Table of Contents:
Signs your dog is getting old 

  • What to look out for
  • Age is just a number 

Feeding your older dog 

  • Do more with less
  • The protein myth
  • Supplements – are they worth it? 

Common illnesses and how to support your older dog

  • Helping arthritis
  • Improving dental health
  • Managing obesity

Enjoying life with your older dog

  • Know when to slow down 
  • Home comforts
  • Adapting playtime and enrichment

Caring for your older dog FAQs

  • How old is a senior dog?
  • What is the healthiest dog food for senior dogs?
  • Why is my senior dog behaving differently?
  • What can I give my senior dog for a stomach upset?
  • Do all dogs go deaf and blind?
  • Why is my senior dog grumpy?
  • What should I do if my senior dog is drinking too much water, or eating and losing weight?

In summary

Dogs are a huge part of family life, so of course you’ll want to keep them healthy and happy for as long as you can. At Natures Menu, we advocate delicious balanced meals made with high quality natural ingredients that support your four-legged friend at every stage of their life – from puppyhood right through to old age. So in this article, we explore how to care for your older dog and enjoy your time together in their later years, taking a closer look at senior dog food that supports their health and wellbeing, while separating fact from fiction along the way.

Signs your dog is getting old

Ageing is a normal, natural part of life. And just like us, as our dogs get older their needs can change. However, the good news is there’s plenty you can do to help your older dog stay as fit and healthy as possible – for as long as possible – with just a few lifestyle and diet adjustments that help slow the effects of the ageing process and manage their susceptibility to disease. But to provide the best care you can, it’s worth knowing the signs that your dog might be feeling the effects of old age.

What to look out for

These are just some of the common effects of ageing that you might begin to notice in your older dog:

  • Slowing down and becoming less physically active
  • Difficulty getting around e.g. stiffness when climbing stairs or reluctance to jump in the car
  • Weight gain even though portions remain the same 
  • Reduced appetite
  • Skin, coat and nail changes e.g. dry skin, brittle nails or a coarser coat
  • Increasing grey hairs

Our beloved dogs are good at hiding things (apart from those greys) so whatever your dog looks like on the outside, it’s important to keep them as healthy as possible on the inside with well-balanced meals packed with nutrition

Age is just a number

An important thing to remember is that dogs age at different rates depending on a variety of factors, including their condition and breed. For example, for a small dog the signs of ageing may become more obvious at 12 years, whereas it might be 10 years for a medium-sized dog, and 8 years for a large dog. But as a general rule, you can expect your older dog to start feeling some effects of ageing once they reach the final third of their lifespan (whatever that is for their breed). 
Once they reach this stage it can be helpful to think of your older dog as a “senior” – not because they suddenly need wrapping in cotton wool, far from it! It’s more about being a knowledgeable pet parent who has the confidence to adapt a few things, if needed, so you can enjoy your time together long into their senior years. Even things like keeping your older dog a healthy weight can make a big difference to their overall wellbeing and energy levels by keeping pressure on their joints and organs to a minimum.

senior dogsFeeding your older dog

As your dog gets older, it can be tempting to overcomplicate their dietary needs. But as long as your older dog is still fit and is already eating healthy balanced meals, there shouldn’t be any need to make major changes to their diet. However, there is one thing you might want to keep in mind – and that’s volume.

Do more with less

Senior dogs have around 15-20% less energy than their younger, bouncier selves. It means there’s also a notable reduction in their physical activity and lean body mass, due to a lower metabolic rate. This is all perfectly normal, but it’s important to make allowances for it nonetheless. Otherwise you may notice that your pet pooch is looking a little bigger around the middle – a fact that has nothing to do with their winter coat. In fact, some older dogs actually have reduced digestive activity along with a reduced appetite. Either way, it’s vital that whatever the portion size, nutritional value should never be compromised. Complete meals made with high quality natural ingredients are a must.

