If your dog has lived more than half of her life expectancy, she may need to transition to a senior dog food that is designed with her particular nutritional needs in mind.
A senior dog who is fed the best food suitable for older dogs as part of a well-balanced diet is more likely to remain active, live longer, and have fewer chronic health problems. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.”
Keep reading to discover the nutrient-dense food your senior dog needs to survive and thrive!
Nutrition Guide: What nutrients does a senior dog need?
It is true that the best dog food for older dogs may cost well over $50, while another bag of the same size might cost less than $20. The reason for the astronomical difference in dog food prices has to do with the quality of ingredients.
To sell their dog food cheaply, some dog food manufacturers have no qualms about loading the kibble with filler: wheat, corn, and meat and vegetable byproducts. In some cases the ingredients (especially the “meat” ingredients) are unrecognizable.
To truly understand the quality differences between dog foods, let’s closely examine beneficial and harmful ingredients.
Beneficial ingredients for older dogs
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: a powerful antioxidant that fights cancer, supports a healthy metabolism, and improves eye and brain function.
- Other antioxidants: help your senior dog avoid cancer.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin: support joints so that your senior dog can continue to effortlessly glide across your backyard, with a smile of course.
- Digestive enzymes and Probiotics: senior dogs may have a more sensitive tummy than their younger peers. Digestive enzymes and probiotics ensure healthy digestion and regular elimination. Specific enzymes include protease, which breaks down protein; amylase which digests carbs; lipase which breaks down fat; and cellulase which digests fiber.
- L-Carnitine: this amino acid prevents unhealthy weight gain. It is a surefire ingredient to maintain your dog’s youthful physique.
- L-lysine and Taurine: amino acids to keep muscles and bones healthy and strong.
- Healthy fats and oils: healthy fats and oils help regulate metabolism so that your senior dog will not become overweight. They also keep her coat shiny!
- Whole grains loaded with fiber: the fiber in whole grains feed the probiotics (healthy bacteria) and smooth the digestive process.
- Whole animal products (preferably raised hormone and antibiotic free, free-range): in contrast to animal byproducts, whole animal products have the right nutritional composition to keep your senior dog healthy, strong, and energetic.
- Essential vitamins and minerals: these boost immune function.
Harmful ingredients to avoid in senior dog food
- Fillers like wheat and corn: these have little nutritional benefit and can actually block the absorption of nutrients.
- Unidentifiable meat and veggie by-products: far from being innocent bystanders, these actively work to create imbalance in your dog’s digestive system.
- Corn syrup: this is a fancy name for sugar. It can cause diabetes and obesity.
- Chemicals: dogs are particularly sensitive to chemicals and synthetic ingredients. These can cause cancer.
What are the best senior dog food brands?
Although many dog food brands have quality advertising, touting themselves as the best, only a few really are high quality.
Here are some of the best brands for senior dog food:
Officially established in 1926 under a different name, Wellness has been concerned about a dog’s whole being--body, mind, and spirit--for almost a century. The company’s mission is to fuel a dog’s overall wellbeing through nutrition.Wellness is not only concerned about leaving out the bad stuff; it also puts in only the highest quality, most authentic ingredients.
Read in-depth Wellness dog food review here
Taste of the Wild
Concerned with your dog’s instinctual food cravings, Taste of the Wild manufactures grain-free, high protein kibble. The company believes that roasted meats and vegetables are the keys to sustenance. It uses natural ingredients and even water that is purified through reverse osmosis to shield your dog from harmful toxins.
A decade old, this industry newcomer firmly believes in the power of natural nutrition. Its commitment to supporting digestive health with fiber, probiotics, enzymes, and botanicals is especially important when it comes to senior dogs. And Holistic Select is no novice when it comes to taste; the company offers a money-back guarantee that your dog will love Holistic Select dog food.
Castor & Pollux
The defining feature of this dog food brand is its commitment to organic, non-genetically modified (non-GMO) ingredients. In fact, its Organix food line is USDA organic certified and non-GMO verified. An innovator in organic dog food, Castor & Pollux was created by a couple who simply wanted to feed their beloved pup the best nutrition possible.
