Nutritional Needs of Your Older Pet

Nutrition is important at all stages of life but senior pets have specific dietary needs. Metabolism slows down when a pet ages, just as it does when people age. Some of the visible signs of aging in a healthy pet are decreased vision, decreased hearing, graying, sleeping more, low energy level, digestive issues, bad breath, weight changes and arthritic joints. It is very important to keep older dogs lean. Excess weight contributes to joint problems, which in turn, slows them down even more. An appropriate diet (as well as semi-annual vet visits and regular exercise) will enhance your pets golden years by alleviating some of the aging symptoms. 

Is a commercial senior pet food the answer? Maybe, but simply because a food is marketed toward older pets, does not mean that particular food is the healthiest choice for your pet. Pets, like people have different preferences and needs. For years veterinarians and pet food manufacturers told pet owners that seniors needed a diet low in protein and fat. However, recent scientific studies show that healthy senior pets actually require a diet higher in protein and with a moderate percentage of fat. In this study, pets with more protein in their diets actually lived longer, healthier lives than those on low protein, low fat diets.

Protein ~ Protein does many jobs in the body. It is responsible for building lean muscle, supporting a healthy immune and central nervous system. Protein is also essential for healthy skin, wound healing and optimal coat texture. The quality of protein in a senior diet is very important. If older pets do not get enough protein or if the quality of the protein is low, the immune system has a harder time fighting off disease.

The highest quality protein is typically from animal sources, is fresh and is either raw or lightly cooked. Commercial pet food may have the correct percentage of protein on the Guaranteed Analysis, but often because of the source and processing, quality is lower.

Greta our 12-year-old German Shepherd usually eats Orijen Senior but several times a week we add egg (boiled or raw), sardines, canned salmon, plain yogurt or cottage cheese to boost the fresh protein factor.

Fat ~ Fat is known for its role as a concentrated source of energy. Purina Nutrition Scientist Mark Waldron, Ph.D., says, "Fatty acids have a host of functions. Fats are biologically important in providing energy, insulation, essential vitamins, essential fatty acids and mechanical structure to every cell." Fat is also what makes food taste good and when it is reduced, the dog may crave more food, usually looking for fat. This unsatisfied appetite along with a sedentary lifestyle will pack on pounds that older dogs do not need.

If you have a senior dog that needs to lose weight see your vet for a thyroid panel. Hypothyroidism is quite common in older dogs. Medication can do wonders to correct the symptoms. Greta's thyroid level was 1.0 on a scale of 1-4 and her vet started a low dosage of medication. It has taken a couple of months but she has more energy, does not seem to be starving all the time, has lost weight and now has a thyroid level of 3.8.

Carbohydrates ~ Grain free, starch free diets help prevent and alleviate chronic dental problems or doggie breath. Dogs do not produce amylase in their saliva as people do so they are incapable of breaking down sugars in their mouth. Sugars stick to the teeth and cause decay.    

Commercial senior diets ~ Thankfully, several senior diets on the market today have appropriate protein levels and come from high quality sources.  Here are a few that ATG recommends:

Orijen Senior (which is grain free) by Champion PetFoods

Wysong's Nurture

Wellness Core Original

Natural Planet Organics

Rather than trying to find a single, perfect food, we recommend rotating every so often between several different premium brands. Variety is always better than feeding one food exclusively.

* Cats need more protein than dogs because they are obligate carnivores meaning they must have meat to survive. Here we explain the dietary difference for felines.


Against The Grain Pet Nutrition is a company that does things differently. We are a small business that is excited about offering pet owners better choices in pet nutrition. We believe that choosing appropriate pet food (be it commercial, raw or home prepared) is the most important factor in any pet's preventative health, convalescence and longevity. Our name - Against The Grain - reflects our strong passion to provide pet owners with the knowledge to make healthy decisions about pet care even if we go ‘against the grain' of popular thinking.

To contact us:
1024 County Road 109
Montevallo, AL 35115

Phone: 205-665-9026
Fax: 205-665-5683
[email protected]