufacturer to another. Therefore, some senior diets meet your dog’s needs better than another, and your dog may find no benefit from swapping to a senior diet. This is why it’s important to work closely with your vet to decide what food is best for your golden oldie!

How often should I feed my senior dog?

Your senior dog is probably used to eating twice a day, so there is no need to change this amount. However, you must still adapt to your dog’s changing needs. Senior dogs tend to gain weight more easily, for example, so you may find yourself feeding your dog smaller portions but at the same frequency. In contrast, some senior dogs who struggle to maintain their weight might benefit from free-feeding. Free-feeding is the practice of leaving a bowl of food out for your dog at all times. Your dog has constant access to food and can eat as often as they wish. With this being said, however, free-feeding is a topic of debate among nutritionists, and not all vets will recommend this method of feeding.

What nutrients do senior dogs need?

Your senior dog needs a well-balanced diet with a higher protein-to-calorie ratio, lower in phosphorus, and lower in calories. For some older dogs, their regular adult diet is more than enough to support them when given in smaller quantities. Furthermore, the specifics of what your senior dog needs ultimately depends on their circumstances. Does your dog have any ongoing health issues? Do they struggle to maintain a healthy weight? Is your dog prone to constipation? Make sure to talk to your vet about your dietary options if your dog falls into any of these categories!

What to feed old dogs that won’t eat?

What your senior dog should eat when experiencing a loss of appetite depends on the cause. Their loss of appetite can be caused by constipation, failing senses of smell and taste, chronic pain, low blood sugar, and medication side effects. So, for example, if your senior dog struggles with constipation, you can increase their fluid intake by soaking their kibble and flavoring their drinking water with low-sodium chicken broth. Lastly, you may add a tablespoon of organic canned pumpkin to one meal per day.

If your dog’s senses of smell and taste are failing, you can add low-sodium broth or other tasty things to your pet’s meal. You may also warm up their food to release more flavor and scent. If your dog has not eaten enough and is struggling with low blood sugar, you can offer a little honey or Karo syrup to help them to recover.

What is the healthiest dog food for old dogs?

Your vet will help you to find the healthiest food for your older dog. While there are plenty of high-quality senior dog foods on the market, not all are suitable for your pooch, who will have their own specific needs. Your vet may even recommend that you make changes to your dog’s commercial diet, such as adding pumpkin for fiber. Also, your dog may require a specialist prescription-only diet to combat any ongoing health issues. Such health issues include heart failure, diabetes, and constipation. If you worry about your senior dog’s health, make sure to talk to your vet about your dietary options.

Senior dogs are individuals, and there is no one rule for feeding a senior dog. As such, it always helps to consult with a veterinary nutritionist to figure out the best meal plan for your older pooch.

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