Once your dog captures your heart, it doesn’t let it go. In exchange for your care, they remain faithful and loving companions throughout their lifetime. So, if you want to ensure that they live long and healthy lives, you need to understand their nutritional needs at any given stage of their journey. 

As the owner of an aging dog, maintaining their care and well-being should be your number one priority. While a senior dog might be more susceptible to diseases or joint health issues, a healthy diet can help ballast your dog’s health and immune system and keep them functioning with the zeal and fortitude of a young pup. 

Are you aware of the nutritional requirements for senior dogs? Find out everything you need to know about the senior stage here. 

The Senior Stage: Nutritional Needs for Senior Dogs 

It can be hard to admit that your dear canine pal is aging. However, acknowledging and coming to terms with the symptoms of aging in adult dogs is vital if you wish to address them immediately. With that in mind, be sure to research the specific signs of aging or deterioration for your particular breed and learn about key health risks that they’re likely to face during this time. 

In the same vein, it’s also crucial to understand what’s considered to be a senior dog. Typically, it depends on their size:

  • Larger or giant breeds – A senior dog is any canine older than seven
  • Mid-size dogs – A senior constitutes those in the eight to nine-year range
  • Smaller dogs – The senior stage might occur as late as eleven or twelve years old.

Bone Care and Arthritis

The following breeds are highly susceptible to struggle with arthritis and joint issues like hip problems in their old age:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds 
  • Dachshunds or wiener dogs (particularly back pain)
  • Labrador Retrievers

If you know that your dog breed has a higher risk of arthritis, then it is never too early to take preventative action by building a plan for your dog’s diet with a focus on strengthening their bones. The PDSA recommends feeding your dog nutritious joint supplements that are high in these essential nutrients:

  • Omega 3
  • Calcium 
  • MSM
  • Chondroitin
  • Glucosamine

A balanced diet containing such ingredients can be fortified with the addition of painkillers or anti-inflammatories. However, only do so after confirming that they won’t negatively interact with any medicine your dog is already on.

Cognitive Care

While your dog’s physical health and well-being is important, focusing on their cognitive wellness and mental strength is every bit as crucial for the promotion of graceful aging. To that end, the American Kennel Club advocates the use of fish oils and fatty acids to stimulate neurotransmitters and help your dog’s brain function at peak capacity. Consider adding the following supplements to your dog’s meal routine:

  • Fish Oils
  • Krill Oils
  • Algae Oils

All of the above qualify as polyunsaturated fats that are dense in Omega 3. They are the best natural stimulants for your dog’s brain activity. Many popular dog food brands advertise these fish oils as key ingredients. Don’t be fooled by that, though. Most only include a marginal amount that’ll have few, if any, lasting health benefits.

The recommended daily fish oil intake for senior dogs is 1/4 teaspoon per 10 lbs in body weight. For best effect, add this supplement to their daily meal. 

Be Wise About Weight Gain

Once your dog reaches 7 years old, it’ll slowly but surely lose the vim and vigour it once had as a puppy. With a deteriorating energy rate comes a decrease in metabolism and a higher risk of weight gain. Most vets advise against “free-feeding” for senior and adult dogs: that is, eating indiscriminately throughout the day. Instead, they suggest that you establish a disciplined “dinner time” and offer your dog just one nutritious meal a day. 

Pet owners should take great care in avoiding overfeeding their dog by adjusting their portion size to fit their current weight status. In fact, in old age, it might be worth cutting out unhealthy treats and biscuits altogether. Instead, offer your dog raw fruit and vegetables as a way of boosting their nutrient and vitamin levels and avoiding unnecessary fat intake. Solid snack substitutes can include:

  • Red berries
  • Seeds
  • Green apples
  • Frozen carrots

Although these might not be as tempting as a juicy bit of meat, if you can be patient and encouraging as your dog makes the switch, it could have an incredible effect on their longevity. Similarly, you might discover that transitioning to a lower calorie dog food is also beneficial. Even though elderly dogs may not take well to the introduction of a new food, it’s in their best interest to switch and adapt to their new, age-appropriate diet.

Start Now

No one wants their best friend to get old and frail, but it’s an inevitability. That’s why it’s important to prepare for this phenomenon sooner than later. It’s much better to be proactive and craft a pertinent game plan for meals and nutrition supplements than be caught off guard by a rapidly deteriorating health. 

So, if you want your dog to spend its final years in relative peace and comfort, you must pay attention to the nutritional needs for senior dogs. 


PDSA. Taking Care of Your Pet. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/pet-health-hub/conditions/arthritis-in-dogs  

Gibeault, S. American Kennel Club. Nutrition and Supplement Tips for Senior Dogs. (2017). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/nutrition-and-supplements-for-senior-dogs/

Huston, L. PetMD. Tips for Caring for Senior Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_dg_caring_for_older_dogs_with_health_problems

Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine.  She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.

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