The protein myth

Many years ago, a low protein diet was recommended for senior dog food because it was believed to help prevent kidney damage. Fast forward to today and studies have proven this to be false[1]. In fact, older dogs can potentially need more protein than younger dogs – roughly 50% more[2]. This is because older dogs are less efficient at metabolising protein, so they need more of it to feel the benefit. Current recommendations for senior dog food now suggest a good quality protein diet to help minimise the loss of lean body mass and support a healthy immune system. For help with other raw dog food myths, take a look at our myth busting blog.  

Supplements – are they worth it?

There are an increasing number of supplements available for dogs, so as a responsible pet parent, you’re right to approach the industry with caution. However, there are many that are proven to help support your older dog’s health and wellbeing, such as omega 3 and 6 for aiding joints and supporting a healthy skin and coat. As always, if you’re unsure, it’s best to speak to your vet who will be able to recommend the best senior dog food and supplements for your dog.

Common illnesses and how to support your older dog

Just because your dog is getting older, doesn’t mean they’re going to suddenly start getting ill. However, there are a few common illnesses that some older dogs may face, and since knowledge is power, it’s useful to know a bit about each one and what you can do about them, if they ever become a problem.

Helping arthritis

When it comes to arthritis, keeping your older dog at a healthy weight is so important. Extra body weight puts unnecessary pressure on their joints, which can increase their pain and ability to get around comfortably. It’s never too late to change your dog’s diet for the better by swapping out overly processed foods with senior dog food that’s high in lean protein, fruits and vegetables. But starting this when they’re young can actually help prevent arthritis at an older age. And as an added bonus, this can also help to keep diabetes and heart conditions at bay too.

Improving dental health

The dreaded doggy breath is something all dog owners will know about. But the issue runs a lot deeper than just the smell. Just like us, your dog’s teeth need looking after otherwise they face the same issues we do such as tooth decay. Again, taking care of your dog’s teeth when they’re younger will help them when they’re older. But if your older dog has already lost teeth, a simple switch to softer foods that are better for their sensitive mouths will help.

Managing obesity

If your older dog is overweight, following a low calorie, low carb diet that’s also high in protein can really help. You might also think about the type of exercise you give your dog. Of course you can still enjoy an active life together, but the activity itself might need to change. For example, overweight dogs benefit from low pressure activities like swimming. Alternatively, gentle walks on soft ground such as beaches and woods are also great for keeping pressure on their joints to a minimum. Avoid high-impact activity like throwing balls or jumping, as this can inflame elbow and hip joints. 

The importance of a healthy start

There are lots of options for senior dog food that can support your dog’s health, especially if they’re suffering with an illness or the effects of old age. But since prevention is better than cure, starting your dog off with healthy, nutritionally balanced meals from the very beginning is always the ideal scenario. 

senior dogsEnjoying life with your older dog

Even though your dog is a little older and possibly a little greyer, there’s still lots of fun to be had together. After all, would you really want to go back to puppyhood or that rebellious teenager stage? The key to happiness for both of you is to know your dog and adapt things for your dog’s ability when needed.  

Know when to slow down

Despite their age and experience, sometimes dogs just don’t know when to slow down, so they remain game for everything even if they find it physically challenging. So it’s up to us pet owners to do what’s best for them. For example, if you notice any stiffness after exercise, simply walk them on a long lead next time. Alternatively, spend time enjoying your garden or a local outdoor space rather than repeat another strenuous activity the following day. And always take water – you may find your older dog wants to drink more often than they used to when they were younger.
Spending time with your older dog doesn’t always have to be about the big adventures. Some might enjoy a quiet evening on the sofa in front of a good film just as much as we do.

Home comforts

Older dogs with ageing joints will always appreciate some extra comfort. A great place to start is by putting some added padding in their bed to support them when they’re resting. A gentle groom with a grooming glove will also be well received, as stiff joints make some areas harder for dogs to reach by themselves.

