5 Best Senior Dog Foods for Your Aging Companion in 2019

You’re probably already aware that your dog’s nutritional needs change as they age. But do you know what those changes entail?

The truth is a little murkier than companies boasting specialty senior dog foods would have you believe.

In fact, an older dog’s dietary needs differ greatly based on breed, exact age, and genetics. To help you find the best food for your senior dog, we’ll look at the factors that can play into your aging dog’s health and what to look for in dog foods to best fight these issues.

We’ll also give you our top five picks of the best senior dog foods so you can spend less time shopping and more time making your dog’s golden years the best they can be.

How Do Senior Dog’s Nutritional Needs Differ from Younger Dog’s?

While this seems like a straightforward question, the truth is, we don’t exactly know the answer, at least not in certain terms.

We do know that many older dogs struggle with weight gain as they get older because their metabolisms slow down. But we also know that many seniors, especially those considered geriatric, struggle with weight loss as they age.

And to complicate things further, plenty of dogs do well on quality, standard dog foods well into their final years of life.

With so many dog foods marketed specifically for seniors, you might think that there is a standard nutritional profile a senior food must meet. But, according to Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, there is no legal definition of “senior” in the dog food industry.

In fact, the only requirements a senior food has to meet are the same any adult dog food has to meet.

Luckily, recent studies have given us a better understanding of aging dogs’ dietary needs and help shed some light on what to look for when choosing a new diet for your older dog.

What to be Aware of When Choosing Your Senior Dog’s Food

There are a few major factors that play into your aging dog’s overall health. Understanding what those are and your dog’s individual needs will help you find the best food to help them thrive.

Protein

For a long time, it was thought that older dogs needed less protein than younger ones. But more recent studies have shown that diets low in protein can lead to muscle loss in older dogs.

While it is true that many older dogs struggle to digest proteins, it is now recommended that more protein be added to their diets to combat this issue, rather than withholding protein. In fact, one study with beagles found that a 50% increase in protein compared to a normal adult diet was needed to keep senior dogs from losing muscle mass.

Since the average dog food has about 20% protein, the majority of senior dogs will do best on a diet with closer to 30% protein.

Fiber

Like aging humans, older dogs tend to struggle more with constipation and digestive issues. For that reason, many senior dog foods have higher levels of fiber.

Unfortunately, dogs have a much harder time digesting fiber than humans and too much fiber can prevent necessary nutrients from being absorbed. Fiber from beet pulp appears to be a better option than fiber sourced from cellulose (such as corn hulls).

Only choose a high fiber food if your dog struggles with constipation or needs to lose weight quickly.

Calories

Most specialty senior foods contain fewer calories than adult diets. This is good if your dog is overweight but can be harmful if your dog is struggling with weight and muscle loss.

If your dog is obese or tends to put on weight quickly, look for a food that is low in fat but that still has high protein and minimal carbs. If your dog struggles to keep on weight, a higher fat food would be a better choice.

Reviews of The Best Senior Dog Foods

#1. Nulo Senior Grain Free Dog Food With Glucosamine And Chondroitin, Trout And Sweet Potato Recipe

Best Overall

Nulo Senior Trout and Sweet Potato
Score: (5/5)

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High-protein, average-fat and fiber diet with quality meat ingredients for the average senior.
Pros

High protein

Average fat

Quality ingredients

Cons

Higher in cellulose fiber

Contains legumes

Pricey

First on our list of the best dog food for senior dogs is a high protein choice with average fat for the typical aging pooch. Nulo’s Senior formula combines quality ingredients with the right nutrient profile to help your pup feel their best.

With 30% protein and 5% fiber this food has all the right stuff to keep your dog strong and help them retain muscle. And since much of that protein comes from quality animal ingredients like deboned trout, turkey meal, and salmon meal, your pup is sure to enjoy it.

The amount of fiber in this food will help support dogs that struggle with constipation but isn’t at such a high level that it disrupts the total calorie load. Unfortunately, this formula does use pea fiber and other cellulose sources that are harder on your dog’s stomach.

