Growing up isn't just for humans; your dog goes through life phases, too. You know how our energy levels and food habits change as we get older? The same goes for your dog. Once your pup starts hitting those senior years, you may notice some changes—like weight gain or loss, and even some health concerns popping up.
Understanding your dog's life phases
Every dog has a life expectancy that varies based on breed and lifestyle. For example, a Whippet Pitbull Mix will have a different lifespan than a Golden Retriever. Once a dog hits about half of their expected lifespan, they're considered "mature." And as they near the last quarter, they become a "senior." If your dog outlives their breed's expected lifespan, then they enter a special stage called "geriatric."
Senior dogs: what to watch for
No hate against senior pets - we love their grey faces and getting older is natural! But it means you've got to be on the lookout for changes in your dog's behavior and health. Maybe your pup becomes more chill. Maybe he or she gains some weight, or on the flip side, loses some. Their digestive system and immunity might not be what they used to be, either.
Chat with your vet
Don't just start switching your dog to senior food on a whim; hit up your vet first. They'll check out your dog's overall health and help you customize a nutrient profile that's perfect for your dog at this stage.
Dialing in the diet
Based on the 2021 AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines, senior pets require special attention to their nutritional needs. Their metabolism changes as they age, often requiring fewer calories but more targeted nutrients. Both dogs and cats may experience muscle or overall weight loss due to age-related factors such as immunosenescence (gradual deterioration of the immune system) and inflammaging (chronic, low-grade inflammation).
Senior dogs tend to lose lean body mass and may gain fat as they age, which as previously discussed, can lead to health concerns like obesity and decreased mobility. So calories? Yeah, your older dog may need fewer of those. But check with your vet before cutting back to make sure you're not messing with their energy levels.
Understanding your senior pet's unique nutritional requirements can go a long way in ensuring their well-being during their later years. Evaluating their body and muscle condition scores can provide useful insights into their health and indicate when a dietary adjustment may be necessary.
Especially for older pets, you'll need to consult your vet to tailor a diet that meets their specific needs, which may include higher-quality protein and more frequent but smaller meals. It's why there are no general feeding guidelines for senior pets, since every dog has unique dietary needs.
Water is a big deal, especially as dogs age and become more prone to dehydration. Keep that water bowl full and fresh.
Even older dogs deserve treats, but make sure they're healthy options. Think veggies like green beans or cucumbers (especially if they're not picky).
Pro tips for feeding senior dogs
Switching to more frequent but smaller meals may work better for an aging pet.
Keep dry food fresh in airtight packaging.
Serve food at room temperature.
Give your dog a calm eating space to focus on their meal.
Avoid overfeeding; we're not aiming for the "chubby elder" look here.
The takeaway? Your dog's been your ride-or-die for years, and they're not about to stop. Adjusting their diet and monitoring their health can make those senior years some of the best. Remember, every dog is unique, so always consult your vet for personalized advice.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.