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How to buy the best senior dog food, according to veterinarians

Senior dogs have different dietary requirements. Veterinarians weigh in on what to look for when shopping for your canine companion.
If you’re thinking about switching your dog’s food to recipes oriented for senior dogs, KT Boyle, DVM, suggests a slow transition to prevent upsetting your pup’s stomach.
If you’re thinking about switching your dog’s food to recipes oriented for senior dogs, KT Boyle, DVM, suggests a slow transition to prevent upsetting your pup’s stomach.chris-mueller / Getty Images

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As your dog gets older, finding the right senior dog food is an important part of keeping your stay-at-home buddy happy. We’ve previously covered the best dog food to consider, as well the best dry dog foods and even dog treats — but how do you decide what’s best for an older dog?

“Pets age at different rates than humans age,” says KT Boyle, DVM, of the Banfield Pet Hospital, noting that large breed dogs like Great Danes can be considered senior at six years old but smaller breeds like miniature poodles may not become seniors until they turn 10 years old. While age is a factor, Boyle suggests keeping an eye on your dog’s energy level, whether or not they have white hair on their face and whether you notice a blue haziness or cloudiness, known as nuclear sclerosis, in their eyes. Talk to your vet if you notice your dog slowing down or exhibiting physical changes to determine if a change in diet could help. To that end, we consulted animal experts on how to shop for senior dog food and compiled some of the best senior dog foods available now.

SKIP AHEAD Best senior dog foods

How to shop for senior dog food

If you’re thinking about switching your dog’s food to recipes oriented for senior dogs, Boyle suggests a slow transition to prevent upsetting your pup’s stomach. Gradually reduce the ratio of old food to new food every few days. If your dog is vomiting or has diarrhea during the switch to a new food, put in a call to your vet.

The number of calories in senior dog food is a good place to start when you’re shopping. Your dog’s metabolism may be slowing down and they may simply not need as many calories as they did when they were younger. A conversation with your vet can help determine how many daily calories your dog needs based on its breed, weight, age and levels of activity. In order to keep track of how much your pet is eating, “measure portions and limit treats to 10 percent or less of your pet’s daily intake,” Boyle recommends, adding you should look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Food Control Officials (AAFCO) on a label of dog food. Keep inmind that while terms like “organic” are regulated, there is no specific guidance from the AAFCO about food for senior dogs.

Your dog’s health is a factor when trying to pick the right senior dog food, too. For example, an older dog may need a specialized diet if they have kidney disease, liver disease or arthritis. And while some senior foods have supplements like essential fatty acids or glucosamine for joint disease, Boyle notes that “the amount of supplement in a diet is very limited, so additional supplementation may be needed.”

Pay special attention to your dog’s coat, look for “patchy hair loss, excessive dandruff or the appearance of a dull, non-shiny, coat.” Boyle notes that “skin problems resulting from nutritional issues are generally caused by a nutritional deficiency.” This is where a chat with your vet could help determine if fatty acid supplements or a dietary change could improve your dog’s coat or skin issues.

What about wet food versus dry food?

While some dogs with dental issues may find wet food easier to eat, dry food is more convenient and doesn’t spoil easily. A call to the vet will help line up your dogs’ needs with the right food and — Boyle recommends letting your dog try both wet and dry options. “Switching from dry to wet food — or vice versa — can be more difficult if they are picky eaters,” Boyle says. “So it can be a good idea to expose pets to both types of food during their lifetime.”

What about grain-free senior dog food?

Before buying grain-free dog food, consult your veterinarian. As NBC News has reported, the FDA opened an investigation in 2018 to consider a potential connection between grain-free diets and a heart condition known as canine dilated cardiomyopathy. “Grains — when properly processed — can be nutritionally valuable and provide a source of fiber and minerals,” Boyle says.

Best dog food for senior dogs

1. Eukanuba Small Breed Senior Dry Dog Food

The small kibbles in this dry food from Eukanuba help prevent tartar build-up on your dog’s teeth. Chicken byproduct meal is the first ingredient in the food designed for small breed, senior dogs (over seven years old).

2. Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Chicken Meal, Barley + Rice Recipe

This option from Hill’s Science Diet is a blend of chicken meal, cracked pearl barley and brewers rice (the top three ingredients). It’s also got Vitamin A, B12 and D3 supplements.

3. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

The first three ingredients for the crunchy kibbles from Blue Buffalo are deboned chicken, brown rice and barley. The dry food is also packed with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables ( berries, pumpkin, pomegranate and spinach).

4. Iams Proactive Health Mature Adult Chicken & Whole Grains Recipe

Chicken, chicken by-product meal and ground whole grain barley are the first three ingredients in this senior dog food from Iams. It also includes dried beet pulp, a prebiotic meant to aid with digestion.

5. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Senior Farm-Raised Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe

This Nutro dry dog food is made with non-GMO ingredients. Chicken, chicken meal and barley are featured along with sweet potatoes, split peas, whole brown rice and lamb meal.

6. The Farmer’s Dog

A home subscription service, The Farmer’s Dog is part of what Judy Morgan, DVM, termed “TV dinners for dogs.” Its fresh, human-grade meat combines with vegetables to form a medley based on your dog’s calorie needs.

7. Royal Canin Small Aging Wet Dog Food

This wet food made by Royal Canin is designed for puppers that are 12 years old and under 22 pounds. A blend of chicken and pork by-products, it can be used as a supplement to entice a dog to eat dry food or as a meal on its own.

8. Diamond Naturals Senior Formula Dry Dog Food

A dry dog food from Diamond Naturals combines chicken, a lean protein, with superfoods like coconut, chia seeds, blueberry, kale, spinach and quinoa.

9. Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Savory Stew With Beef & Vegetables

The Hill’s Science Diet wet food is a stew that sports chunks of beef with carrots and peas in gravy designed to be easy on your pup’s tummy — and likewise to be delicious.

10. Nom Nom

The subscription service from Nom Nom uses AAFCO nutrition guidelines for formulating its recipes. The Turkey Fare — fresh, human-grade dog food — has ground turkey, eggs and brown rice in its first three ingredients followed by carrots and spinach.

11. Victor Senior Healthy Weight

These dry kibbles from Victor are made with beef meal, whole grain brown rice and whole grain millet. It also has glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for healthy joints.

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