Senior Dog Food



Senior dogs and cats have different nutritional needs compared to a young puppy or even middle aged pet.  The days are long gone in the rear view mirror when the animal needed every source of calories thrown at it for turning a small puppy or kitten into a full blown adult dog or cat!  Now, the demand for calories is not so great and that is where senior dog food comes in.  An animal will always have to eat something to maintain its basal metabolic rateThis is the amount of calories that a dog or cat needs to do absolutely nothing! Just the amount of energy needed for all of the bodys machinery to work. Simple as that..


During the senior years the need for fats in the diet decrease.  Fats per gram of weight provide about four times the energy as do carbohydrates.  The animal is not as active as it once was or tends to sleep longer or hang out on its favorite sofa much more often.  Muscle mass and the immune system both need to stay active and that is why the dog or cat still needs an ample supply of protein.  Maintaining muscle mass is crucial, as once arthritis starts to set in, the strength or tone of the musculature will help cancel out some of the arthritic effects brought on in the lower lumbar area and hips.  The exception to that are animals that have early signs of or concurrent signs of kidney disease.  Too much protein means too much work to secrete urea which is the breakdown product of protein metabolism in the liver.  Those animals are kept on a protein restricted diet to “spare” kidney function.  Senior dog food fills these requirements.




This is a newly coined phrase by combining the two words:  nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals.  Senior dog food diets should include nutritional supplements. Nutritional supplements are not drugs, per se, as they are not regulated by the FDA.  The most important nutriceuticals for senior dogs and cats are:  glucosamine/chondroitin, fish oil enriched with omega-3 and a good daily senior multi-vitamin.


One of the most important senior dog food nutritional supplements is glucosamine/chondroitin supplements.  These come in many forms such as meat flavored chewies or tablets.  One of the best on the market is that manufactured by Nutramax Labs™.  It usually goes under the name of Dasuquin®.  These supplements are great.  They hit the market in the 1990’s and have given tremendous support to the aging canine and feline populations.  Some senior dog food diets incorporate these ingredients directly into the food.


Glucosamine and chondroitin help to rebuild cartilage in the joint.  Without cartilage, bone grinds against bone not enjoying the movement provided by lubricant bathed cartilage.  This is extremely painful and causes wearing down most commonly of the femoral head and the hip socket (acetabulum).  The important thing to remember is to start the pet on this before signs of arthritis commence.  If started too late there will be little effect.


I am always delighted to see its effect on larger dogs that usually come in barely able to walk but not that far along where the supplement won’t work.  After making sure the blood chemistries do not show anything of importance and x-rays show degenerative hip disease, I will put the pet on Dasuquin® tablets or chewies for 3 weeks and reevaluate.  This is about time the supplement needs to kick in to provide relief.  For a short period of time I will also provide pain relief using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as Rimadyl®.  One Golden Retriever I saw 3 weeks after such an incident was jumping up and down on the owner and me like nothing had happened!  I will always remember what the owner told me:  “Thank you so very much for giving us back our dog”.


Fish oil supplementation particularly those including high amounts of DHA and EPA (omega-3) are extremely important for heart and joint health; just as they are in people.  These products can be applied directly over any senior dog food. The longer they are on the market the more conditions it seems they are used for.  Oils of any type, including fish oil, are great for skin and coat luster.  From an internal medical point of view they are also effective anti-inflammatories which may used to treat countless number of diseases associated with excess inflammation.  The usual dose (combining both DHA and EPA oils) is usually between 20-50 mg/lb.  Your veterinarian may adjust that dose but it is a good one to start with.

Senior dog food is important for the maintenance of the older dog. It is restricted in sodium and protein to protect liver and kidney functions.



Rarely will you run into problems with a relatively low clinical dose of fish oil.  Given excessive fish oil can lead to poor wound healing and platelet formation.  As mentioned, fish oil is a great anti-inflammatory but too much can cause issue with the body’s way of fighting inflammation, that is, problems with the white cells that are always on the watch for bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.


Vitamins might seem so antiquated but they are needed for almost all biochemical reactions in the body.  Senior dog food is supplemented with them but I often will prescribe them for dogs that are anorexic or have debilitating diseases.  One of my favorite functions of B-complex vitamins is its appetite stimulation or maintenance of an appetite.  B complex vitamins are water soluble so any excess is secreted in the urine.  Be very very careful about supplementing fat soluble vitamins.  These are:  vitamin D, E, K and A.  Excess amounts are stored in the liver and can reach toxic levels.  Consult your veterinarian.  For dogs I recommend Pet-Tabs® Plus and for cats Nutrical®.  Old cats do extremely well on Nutrical®.  Give it as a supplement daily or every other day.  Physiologically, the cat needs about 2-3 times the amount of B-Complex as dogs do, so supplementing them with it in the form of Nutrical® literally gives them a shot in the arm.  It has extended many a cats life that I have taken care of.

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