One thing that does make this one of the best dry dog foods for senior dogs is the average fat level. At 12% fat, this food contains about the right calorie density for the typical senior dog.

If your pooch is only a little overweight or a little underweight, you could easily adjust the serving size and still get great results with this food.

As a bonus, this food contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega fatty acids to help keep your dog’s joints and heart healthy. These great additions and the quality ingredients do mean this food will cost you a little more, but your old pooch is sure to thank you for bringing home this food.

#2. ORIJEN Dry Dog Food, Senior, Biologically Appropriate & Grain Free

Best High Calorie

Orijen Senior Dog Food
Score: (5/5)

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Very high-protein, higher-fat diet high in meat ingredients for seniors with muscle loss.
Pros

Very high protein

High calorie

High in meat ingredients

Cons

Contains multiple legumes

Some protein from plants

Expensive

Our second choice on the list of the best dog food for older dogs is the perfect food if your dog is well into his senior years and struggles to keep on weight. Orijen’s senior formula has the highest level of protein of any food on our list and enough fat to keep your dog at an optimal weight.

Orijen is known for packing their formulas with tons of quality meats, and their senior formula is no exception. This food contains 23 animal ingredients, with the majority of those listed first on the ingredients list.

All those meats help bring the total amount of protein in this food to 38%. This, along with the 15% fat, will help your skinny old pooch bulk back up and maintain a healthy weight even as they age.

A high calorie density and natural source of glucosamine make this diet one of the best senior dog foods for large breeds with muscle loss.

This food is also the best grain free senior dog food we reviewed. However, it does contain several legumes that add to the overall protein amount.

This food is the most expensive on our list but is worth the extra money to get a diet that is fully sourced and processed in the USA.

#3. Merrick Grain Free Senior Dry Dog Food Recipe

Most Affordable

Merrick Senior Dry Dog Food
Score: (4.5/5)

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High-protein diet with quality ingredients at an affordable price for the average aging dog.
Pros

Affordable

High protein

Lower fiber

Cons

Contains legumes and potatoes

Some protein from plants

Higher in plant ingredients

If you’re looking for one of the best rated senior dog foods that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, our third choice is for you. Merrick’s senior dry food combines high protein with quality ingredients at an affordable price.

The first two ingredients in this food are deboned chicken and chicken meal. It also contains salmon meal for a boost of healthy fats.

Overall this food contains 32% protein and 12% fat, making it a great choice for the average older dog. And with only 3.5% fiber this is one of the best senior dog foods grain free and low in fiber.

Like many grain free diets, however, it does contain legumes and potatoes and some of the overall protein likely comes from these plant sources. Plant proteins are much harder for dog’s to utilize, especially as they age.

But with quality meat ingredients at the start of the ingredient list and a price tag to fit into most budgets, this food is still a great choice for most older dogs.

#4. Whole Earth Farms Grain Free Weight Control Dry Dog Food; Healthy Weight Recipe

Best Low Calorie

Whole Earth Farms Weight Control
Score: (4/5)

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Average-protein, low-fat diet with a low calorie density for overweight senior dogs.
Pros

Low calorie

Low fat

Affordable

Cons

Higher in plant ingredients

Some protein from plants

Lower protein

If you’re looking for the best dog food for overweight senior dogs, we included our number four choice just for you. While Whole Earth Farms’ Weight Control diet isn’t marketed directly to seniors, it does check all our boxes for a quality diet to help your older dog stay trim.

With only 8% fat, this is the only food on our list that technically qualifies as low fat. That’s an important trait if your older dog tends to hold onto some extra weight.

It does contain a touch more fiber than other choices on this list at 6%, but this does help keep the overall calorie density down. And, of course, this can help keep your pup regular if needed.

This food also has a lower protein amount at only 24%, but still comes in higher than the average dry dog food.

Much of that protein does come from quality animal ingredients like chicken meal and chicken, but some likely also comes from the higher amount of plant ingredients in this formula.

If you do go the weight loss dog food route for your overweight senior dog, make sure to keep an eye on their body condition. Many dogs, even those who once struggled to drop weight, will start to lose muscle mass as they get older.

