Did you know that senior dogs have different nutritional requirements than younger dogs? Sometimes a senior dog will do OK on food that’s approved for “all life stages,” but they usually do better on a diet designed for older dogs.
So, which is the best senior dog food? Here are our top picks for the best dog food for senior dogs.
- How to Choose the Best Food for Your Senior Dog
- The Best Senior Dog Food
- #1 – Nulo Senior Grain Free Dog Food With Glucosamine And Chondroitin
- #2 – ORIJEN Senior High-Protein, Grain-Free, Premium Quality Meat, Adult Dry Dog Food
- #3 – Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior Dog Food
- #4 – Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Dog Food
- #5 – Instinct Raw Boost Senior Grain Free Recipe Natural Dry Dog Food
- Senior Dog Food Buying Guide
- The Number 1 Cause of Food-Related Illness in Senior Dogs
- What to Do if Your Senior Dog Stops Eating
- Final Thoughts on Senior Dog Food
How to Choose the Best Food for Your Senior Dog
So, what should you look for as you research the best senior dog food?
- High-quality protein sources. Whole meat (rather than meal) should be the first ingredient.
- Avoid artificial ingredients. Your dog doesn’t need artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives in their food.
- Whole grains or grain-free. Vets disagree on whether or not dogs should eat grains. If you choose a grain-inclusive diet for your senior dog, look for food with whole grains rather than things like wheat gluten or corn grits.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin and crucial for your dog’s joint health as they age.
- Antioxidants help fight damage from free radicals and are an essential part of your dog’s diet.
- Healthy fats and oils. Fat isn’t a bad thing; it’s an essential nutrient. Dogs need to get essential fatty acids from sources like fish oil or flaxseed.
- Probiotics and prebiotics help with digestion.
- No fillers like wheat or corn. Every ingredient in your senior dog’s food should have a purpose and provide nutrition.
- Avoid by-products. By-products are what’s left of an animal (or plant) after humans have used the parts that they want to eat. By-products offer little nutritional value and are a cheap way to add bulk to some dog foods.
- Talk to your dog’s vet. When in doubt, your dog’s vet can give you specific recommendations about what to feed your senior dog. This is especially important if your dog has any underlying health conditions.
The Best Senior Dog Food
If you’re in search of an excellent grain-free dog food for your senior dog, Nulo Senior Grain-Free should top your list. It’s high in protein from quality animal sources, low in carbohydrates, and has glucosamine, chondroitin, and probiotics.
- No: wheat, corn, soy, tapioca, white potatoes, or artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives
- 80% animal-based protein
- Includes glucosamine and chondroitin
- Has a patented probiotic for digestive health
- Made in the USA
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned trout, turkey meal, salmon meal, yellow peas, sweet potato
Customer Reviews: A few dogs didn’t care for the taste of this food or experienced digestive upset. However, the vast majority of the reviews are positive. Even picky dogs love this food, and many people report that their senior dog had more energy and less pain after switching to this food from something else.
Final Verdict: If you’re comfortable feeding your dog a grain-free diet, this may be the best dog food for older dogs on the market right now. There is a small chance your pup won’t like it or will have diarrhea. However, the odds are much better that they’ll love the flavor and will have increased energy and less joint pain.
For an excellent high-protein, grain-free food, it’s hard to beat Orijen Senior. This biologically appropriate food is full of fresh and raw animal ingredients and is made in the United States.
- Includes whole animal ingredients like free-run turkey and chicken, cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fish
- Uses raw and fresh animal ingredients, including cartilage, organs, meat, and bone
- 85% quality animal ingredients
- Biologically appropriate grain-free diet
- Made in the USA
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, flounder, eggs, whole Atlantic mackerel
Customer Reviews: Some people report quality control issues, a few dogs didn’t like the taste, and some dogs got sick. By and large, though, most dogs love the flavor and thrive on this food.
Final Verdict: This ultra-premium food comes with a price tag to match, but the high-quality ingredients are hard to beat. For dogs on grain-free diets, this is an excellent choice.
If you prefer to feed a grain-inclusive diet, or if some of the other foods on our list are out of your budget, Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Senior Dog Food is an excellent choice. It features real meat as the first ingredient, and blueberries and cranberries are a natural source of antioxidants.
- Real meat is the first ingredient
- Includes Blue’s LifeSource Bits, which are cooked at a lower temperature to preserve nutrients
- No chicken (or poultry) by-product meals, wheat, corn, soy, artificial flavors or preservatives
- Contains glucosamine and chondroitin to help support joint health and overall mobility
- Blueberries and cranberries provide antioxidants naturally
First 5 Ingredients: Deboned chicken, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, chicken meal
Customer Reviews: Some dogs got sick after switching to this food. Most dogs do really well on it, though, especially after switching from lower-quality foods.
Final Verdict: This food isn’t right for all dogs, but it is a good option for most senior dogs.
Chicken and rice is a classic dog food flavor combination, and Nutro nails it with their Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Dog Food. This food also includes lamb and salmon and is made with non-GMO ingredients.
- Protein from chicken, lamb, and salmon
- Made with non-GMO ingredients
- Contains a blend of 15 superfoods, including chia, coconut, kale, and blueberries
- No chicken by-product meal, soy, corn, or wheat, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
- Chicken is the number 1 ingredient
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal (source of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate), whole brown rice, brewers rice, rice bran
Customer Reviews: There are reports of some quality control issues when getting this food through Amazon, and some dogs got sick after eating it. Most dogs love the flavor, though, and owners report dogs as old as 18 thriving on this food.
