We all want our dogs to live the longest and healthiest lives possible, but you might be confused about the best diet to feed an older dog. Keeping your dog lean and feeding a high-protein, moderate-fat diet that includes vegetables and fruits will go a long way toward keeping your senior dog happy and healthy.
In the past, people were advised to feed older dogs less protein, but we now know that senior dogs need as much as 50 percent more protein than younger dogs. Seniors can’t metabolize protein as well as they once could so they need to eat more of it.
If you home-prepare your senior dog’s diet, at least half the diet should be animal proteins, such as eggs, fish, yogurt, cottage or ricotta cheese, and various types of lean meat. Dogs with health problems, such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer, benefit from high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Dietary modifications might be needed for dogs with certain health conditions, such as liver and kidney disease, but a low-protein diet is rarely required.
The rest of the diet can consist of vegetables, fruits, and grains. If your dog is overweight, limit the amount of starchy foods, such as rice, oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pasta. Some dogs with arthritis do better when grains and other starchy foods are limited or eliminated from the diet.
Less-active older dogs need less fat than younger, more active dogs. Too little fat, however, will leave them feeling hungry and can lead to dull coat, skin problems, and deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins.
Reduce fat by removing the skin from poultry, cutting off visible fat from meat, feeding lean meats or cooking fatty meats and pouring off the fat, and feeding low-fat dairy products. Dark meat chicken with skin removed is preferable to feeding ultra-low-fat breast meat.
Older dogs that are underweight might benefit from more fat in their diets, which can increase palatability and encourage them to eat more. Increase fat gradually; too much can lead to digestive upset and even pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, a painful and dangerous condition). Grains and starchy vegetables can also help to add weight without increasing fat.
A good diet and moderate exercise contribute to both health and happiness so older dogs can enjoy their senior years — and you can enjoy them, too.
10 Great Foods for Senior Dogs
- Yogurt is a source of probiotics (beneficial bacteria that can help with digestive problems). Add a spoonful of plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt with live cultures to each meal.
- Eggs provide bio-available protein and are associated with a number of health benefits. Note that dogs don’t have to worry about high cholesterol the way that people do, so eggs could supply up to half of your dog’s diet. Most people feed no more than two eggs a day to a large dog (more than 60 pounds), one egg to a medium size dog (30 to 60 pounds), and ½ of an egg to a small dog (less than 30 pounds). Another option would be to give a small dog one egg every other day. Cook eggs to make them easier to digest.
- Liver is exceptionally nutrient-dense, packed with vitamins and trace minerals. Feed small amounts regularly, as feeding large amounts can lead to loose stools. Liver should be no more than about 5 percent of the total diet. For a 50-pound dog, that amounts to about 1 ounce of liver daily. A 25-pound dog might eat 1/2 ounce of liver daily, or 1 ounce every other day. A tiny dog would eat even less, maybe 1/2 ounce every other day, while a 100-pound dog could have 2 ounces a day or 4 ounces every other day.
- Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids that support the immune system, reduce inflammation, and contribute to skin and coat health. Canned fish with bones, such as sardines, jack mackerel, and pink salmon, are better than tuna. Rinse the fish before feeding to reduce sodium, or buy no-salt-added varieties. A 50-pound dog could eat 1 or 2 ounces of fish (two to four small sardines) daily. Another option is to feed a whole meal of fish once or twice a week.
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts provide antioxidants and other nutrients that can help prevent cancer. Limit amounts if they cause gas. These vegetables are best served cooked because the raw form can suppress thyroid function if you feed too much.
- Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, also found in other yellow-orange vegetables. They are also a good source of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Sweet potatoes and other starchy foods should always be cooked.
- Berries, including blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, contain antioxidants that are considered cancer-preventive. They also provide beneficial fiber.
- Chicken is an economical source of protein. Dark meat provides more nutrition than ultra-low-fat chicken breast. Remove skin for dogs that need fewer calories.
- Beef and other red meats provide iron, zinc, and other nutrients. Feeding a mix of poultry and ruminant meats, such as beef and lamb, supplies a wider variety of fatty acids than feeding only one or the other. For older dogs, cook beef and drain off some of the fat.
- Oatmeal and other whole grains provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants, as well as fiber that can help some dogs with digestive issues.
Mary Straus lives in the Bay Area and investigates canine health and nutrition topics as an avocation. Her website, DogAware.com, provides a wealth of information about feeding plans to enhance your dog’s health and fitness.