Based in Canada, the Orijen brand believes in the power of locally-sourced, never outsourced, nutrient-dense ingredients.
Its “biologically appropriate” nutrition is designed to meet your senior dog’s instinctual cravings. Because it has remained true to its mission, it has received numerous awards for outstanding quality.
Merrick’s stated goal is to make the “best food ever.” This company uses real meat for its protein-packed food. All the ingredients originate from Texas, where the kibble itself is manufactured. Founded in 1988, Merrick has grown so that it now offers several different lines of pet food.
Launched from a Southern California feed store in 1996, Canidae is a family-owned pet food company with a mission. This company understands that different dogs need different nutrition, and offers dog food for sensitive small dogs, grain-free dog food, farm-fresh dog food, and food for all ages, breeds and sizes for multi-dog families.
Note: There are many other dog food brands that may also be right for your dog, and we feature some of these below.
Top 23 dog foods for senior dogs
Now let’s get to the specific food types for your cuddly companion. We have separated foods into breed size categories because small, medium, and large dogs have different nutritional needs.
Just a note before we get started. Not all of the dog foods listed are senior foods. Some are adult dog foods. This is because we have closely examined the nutritional profile of each food and determined that it is appropriate for senior dogs, despite its labeling.
Especially if your senior dog remains active, she may not need the low-calorie, reduced protein and fat kibble that is typical of a senior dog food.
Best Senior Dry Dog Foods for Small Breeds
Small breed dogs (under 20 pounds) will metabolize food quickly, so she needs energy-dense, higher calorie food. Aim for over 30 percent protein and around 15 percent fat. Small dogs also require extra fiber to regulate blood sugar. Finally, they will likely need smaller kibble pieces for their smaller mouths!
Deboned turkey, chicken meal, ground brown rice, peas
Anchovy and Sardine Meal, Ground brown and white rice, chicken fat, dried beet pulp
Chicken meal, tapioca, peas, chickpeas, chicken
Venison, lamb meal, garbanzo beans, peas, lentils
Organic chicken, chicken meal, organic peas, organic tapioca
Deboned buffalo, sweet potatoes, chicken meal, turkey meal
Lamb, turkey meal, chicken meal, sweet potatoes
Featuring a small kibble size for digestive benefits and glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints, this all natural food is made in the U.S. with no fillers or byproducts.
With a digestive health blend specifically formulated for small breed needs, this sardine, anchovy, and chicken kibble is sure to make your senior dog’s mouth water.
This grain-free chicken-based kibble is a protein-packed punch for your small senior dog. It is specially formulated with vitamins, minerals, and fatty acid for joint and immune support. And as an added bonus, a portion of the kibble pieces are raw, which means that it retains more essential nutrients.
This small kibble is big in flavor. Added probiotics and prebiotics support the healthy digestion of a variety of animal meets that provide optimal, balanced amino acids--the building blocks of muscle.
True to its name, this kibble contains all organic ingredients and free-range deboned chicken. It doesn’t contain fillers, so you can be certain you are giving your small senior dog optimal nutrition.
With a unique offering of deboned buffalo as its first ingredient, this food will provide your little pal with the protein she needs to run in circles around the dog park.
A simple recipe featuring ten key ingredients for dogs with sensitive stomachs, this food is perfect if your senior dog is having digestive trouble.
Best Senior Dry Dog Foods for Medium Breeds
Medium-sized (20-50 pound) dogs have fewer specific nutritional requirements, but they still need high quality kibble! You will want to find a kibble with at least 25 percent protein and 12 percent fat.
Deboned chicken, chicken meal, ground barley
Chicken meal, ground brown and white rice, oatmeal
Deboned chicken, chicken meal, sweet potatoes, peas
Deboned Chicken, Whole Ground Brown Rice, Oatmeal
Whole grain brown rice, chicken, chicken meal, peas
Chicken meal, turkey meal, lamb meal, brown
Made in the U.S., this filler-free kibble is well-balanced, fortified with glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints.
