5 Things You Need to Know about Senior Dog Food

Hill's Pet Nutrition

Hill's Pet Nutrition

Published Jun. 28, 2024
senior dog eating food

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As dogs get older, their nutritional needs can change in surprising ways. Unlike younger dogs that easily build muscle and expend huge amounts of energy running around and playing, older dogs tend to move a little slower and are more likely to have health problems that limit their diet. Additionally, biological changes kick in that change the way your dog processes food.

Fortunately, specially formulated foods are carefully designed to support older dogs and their health needs. Read on to find out how you can use Hill’s science-based formulas to support your aging dog throughout their golden years.

5 Things to Know About Nutrition for Senior Dogs

As dogs age, both their changing biology and their lifestyle affect their nutritional needs. Here are five key things about feeding your senior dog to keep in mind:

Older Dogs Process Food Differently Than Puppies or Young Adults

Older dogs don’t process protein as easily as younger dogs, and they may also experience age-related muscle loss that can lead to further health problems. Additionally, biological changes like digestive problems could mean your dog might want to eat less, or make it harder to get the most out of the nutrients in their food. As a result, it’s important to ensure you’re providing the amount of protein that’s right for your dog’s specific needs.

Older dogs may also benefit from adding special ingredients to their food, like omega-3 fatty acids that support healthy joint function.

Finally, older dogs tend to be less active, so weight gain may be an issue, especially if you’re feeding the same amount of the same food you provided when they were younger and more active. Make sure to consult your veterinarian about the correct amount to feed your senior dog.

When Is Your Mature Dog Ready to Switch Foods?

Unfortunately, your dog won’t be able to tell you, “I feel like my food is getting a little harder to digest and maybe I need the nutrition in a senior food.”

Your veterinarian is a great resource here, so it’s always a good idea to ask if you should think about switching to a senior food. Different breeds of dogs reach the senior milestone at different ages. At that time, your vet may recommend the switch to a senior diet that's supportive of your dog’s changing needs to help keep them healthy.

For instance, senior foods may help your older dog maintain a healthy weight as they age or may help support healthy digestion and haircoat. Nutrition for senior dogs may even contain ingredients that support brain function, interaction, energy, and vitality.

Focus on Digestion

Pet parents may notice digestive issues affecting their older dogs. Senior dogs may have a reduced ability to digest and absorb their foods. This can result in digestive health consequences like diarrhea, which may benefit from nutrition changes such as added fiber.

To help improve digestive health, vets also sometimes recommend adding pre- or probiotics to a senior dog’s diet. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can influence the gut to support healthy digestion and a balanced immune system. Prebiotics are basically food for beneficial gut bacteria, in the form of certain fibers. Food for senior dogs may be fortified with prebiotics to help improve digestive health, or supplements containing prebiotics or probiotics may be recommended.

Targeted Nutritional Support Can Help Keep Mature Dogs Healthy

In human medicine, the concept of a “healthspan” has gained traction in recent years. Unlike lifespan—which measures years of life—healthspan is more about the number of healthy, active years with good quality of life. In dogs, focusing on healthspan means taking active steps to help protect quality of life, and nutrition can be a major part of this, along with appropriate veterinary care.

Hill’s Science Diet foods have been engineered to provide complete nutrition to healthy older dogs to help pets and their parents make the most of the years they have together.

Depending on your dog’s needs, your vet may recommend formulations that include ingredients meant to help support mobility and healthy joints, such as fish oil and glucosamine/chondroitin. Or, if your dog is small but mighty, nutrition designed for small and mini senior dogs may be a good choice to support graceful aging. There are also senior dog foods that don't contain corn or wheat, for those cases when a pet parent prefers those types of foods.

Joint Problems? Ask Your Vet How Nutrition Could Help

As your dog ages, a lifetime of running and playing can wear on their joints. Fortunately, supplements can help support healthy joint function, even among normally aging dogs. If you notice your dog slowing down or avoiding hopping up on their favorite couch, talk to your vet about joint health and support. Depending on what’s going on, your vet may recommend therapeutic nutrition, like Hill’s line of Prescription Diet dog foods

Senior Dog Food FAQs

When is my dog considered a senior?

It’s not just about “dog years.” When your dog is considered a senior depends on factors such as their breed, size, and overall health. Large-breed dogs are often considered senior before their small-breed cousins, which makes sense because large-breed dogs typically have shorter overall lifespans.

In general, however, a dog or cat can be considered middle aged around 7 years of age, and officially become a senior around 11 (although, again, this does depend somewhat on their breed).

If you suspect your dog is beginning to show signs of slowing down, showing symptoms of a condition such as arthritis, or experiencing behavior changes, make an appointment with your vet to talk about what you can do to help them transition.

How can I transition my mature dog to a new food?

Switching to a new food can be a big change for an older dog who is used to their “regular” food. Ideally, don’t switch their food all at once. Instead, transition to the new food over seven to 10 days, or even longer if your dog is experiencing any digestive upset.

Start on day one by replacing about 10% of their normal food with the new food. Every day after that, add another 10% of new food. If your dog doesn’t balk at the change, on day seven it is probably safe to switch them to 100% of the new food. If your dog experiences vomiting and diarrhea at any point during the transition, stop the new food and contact your vet.

This sponsored article was paid for by Hill's Pet Nutrition. All opinions within belong to Hill's Pet Nutrition.

Hill's Pet Nutrition


Hill's Pet Nutrition

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Founded 75 years ago with an unwavering commitment to science-led pet nutrition, Hill's Pet Nutrition is on a mission to help enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets. Hill's is dedicated to pioneering research for dogs and cats using a scientific understanding of their specific needs. As a leading veterinarian recommended pet food brand, knowledge is our first ingredient with 220+ veterinarians, PhD nutritionists and food scientists working to develop breakthrough innovations in pet health.

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