Feeding your senior pet


Feeding an older pet is not unlike feeding ourselves as we age. We slow down. Our metabolism changes. We develop health issues. And just like people, watching your pet’s diet becomes part of the daily routine in caring for your pet. For most pets, a low-calorie, high fiber, lower sodium diet will meet their overall needs. But there are situations that call for something more specific and directed.

Being overweight is a concern for senior dogs

As in humans, the metabolism slows down in older dogs as does their energy level. And just like humans, it’s not hard to find a few extra pounds, here and there. But for a dog, with their smaller size, a pound here and there can add up fast! One pound weight gain for a ten pound dog is a 10% weight increase! Ten to fifteen pounds on your Dalmatian whose ideal weight is 45-60 pounds about 33% overweight. Yikes!

And just like people, it can have the same effect on your dog’s overall heath. Being overweight for your dog can increase heart issues and mobility issues.  That extra weight on your dog can lead to joint issues as well.

For dogs who have arthritis, in general, controlling weight and bringing your dog to their ideal weight is the best way to alleviate many of the issues that come with arthritis.

Do you know how much your pet even weighs? It can be hard to just ‘eye ball it’. Here’s how to do it… weigh yourself first thing in the morning. Then weigh yourself with your dog in your arms, if possible, and the difference between the two will be your dog’s weight. You can also drop by your vet’s office. They will often be happy to help you get a quick weight on your buddy.

Gastrointestinal issues

Older dogs are a lot like people. Remember when you could eat anything without any worries? Yeah! Me too! Pizza, spicy foods… ooooh! Those days are long gone! And it is the same with your pet. Older pets need to focus on gut health just as people do. This is where the fiber comes in to your dog’s diet. It helps keep the gut clear and to maintain digestive health and minimize constipation.

A few things that help to address constipation issues are adding a tablespoon or two of canned pumpkin to your pet’s food. The fiber of the pumpkin is great and dogs really go for the sweetness. But a little goes a long way. This has been our ‘go to’ for our dogs since we first brought Benji home, many years ago. It has worked for him and for all of our dogs since then. If your dog is on medications, it won’t interfere with them, either, so it’s safe.

Diseases that affect impact feeding

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer

Each of these diseases are significant, chronic health concerns for your dog. These are diagnosed by your vet. If you notice significant or rapid changes in

  • weight
  • coat
  • energy level
  • elimination habits
  • behavior

Your next call is to your veterinarian. They will assess the situation, run tests, and make recommendations from there. Many times, this involves prescription foods. These foods are specifically researched and formulated to address your pet’s special situation whether it is to improve kidney or liver function or address blood sugar levels. Foods that address diabetes in pets allow the system to absorb the nutrition in the food more slowly to control blood sugar levels without harming the kidneys. Dogs with kidney disease require food with lower protein, so it’s important to know what’s going on.

As a veterinary practice manager for four years, prescription foods were a large part of treating the conditions of our client’s pets. Our staff and doctors met regularly with representatives from the many manufacturers to ensure that the prescription foods met the health needs of our animals. So if your vet recommends a prescription food, you can rest assured that it has been thoroughly tested, reviewed, researched and is being recommended with confidence.

When your dog won’t eat

Some days your pet may just not be into food. And, while the situation may be as simple as an upset stomach, always make the first call to your vet. Often, they will recommend cooking a boiled chicken and offering small meals of the cooked and cooled chicken – meat only, no skin, and NEVER BONES! You might also want to try some warmed chicken stock over the current food to entice them to eat. The chicken stock will flavor, or soften kibbles to make the food of greater interest. You can also introduce cooked barley to the chicken to give it more fiber and nutritional value. Alternately, small bits of cooked lamb and rice may also entice your pet to try a bite or two. Cooked, cooled salmon without the skin may do the trick, ensuring that there are no bones in the fish. This is not the time for steak or burger, and certainly not hot dogs. You want a high protein food for your dog to try.

Small offerings of cooked vegetables such as carrots or great beans may be of interest to your dog as well. Most dogs like raw carrots and apples as well, but avoid raisins and grapes as they are harmful to dogs.

Canned pumpkin is for more than just pies! Our dogs absolutely LOVE canned pumpkin. A table spoon mixed in with their food often entices even the most finicky dog to nibble. It is sweet and is a great source of fiber. And, as already mentioned, pumpkin is our secret weapon and ‘go to’ for constipation issues for all of our dogs.

Another ‘go to’ for our dogs has been cooled scrambled eggs. Again, you’re after the higher protein of the eggs. But remember to not add salt or pepper to the eggs. They aren’t for you!

Dental issues

will certainly impact what your dog will or can eat. Senior dogs may not be able to crunch kibbles as well as they once did. They may have tender mouths or have experienced tooth loss. In this case, a transition to softer foods may be in order. Many of the prescription foods come in both a kibble form as well as can.

When and how much to feed your dog

Generally, you can continue the pattern you’ve held throughout your dog’s life. For most pets, that is twice a day. Keep an eye on the water bowl as well, especially if you have a dog with chronic medical conditions or if he’s on medications. Notify your vet of any concerns about heaving water consumption without corresponding trips outside.

How much to feed your dog will be based on weight issues and your dog’s size. Obviously, a Yorkie needs substantially less food than a Bull Mastiff. Follow the direction on the food packaging and adjust as needed for your pet’s situation. At this age, you and your dog will be visiting the vet at least twice a year. Your vet will also make recommendations for feeding your buddy.

Treats – stick to healthy things. Again, apple slices, raw carrots, steamed green beans, liver-flavored snacks, chunck of lamb lung are usually welcomed with great enthusiasm.

In general,

feeding your pet shouldn’t require a manual. A good, high-high quality diet that is high in protein, high in fiber, low in calories is generally what your pet will need. Feeding your senior dog is a matter of common sense and communication with your veterinarian.

It means paying close attention to what your dog’s body and behavior are telling you. Pay attention to your dog’s bathroom habits. Pet your dog frequently. Your hands will alert you to changes in his body that you might not notice due to fur. Always talk to your vet with any questions or concerns. If your pet has medical conditions that a special diet will impact and help, follow their recommendations.

Paying close attention to what your pet eats will help you know that you are doing all that you can to ensure your best friend is with you for as long as possible.

Wishing you and your pet the best from Benji’s Best!

4 thoughts on “Feeding your senior pet”

  1. Elliot says:

    Wow, amazing information. I had no idea that dogs go through what we as human go through. Im sad right now, because people who have no knowledge about pets, treat them bad. Pet need us, as we need them. Thank you for the information.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and sharing a thought with us. Yes, pets really do have a number of issues that people do. It is truly amazing! If you have friends who could benefit from this information, please share benjisbest.com with them. Hope you have an amazing day! Benji’s Best

  2. Cathy Allen says:

    This is such a thoughtful article. Many more people should actually read this and understand that senior dogs have different needs than younger dogs. Just like people, they all have their special issues, and we need to make sure we learn the signs and stay on top of their needs.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m not sure that most people recognize that their dogs – as well as cats – have unique needs as seniors. I think this is changing as people become closer to their pets. Please feel free to share this article as well as this page for your friends who have pets. Hopefully, they will find information of value for their pets as well.

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