Final Verdict: If you’re looking for a grain-inclusive formula for your dog, this one is an excellent choice. Assuming you don’t get a bad bag, your dog will likely do really well on this food.
With Instinct Raw Boost Senior Grain-Free Recipe, your dog gets the benefits of freeze-dried raw meat, and you get the convenience of kibble. It’s an excellent option if you don’t want to commit to an entirely raw diet for your pup.
- Combines high-protein, grain-free kibble with all-natural bites of freeze-dried raw chicken
- No grain, corn, potato, wheat, soy, by-product meal, artificial colors or preservatives
- Made with cage-free chicken, probiotics, and omega fatty acids
- With natural DHA for eye and brain health, plus glucosamine and chondroitin for hip and joint health
- Made in the USA
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken meal (source of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate), chickpeas, peas, tapioca, chicken
Customer Reviews: The few negative reviews range from a dog allergic to chicken to a dog who didn’t like the taste to a dog who got sick. Otherwise, most dogs like the taste and some owners reported that their dogs had more energy after switching to this food from another brand.
Final Verdict: If you’re looking for the benefits of raw meat with the simplicity of kibble in a grain-free senior dog food, this is the food you’re looking for. Not all dogs love the taste, but most dogs at least enjoy the freeze-dried raw pieces.
Senior Dog Food Buying Guide
What makes a dog a senior? How is senior dog food different than adult dog food? And what should you look for when buying senior dog food? Let’s look at everything you need to know to pick the best dog food for older dogs.
When Is a Dog Considered a Senior?
There is no short answer to this question. Small dogs tend to live longer than large dogs, so they become seniors at a different age. In general, though, a dog is considered a senior if they’re in the last 25% of their expected lifespan.
Let’s look at a few different breeds so you can get an idea of what age your dog will become a senior.
- Chihuahuas, the smallest dog breed, have an average lifespan of 14 to 16 years. That means a Chihuahua might not be considered a senior until they reach about 11 or 12.
- Border Collies are a medium dog breed with an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. A Border Collie might be considered a senior around 9 or 10 years old.
- Labrador Retrievers are a large breed with an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. They could be classified as seniors around 8 or 9 years old.
- Great Danes are a giant dog breed and have an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years. That means a 5-year-old Great Dane could be considered a senior.
Do Senior Dogs Need Special Diets?
Dogs tend to slow down as they age, so, naturally, they have different nutritional needs than active dogs that are running around all day. Here are some of the things that set senior dog food apart:
- Lower carbohydrate and fat levels. Carbs and fat fuel energy, and since senior dogs have lower energy levels, they don’t need as many of their calories to come from carbs and fat.
- Higher protein levels. Protein builds muscle, and senior dogs are prone to losing muscle mass. A high-protein diet may also be easier on an older dog’s kidneys.
- Increased fiber levels. Your dog’s whole system slows down as they age, including their digestion. High fiber levels help prevent constipation.
- Lower calories. Between being less active and having a slower metabolism, senior dogs are prone to obesity, so their food needs to be lower in calories.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin. These molecules can help prevent and lessen joint pain, which is a common problem in older dogs. You can give these as a supplement, but it’s ideal to find a food that includes glucosamine and chondroitin.
What Health Problems Could Impact a Senior Dog’s Diet?
In addition to just being older and slower, senior dogs are prone to a lot of health problems that can impact their diet. Here are a few common health problems and how you should take them into consideration when planning your senior dog’s diet:
- Cancer. Sadly, cancer affects many of our fur children as they age. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, a recommended diet for dogs with cancer should be calorie-dense, high in fat and protein, and low in carbohydrates.
- Arthritis and hip dysplasia can cause a senior dog a lot of pain. Glucosamine and chondroitin may help reduce or prevent joint pain, so look for it in your dog’s food and supplement it if necessary.
- Kidney disease. Dogs with kidney problems may benefit from a diet that is lower in protein and phosphorous and high in moisture (like canned food).
- Diabetes. Dogs with diabetes have a hard time controlling their blood sugar levels. Since carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, dogs with diabetes may do best on food that’s low in carbs.
- Dementia. To help prevent and improve symptoms of dementia, make sure your senior dog’s food includes beta carotene, vitamins C and E, flavonoids, carotenoids, selenium, EPA, and DHA.
The Number 1 Cause of Food-Related Illness in Senior Dogs
Obesity can shorten your dog’s life by as much as 2 years. Being overweight can cause many of the same health problems in dogs as it does in people. You should be able to feel (but not see) your dog’s ribs when they are standing up, and they should have a visible waistline.
If your senior dog is overweight, talk to your vet about how to help your dog get to a healthy weight. Decreasing their current food might cause malnutrition, so it’s best to get a vet’s input on the safest way to help your dog lose weight.
What to Do if Your Senior Dog Stops Eating
Sometimes, senior dogs lose their appetite. If your dog stops eating, there are some things you can try to encourage them to eat.
- Flavor enhancers. There are lots of tasty food toppers and flavor enhancers that can encourage picky pups to eat their kibble.
- Home-cooked food. If your senior dog still resists eating if you add flavor enhancers, or just picks out the food topper and leaves the kibble, you can try to entice them to eat with home-cooked food, like boiled chicken and rice.
- Trip to the vet. If nothing gets your senior dog to eat, it’s time for a trip to the vet. Loss of appetite can signal some potentially serious health problems, so don’t wait too long to get your senior pup checked out if they stop eating.
Final Thoughts on Senior Dog Food
Switching your dog to a senior dog food can be stressful. Hopefully, we’ve helped you narrow down your selection and pick one that perfectly suits your senior dog. The best dog food for senior dogs may help extend their life compared to feeding them the wrong food.