Life Stage Nutrition: Senior Dogs

Older dogs can benefit from a diet designed especially for senior dogs.

Created: 18/04/2017 Updated: 27/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

diet, Diet & Nutrition, digestion, dogs, joint, senior

The senior stage follows on from the adult stage and continues until death. In small dogs, the senior phase starts at around seven or eight years of age, and at around five years in large and giant breeds. When all breeds of dogs are considered, the average lifespan of the domestic dog is approximately 13 years although some of the smaller breeds can live much longer.

However, many of the larger breeds have a significantly shorter lifespan. Normal ageing in dogs is associated with a reduced resting metabolic rate, a decline in activity level, decreases in lean body mass and increased body fat, but lifestyle factors can influence all of these changes.

Physical activities

While some dogs voluntarily reduce their physical activities as they become older, others remain active well into their senior years, but most experience a slight to moderate reduction in their daily energy needs as they age.

Food intake and body weight

Food intake and body weight should be carefully monitored in older pets to ensure adequate consumption of calories and nutrients, while at the same time preventing the development of obesity. Foods that are formulated for senior dogs will be slightly lower in energy density but slightly higher in protein level to minimise age-associated losses in the body's protein reserves and to support the ability to respond to stress.

Two older dogs standing side by side

Senior diet

The aims of a 'senior diet' are to maintain the body as it is, and to slow down the progressive deterioration of the body's systems and organs. Body composition changes with age and therefore alters energy requirements. Loss of lean body mass (e.g. skeletal muscle) not only leads to reduced activity, and thus potentially stiff joints, but can reduce immunity levels and thus increase exposure to stress and infection. So it is in the dog's best interest to maintain muscle mass for as long as possible and it is important to encourage the animal to continue to exercise. This means that a reduction in protein intake is not advised for the senior dog.

Reduced kidney function is a common problem in the senior animal, so a high-quality protein source is required to support the kidneys and to reduce the level of waste products from protein breakdown. A poor-quality protein is less well used by the body and produces a greater amount of waste products when broken down, giving the kidneys an unnecessary workload in order to excrete the waste compared with a higher quality protein. Senior dogs can be prone to obesity due to their reduced activity levels, so it is a good idea for the diet to have reduced fat levels that will lower the energy density of the diet.

Dog out on an autumn walk with its owner.

How OSCAR can Help...

Optimised nutrition. Foods to suit all adults. With gluten-free, grain-free, wheat-gluten-free diets as well as foods for working and sporting dogs; OSCAR Adult Complete foods will keep your adult dog active, healthy and happy.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.