As is characteristic of this brand, this dog food features digestive support probiotics, prebiotics and enzymes. And it has a chicken flavor that your senior dog is sure to love.
Within a commitment to providing high protein, healthy fats, and industry-leading Omega 6 and Omega 3 levels for healthy skin and coat, Merrick Senior may be the right choice for an active senior dog
Featuring LifeSource blends with well-balanced antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, such as L-Carnitine for healthy muscles, Blue Buffalo is a good choice for a medium-sized senior dog.
With glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support as well as a healthy balance of protein, fats, and fiber, Diamond Natural is a nutrient-dense, power-packed kibble.
If you want to keep your dog on the same diet throughout her life, Canidae life stages dry dog food provides optimal nutrition for puppies, adults, and seniors.
Best Senior Dry Dog Foods for Large to Giant Breeds
Large dogs, especially large senior dogs (over 50 pounds) often need help managing their weight. Their food will have a lower calorie content, and reduced fat and protein than that of small dogs. Look for 20 percent protein and 10 percent fat. In addition, big kibble can prevent a large dog from gobbling.
Large dogs tend to have shorter lifespans, but with the proper nutrition, you can lengthen your large dog’s life.
Chicken meal, ground brown and white rice, oatmeal
Chicken meal, whole grain wheat, brewers rice, whole grain sorghum
Chicken meal, sorghum, brewers rice, oatmeal
Deboned turkey, potatoes, peas
Chicken meal, chickpeas, green peas
Like all other Holistic Select foods, this food has a unique blend of probiotics, fiber, and enzymes for healthy digestion. The protein and fat content make it perfect for an active large senior dog.
This kibble has the right balance of fat and protein to make sure your large dog maintains a healthy weight. However, it does contain fillers like wheat, so if you want to avoid these, look elsewhere.
If you are looking for an affordable, nutritious dog food for your large breed senior dog, consider Nutro max.
This nutritious kibble takes into consideration the needs of large breed dogs and the needs of senior dogs. If your dog struggles with weight, this food features added L Carnitine amino acid for weight control!
With farm-fresh ingredients and only one animal protein to go down smoothly, this dog food is a good option for large breed senior dogs.
Best Wet Foods for Senior Dogs
Your pal may like some wet dog food mixed in with the dry, or she may only want wet food. In either case, here are the top wet dog foods for senior dogs:
How to compare wet and dry food
A note of caution: If your dog prefers wet dog food, pay extra attention to her oral hygiene, as it tends to worsen without proper care on a wet food diet.
When you see that a majority of the canned dog food is moisture, you may wonder if it contains the nutrition your senior dog needs. It is difficult to compare wet dog foods to dry dog foods with the variable moisture content.
But a simple dry matter basis calculation will allow you to easily compare to ensure that your dog is getting optimal nutrition. To calculate protein dry matter, take the percentage of protein divided by the percentage of dry matter (100% - moisture content). Then multiply by 100, and you have the dry matter protein content.
Chicken broth, chicken, white fish
Chicken, chicken liver, chicken broth
Chicken broth, chicken, chicken liver
Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver
Chicken, chicken broth, chicken liver
With reduced calories and plenty of fiber, this canned food features all natural ingredients that are well-balanced to fit your aging dog’s needs.
If your senior dog is still active, this grain-free wet dog food, with its high protein and fat content, will keep her moving!
This low-cost option packs delicious flavors to tempt even the most picky eaters.
With added glucosamine and chondroitin to fight joint pain, this wheat-free canned dog food features vitamins and minerals to boost immune function.
This affordable canned option contains chicken and rice that have been simmered in broth. Your dog is sure to love the flavors and benefit from the nutrition!
So whether your senior dog is large or small, she has a one-of-a-kind BIG personality that can only be nourished by the best dog foods for senior dogs. Be sure she is getting optimal nutrition so she can survive and thrive as she advances in dog years!