Adapting playtime and enrichment

Yes your dog is older, but the chances are they still love to play! Toys for older dogs that use a softer rubber are available to support sensitive mouths. And if your dog has a favourite toy, it’s worth having a look to see if a softer adaptation is available – often they are. There are even softer alternatives for chews. For example, if your dog is a big fan of antlers, you could try our Superfood Bars instead! 

Caring for your older dog FAQs

How old is a “senior” dog?

Well, that depends on lots of factors, like your dog’s breed and size. Smaller dogs, for example, may show signs of ageing when they’re around 12. Whereas a large St Bernard may show signs at around 8. However, the general rule of thumb is that a dog can be classed as “senior” once they reach the final third of their expected lifespan.

What is the healthiest dog food for senior dogs?

The best senior dog food diet is one that contains high quality, natural ingredients and is fully complete and balanced. Some older dogs may also become bored of eating the same food they have for many years, so why not try switching up the protein, texture or adding in a few healthy additions like raw carrot slices, raw broccoli or berries?  

Why is my senior dog behaving differently?

Older dogs can begin to feel the effects of ageing in many different ways. Perhaps they slow down and sleep more, or maybe you’ve noticed they don’t want to walk as far as they used to, or struggle to get up the stairs or in the car. You’ll know what’s normal for your dog and what’s changed. And if you’re ever worried about anything at all, always share your concerns with your vet.

What can I give my senior dog for a stomach upset?

If your dog has an upset tummy it’s important to find out why, especially if it’s sudden, serious or on-going. Either way, it’s worth a trip to your vet who will be able to recommend any dietary changes or prescribe any medication, if needed.

Do all dogs go deaf and blind?

Blindness and deafness in older dogs can happen but it’s certainly not true for every dog. Many factors will come into play including their genetics. But even if your older dog’s hearing or eyesight do begin to fail, don’t worry – with the right support they can often manage well and continue to lead a happy and fulfilling life with you.

Why is my senior dog grumpy?

If your older dog is feeling tired, stiff or uncomfortable this can lead to guarded tendencies when around livelier dogs, especially bad-mannered puppies or over-exuberant children. It’s not that their personality has suddenly changed, more that they’re not feeling 100% and may feel worried about getting hurt if they can’t get away. In these situations, always advocate for your dog and help give them the space they need when out and about.

What should I do if my older dog is drinking too much water, or eating and losing weight?

Any change in behaviour can be worrying. But the best thing you can do is make a note of the changes and then pay a visit to your vet. The more information you have about what’s happening to your older dog, the easier it will be to get them any help they need.

In summary

Getting older is a normal part of your dog’s life. But it certainly doesn’t mean you should hang up their lead just yet. As your older dog enters their senior years, there are changes to look out for, but there are also plenty of adjustments you can make to their activities and their diet that will help to keep them as fit and healthy as possible. 
Senior dog food that’s high in good quality protein (i.e. a diet rich in lean meats, fruits and vegetables) can help keep the weight off, their energy up, and their immune system working optimally. So the two of you can enjoy life – and adventures – for many years to come.

[1] Kealy RD. Factors influencing lean body mass in aging dogs. Proceedings, 1998 Purina Nutrition Forum. Comp Cont Educ Pract Vet 1999;21(11 suppl):34–37. Finco DR, Brown SA, Crowell WA, et al. Effects of aging and dietary protein intake on
uninephrectomized geriatric dogs. Am J Vet Res. 1994;55(9):1282–1290.
[2] Wannemacher RW Jr, McCoy JR. Determination of optimal dietary protein requirements of young and old dogs. J Nutr. 1966;88(1):66–74. Peterson ME. Optimal protein requirements of older cats and cats with hyperthyroidism. November 7, 2011. http://endocrinevet.blogspot.com/2011/11/optimal-protein- requirements-for-older.html. Accessed May 1, 2013.