As dogs age, their needs, energy levels, and nutritional requirements change. You may find it more difficult for your senior dog to maintain a healthy body weight, and they may need less calories, but more nutrients to support their bones, joints and overall health.
At Tom&Sawyer, we believe that dogs of any age deserve the highest quality nutrition to live happier, healthier lives — including all of our senior pups, so they can live out their golden years in comfort.
What is the healthiest food for senior dogs?
While there are many senior dog food options available, at Tom&Sawyer, we believe that fresh, gently cooked pet food can be a great option for a senior dog. As dogs age, tailored nutrition becomes so important, because senior dogs have different needs than their younger counterparts and are more at risk for certain health conditions.
Common Health Concerns for Senior Dogs
As dogs age, their energy levels decrease, which means they need less calories coming in. Senior dogs are at a higher risk for obesity when their energy intake is not reduced to meet their lowered energy needs.
Obesity is the accumulation of excessive fat deposits that can have serious health implications. Dogs who are obese will have higher levels of inflammatory compounds and greater levels of harmful free radicals.
This can all increase the risk for painful conditions such as osteoarthritis as well as cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. Click here to read our top 10 tips for safe weight loss in dogs.
Additionally, senior dogs that aren’t receiving enough protein are at risk of sarcopenia, which is a condition in which significant muscle mass is lost. This condition can occur in underweight, normal weight, or even obese seniors, and is a serious health concern.
Photo by Alvan Nee
Muscle mass loss naturally occurs with age, which puts seniors at a greater risk for developing sarcopenia. This excessive loss of muscle can result in weakness, loss of balance, reduced physical activity, and increased inflammation and oxidative stress.
It’s no surprise that these consequences can then result in other detrimental diseases such as obesity, osteoarthritis, and cancers.
Typical wear and tear of joints and cartilage, alongside the naturally occurring loss of muscle mass with age, is a common cause for the greater incidence of osteoarthritis in senior pups. Osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation and reduced joint capacity occurring due to the loss of cartilage, which acts as a protective cushion for the joint, and also is due to the development of bone spurs. Prevention for osteoarthritis is crucial as it is an irreversible or untreatable condition.
4) Dental Disease
Do you regularly brush your dog’s teeth? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is usually no. Many pet owners fall prey to the common misconception that kibble will “brush” away the debris on your pet’s teeth and gums. However, unless a product has the VOHC seal of approval, they are usually ineffective at preventing dental issues.
Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk
As your dog ages, the build up of plaque thickens to form tartar. If this buildup reaches the gums, this can cause inflammation, or gingivitis. Overtime, this can result in dental disease.
Dental disease, or periodontal disease, can be quite painful, especially when chewing on hard kibble. Tooth strength and integrity is also jeopardized with dental diseases which can increase the risk of tooth breakages and fractures. In addition, bacteria and other debris can build up, resulting in other digestive issues. Click here to read more about keeping your dog's teeth healthy.
5) Chronic Kidney Disease
The kidneys are impressive organs that essentially filter the blood, removing waste products and adjusting fluid levels to keep a perfect balance. They also produce urine. Kidney disease is characterized by the inability to filter waste from the blood efficiently, and while urine is still produced and excreted, it does not expel the waste products with it.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) develops over time and is often associated with increasing age due to an accumulation of damage to the kidney tissue over time. Kidney tissue is unable to regenerate and so CKD develops as the kidneys wear out.
Nutrients to Consider in Senior Dog Food
Due to the high prevalence of obesity and sarcopenia in senior dogs, ensuring a moderate protein level from high-quality protein sources is crucial for maintaining and supporting muscle mass in seniors.
2) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids are a type of “healthy” fat due to their anti-inflammatory nature. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied heavily for their benefits in reducing inflammation under certain conditions such as obesity, osteoarthritis, and even cancers.
Fibre is often an overlooked nutrient as it is not actually digested and absorbed like other nutrients. However, fibre has a plethora of research for its benefits in promoting a healthy gut and microbiome, improving stool size, shape, and quality, as well as for supporting healthy weight loss, preventing certain cancers (specifically gastrointestinal cancers), controlling blood sugar levels, and even potentially supporting a lowered blood pressure.
Contrary to the other nutrients listed, phosphorus is a nutrient that may need to be lowered for some seniors. This is because of the role of phosphorus in kidney function. In kidney disease, phosphorus levels are elevated, and limiting phosphorus intakes may be beneficial in delaying kidney disease progression.
Similarly to phosphorus, calcium may also be beneficial at lower concentrations for seniors. During growth and adult maintenance, calcium is crucial for developing strong bones and for overall health. However, as your pup reaches their golden years, the risk for calcium oxalate crystals may be greater. To help prevent the development of these crystals, a lowered calcium content may be beneficial.
Photo by Kanashi
Ensuring your pup is consuming a complete and balanced diet is also highly important for our seniors. So while some nutrients may be beneficial at lowered amounts, these levels should be controlled for to ensure they are still at appropriate levels for regular body functions.
In addition to nutrients, senior dogs may benefit from different formats for their meals. Dry food or kibbles can be hard on their teeth and typically have a lower digestibility than other food types due to the high heat processing. Raw food diets may not be highly digestible or bioavailable for the modern age pup and can be a risk for pathogens.
Therefore, gently cooked fresh food that is complete and balanced could be a great choice for senior dogs, and pups of any age!
Here are some ways that fresh, gently cooked pet food can help your senior dog thrive:
1) Moisture content
Fresh cooked pet food has a higher moisture content than dry kibbles. The high moisture content can help increase your senior pup’s water intake. Proper hydration is key to a healthy dog.
2) High quality, highly digestible ingredients
Cooked food is considered more digestible than raw, but overcooking (i.e. kibbles) can reduce the nutritional value and digestibility of the ingredients. By cooking ingredients to their optimal temperature, we ensure that the nutrients are available for our pups to digest and absorb.
3) Easy on the teeth
As a senior ages, their dental health usually plummets, which can cause fragile teeth and sore gums. Gently cooked pet foods are soft to chew, reducing pain when chewing!
Our Fisherman’s Best Friend dog food recipe has been specially formulated for senior pups, encapsulating all of the above into one easy recipe!
Do you have more questions about the healthiest food for your senior dog? Schedule a FREE consultation with our in-house animal nutritionist and learn what meals will help your senior pup thrive.
Written by: Hannah Godfrey
BSc.H. | MSc. Animal Nutrition