How do I care for my senior dog?

As we age, so do our activity levels and nutritional needs. The same is true for dogs. The wellness and nutritional needs of a senior dog (8+ years old) differ in important ways from those of a senior animal. So, what can you do to provide optimal wellness and nutritional care for your elder dog? Here are a few tips you can put to work today.

Senior Dog Health Considerations

Like humans, senior dogs tend to show an increased risk for obesity, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cataracts, and some forms of cancers. Their activity levels are typically lower than those of younger animals, and their nutritional needs shift to a greater dependence on protein. Let’s look at a few ways you can keep your dog healthy well into its senior years.

Wellness Tips For Senior Dogs

We all want our pets to live long, healthy lives. Here are some tips to keep your pet healthy into its senior years.

Know what’s normal for your animal. The best wellness tip for any dog owner is to know what “normal” looks like for your pet. Chances are, you probably already have a pretty good idea of your pet’s preferred foods, portion sizes, energy level, exercise, mood, and toileting habits. Any dramatic change in any of these areas should be noted. Some may be simply the result of the natural aging process (e.g., reduced agility), while others may be signs of a medical condition (e.g., increased thirst and urination could indicate diabetes or a kidney problem). Knowing what’s normal for your pet can help you spot trouble signs early.

Schedule regular wellness checkups with your vet. Your vet has the skills, tools, and technologies to give your senior pet a thorough overall physical. They can check for any changes in weight, mobility, or vision—and can run more sophisticated tests if a problem is suspected. Regular wellness visits also give you and your vet a recorded medical history for your pet, which can make sudden changes easier to detect.

Exercise matters. As dogs age, they may not be as eager to chase a ball or Frisbee as they once were. Or they may have orthopedic problems that make physical activity difficult or painful. These factors should be taken into account when planning your dog’s exercise schedule. For otherwise healthy senior dogs, aim for 20 to 30 minutes of daily exercise at a level your pet can handle easily.

Senior Dog Nutrition Tips

Our dogs can’t stay puppies forever, and as they age, so do their nutritional needs. Here are a few tips to help ensure that your senior dog receives a healthy diet.

Up the protein, cut the carbs. As dogs age they need less of the quick energy provided by carbohydrates and more of the sustained fuel they receive from meat protein (senior dogs require about 50% more protein than do puppies). Because kibble brands vary widely in nutritional content, you’ll need to read some labels. If you have an elder dog, go with brands that feature meats at the top of the ingredient list. If you have questions, ask your vet to recommend a senior diet for your pet.

Watch calories. Senior dogs tend to be less active than their younger counterparts, but their appetites don’t always decrease proportionally. Younger senior animals may become overweight as a result, which can increase their risk for other health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Since kibbles can vary from about 250 to 400 calories per cup, you’ll need to check those labels again to determine the best portion size for your animal.

Promote organ health. Senior dogs have shown an increased vulnerability to heart and kidney disease. Reducing the amount of sodium and phosphorus in your elder dog’s diet can reduce these risks. Check product labels or ask your vet about special heart and kidney health brands. They can recommend a kibble or canned food that meets your pet’s needs.

Keep An Eye Out

Health problems can arise suddenly or may creep in over time. If your pet shows any dramatic changes in these areas:

  • Appetite
  • Thirst
  • Weight (loss or gain)
  • Toileting (persistent constipation or diarrhea)
  • Mood (lethargy, lack of interest in play)
  • Mobility (trouble climbing stairs or lifting a leg to urinate)

If you observe any of these signs, it may be time to contact your vet. Also, if your pet exhibits any signs of physical pain or discomfort (e.g., lameness, vomiting, sensitivity to touch), these are also signs to contact your veterinarian.

Editor’s Note: Are you wondering if your senior pup needs vaccinations? Veterinarian Dr. Lee discusses the American Animal Hospital Association’s recommendations for vaccinating senior dogs.


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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