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Feeding Senior Dogs

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Monday, August 10, 2015
Posted January 26, 2015 in Dog Diet & Nutrition

Female german shorthaired pointer

Just as we all want to live long productive lives, we all want our pets to live long and happy lives too. Many dogs live healthy active lives far longer than they did in the past. According to, “The average life span of the North American or European dog is 12.8 years. This is a large increase in life span over the past 100 years and is mostly attributable to better food and better medical care.” Older dogs, just like older people, undergo a variety of aging and degenerative conditions due in large part to the passing of years -- the older dog is undergoing many physiologic changes. The metabolism and aging process changes occur at different ages depending in large part on the type of dog. Some of these factors are unavoidable. Others can be managed with diet.

What is the definition of an older dog?
Generally consider a dog to be 'older' if he is in the last third of his normal life expectancy. But just as in people where “age is just a number,” many dogs seem younger than their age would indicate. For example, an active alert and playful 10 year-old Beagle may be physically younger than a 10 year-old Great Dane in spite of the same age. Today it is not uncommon for small breeds to live 20 years and even giant breeds to live 10-12 years1.

Dogs are living longer for a number of reasons including better preventive and therapeutic vaccines, parasite control products and diagnostics and treatments. In addition, animal nutrition experts have developed a greater understanding of dietary needs to help with health and disease as well as differences that occur throughout life in youth and old age.

Many changes develop and progress in dogs as they age including deterioration of skin and coat, loss of muscle mass, more frequent intestinal problems, arthritis, obesity, dental problems and decreased ability to fight off infection.

How do nutritional requirements vary with age?
According to a scholarly article out of Baskent University in Turkey, “a positive nutrition attitude is the most important factor that improves the life quality in especially the progressing ages.”

According to the ASPCA, “The main objectives in the feeding of an older dog should be to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.