Skip to content
PLEASE NOTE: You may experience errors on our site when using Internet Explorer. Please consider updating your browser, or download Google Chrome.

When Does My Dog Need Senior Food?

Posted on: October 18, 2011 by Dr. Lydia Gray

When should I switch my adult dog to senior food and which senior food is the best? I’m especially concerned about the different protein levels in the two foods.
– SG

Dear SG,

We’ve all heard that dogs age seven years to our one year, so a two-year-old dog is like a 14-year-old kid, a seven-year-old dog is like a 49-year-old person, and a 15-year-old dog is like a 98-year-old person. But a better guideline for when to think about changing to a more age-appropriate diet might be that when a dog has reached half his normal life-span, he is considered “senior.” A small dog with a lifespan of 15 years might not be tagged “senior” until he is 7 or 8 years old. But a large or giant breed dog that is expected to live to 10 or so should be thought of as a senior when he is just 5 years of age.

What does “senior” mean? Owners of older dogs generally notice a decrease in activity, weight gain and the development of age-related physical and behavioral changes such as arthritis and senility. These changes happen because on the inside, metabolism has begun to slow down, food may not be digested and absorbed as efficiently, and other organs may not be functioning as well as they used to. The goal of changing from an adult maintenance food to a senior management food is to prolong both the length and quality of life as well as delay the onset of dysfunction and disease.

When choosing a senior food for your dog, look for a high-quality product with less energy (calories), less phosphorus and more fiber. These differences will help make up for changes in your dog’s aging body. There are two schools of thought on how much protein to feed seniors. One theory is that since older dogs are not as good at breaking down protein into amino acids and extracting these from the GI system, and because their bodies are using up protein at a faster rate, senior food should contain MORE protein than adult maintenance food. The other theory says just the opposite: because dogs are not as good at handling protein, don’t overwhelm their digestive tract and especially their kidneys with too high an amount. The important thing to remember is that the protein for senior dogs should be of high-quality. That means it should contain all the ten essential amino acids for dogs and should be a source that is easy for them to digest and absorb.