If you notice your dog’s ribs, spine, or hips showing, it’s time to move them off this food and on to one of the higher calorie foods on our list.

Overall, this is a great food for heavier seniors and a great choice for your wallet.

#5. Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Natural Senior Wet Dog Food

Best Canned

Blue Buffalo Senior Canned
Score: (4/5)

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High-protein, high-fat canned food for senior dogs with poor appetites or missing teeth.
Pros

Easy to eat and digest

Palatable

High protein, high fat

Cons

Lower in animal ingredients

Some protein from legumes and grains

Last on our list is not only one of the best dog foods for old dogs with bad teeth, but also one of the best dog foods for elderly dogs with poor appetites. Blue Buffalo’s Senior canned food uses quality ingredients in a form that many dogs find more appealing than dry kibble.

This wet food contains chicken, a short list of vegetables, and added vitamins and minerals to keep your older dog happy while providing them with an impressive 34% protein (dry matter).

Canned diets make a great choice for older dogs because they are easier to eat and digest. But not all canned foods deserve to be called the best canned dog food for senior dogs.

Canned diets are great for providing extra protein, but many are low in fat, which can be a bad thing for a geriatric dog with muscle loss. Luckily, this canned food contains a high 20% fat (dry matter).

If your pooch is really struggling to keep weight on, adding a scoop or two of this wet food on top of any of the quality high calorie diets listed above will help them gain weight faster. And as a bonus, your dog will probably be more eager to eat their meals.

This food is moderately-low priced for a canned diet and worth considering for your dog’s routine.

What is the Best Senior Dog Food?

After reviewing the best senior dog food ratings based on protein content and ingredient quality, we chose Nulo’s Senior Diet as the best senior dog food. This formula is packed with protein and has just the right amount of fat and fiber to fit most senior dogs’ needs.

What else makes Nulo the best senior dog food brand? They use healthy, unique, protein-packed ingredients like trout to provide your aging dog with the nutrients they need to stay healthy and feel good.

If your dog needs a food with more fat to sustain muscle mass or you’re looking for the best senior wet dog food, we’ve included some great options for those on our list as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should my dog switch to senior food?

When a dog is considered a senior depends on their breed and size, since smaller dogs age slower and live longer than large breeds.

Even if your dog is a senior they can likely still eat a quality adult diet unless you notice a problem, such as weight gain or muscle loss. At that point, switch to the most appropriate senior food for your dog’s needs.

Interested in learning more about life stage specific foods? Check out this article on the best puppy foods.

How do I choose the best senior dog food small breed recipe?
Senior small dogs have similar needs to any other breed in most respects, but because all small dogs have higher metabolisms, they may require a more calorie-dense food to hold weight. Finding a food with a smaller kibble size or a canned diet may make the act of eating easier for them as well.
What is the best soft dog food for older dogs?

Soft dog food is a type of food that holds its form like kibble but is soft and easily swallowed. Unfortunately, these types of food are very rarely made of quality ingredients and often contain chemicals and food dyes.

If your dog struggles with kibble, try soaking any of the dry diets listed above in our senior dog food reviews in water or just feed a quality canned diet.

Summed Up: The Best Senior Dog Foods

NameNulo Senior Trout and Sweet PotatoOrijen Senior Dog FoodMerrick Senior Dry Dog FoodWhole Earth Farms Weight ControlBlue Buffalo Senior Canned
Features for Aging DogsHigh protein, average fat and fiber, quality ingredientsVery high protein, high fat and fiber, high in animal ingredientsHigh protein, low fiber, very affordableAverage protein, low fat, high fiber, low calorieHigh protein and fat, palatable, easy to eat and digest
Ingredient Quality5/55/54.5/54/54/5
Price$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Sources

  1. Caroline Coile, PhD. “How to Feed the Senior Dog” akc.org, 28 October 2016.
  2. Various. “When Should I Switch My Pet To A Senior Diet?” vetnutrition.tufts.edu, 8 March 2016.
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