Senior Dog Food
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Best Senior Dog Food: Choosing the Best Food for Older Dogs

Senior dog food can make even the grayest-muzzled canine pal happy. Just ask Pudge, a cranky ol’ black Labrador from Pasadena, California. The 12-year-old dog’s mom, Susanne Jeter, noticed changes in Pudge as he got older—he took longer to rise from his bed, he wasn’t as playful as he once was and he started putting on some extra weight.

“We all get old—even our dogs,” Jeter says. “I’ve had Pudger since he was a puppy, and at 9, 10 years old, he really started showing his age. I could tell that his joints were hurting.”

Following the advice of her veterinarian, Jeter switched Pudge’s diet to one specially formulated for senior, overweight dogs with creaky joints. She also added some fish oil to provide supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.

“He’s now aging gracefully,” she says with a laugh. “He’s still grumpy sometimes when it’s cold and rainy outside, but when the sun comes out, he’ll grab his ball and ask to play a game of fetch again. As his doggy mom, it makes me happy to know he’s not so uncomfortable anymore!”

With just a few dietary changes, Pudge’s demeanor—and his quality of life—improved. If you’re wondering what is the best thing to feed an old dog, read on to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about food for older dogs.

What Is the Best Thing to Feed an Old Dog?

Like their whippersnapper counterparts, senior dogs need basic nutrients—protein, fat, carbohydrates and fiber, vitamins and minerals—to thrive. Because of the changes that occur during the aging process, however, older dogs often have their own dietary requirements.

“The requirements of older dogs are most certainly different from a young adult,” explains Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts. “However, adjustment of the diet may or may not be necessary or even desirable in older animals. Many older dogs can continue to eat a good quality commercial diet designed for adults and do not need to be changed to a different diet.”

So, before we explore what should be in a senior dog diet, what nutrients—and how much of them—should you feed an adult dog? The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA’s CVM) provides guidance for pet food makers and consumers.

Have you ever looked at your dog’s pet food label? In the U.S., pet foods are regulated by the FDA’s CVM, and they must contain certain information on their labels. The information includes proper listing of ingredients and the manufacturer’s contact information. Some states have adopted more specific regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Those include feeding instructions, guaranteed analysis and a nutritional adequacy statement. Let’s look more closely at each of these:

  • Feeding instructions: The feeding instructions give guidelines for how much to feed your dog based on their weight. Sometimes they will include information about when and how often you should feed your dog.
  • Guaranteed analysis: The guaranteed analysis breaks down by percentage what nutrients are in the food. It lists minimum levels of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum levels of crude fiber and moisture. It also includes percentages or measurements of additives, vitamins and minerals.
  • Ingredients: The ingredients, or the carriers of the nutrients, are listed in descending order by weight. Often, a form of protein appears first in line, followed by grains, fats, additives and preservatives.
  • Nutritional adequacy statement: The nutritional adequacy statement says whether the food provides complete balanced nutrition for a dog based on nutritional levels established by AAFCO. The statement also provides a life-stage claim, which states the life stage (growth/lactation, adult maintenance or all life stages) for which the food is intended.
    • AAFCO has developed two nutrient profiles for dogs: growth/lactation and adult maintenance. All foods must meet at least one of these profiles. Some labels claim the food is intended for all life stages. Those foods provide enough nutrients for an animal’s growth and reproduction, as well as for maintaining a healthy adult—which includes senior and geriatric dogs.
  • Manufacturer's contact information: A name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor are required; sometimes manufacturers include a toll-free phone number or website address, but these aren’t mandatory.

Many healthy senior and geriatric dogs do just fine gobbling commercial adult food, reports Catherine Lenox, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist and scientific affairs manager for Royal Canin in St. Charles, Missouri. So, let’s take a closer look at the nutrients found in foods formulated for adult maintenance or all life stages, the ingredients in which they’re found and how dogs use them.

Protein

Dogs use protein for growing and developing hair and skin, producing hormones, building muscle mass, regulating metabolism and healing damaged tissue.

In many premium brands of dog food, protein is the first ingredient listed. Beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or duck are the proteins most often used. Other sources include fish, fish meal, liver, eggs, milk and milk products. Food makers even use novel, or never-before fed, proteins in their diets, like kangaroo, buffalo, bison and goat, among others.

Some grains and beans, such as rice, wheat, corn, barley and soy, also contain protein. They’re not complete sources of protein like animal protein, but when combined with other types of food, they can provide many of the amino acids dogs require.

According to the AAFCO, adult dogs typically maintain on foods that contain 18 to 26 percent protein. When choosing a diet for your senior dog, don’t pick one based on the formula’s protein percentage alone; the protein source matters, too. In general, the lower-priced foods use lesser-grade protein that’s harder for your dog to digest.

Fat

Fats and oils do more than make foods taste good. They provide energy and help an older dog feel satisfied with their meal. Fats are needed to break down certain vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, K and E. Unsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic and linoleic acids, also support skin and coat health.

Diets may contain anywhere from 8 to 18 percent fat, depending on the manufacturer. If your dog’s coat is looking dull, consider a food that has a higher percentage of unsaturated fats. If they’re looking a little overweight, switch to a low-fat diet after talking with your veterinarian.

Fiber/Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, which are sugars and starches found in plant foods, provide the quick energy dogs need to exercise and play. Making up about 50 percent of your dog’s diet, carbohydrates also provide fiber, which is essential for proper bowel function. Common sources of fiber are rice, grains, peas, pasta and even potatoes.

Carbohydrates, however, are also used as fillers. They are cheaper than protein, so dog food manufacturers use corn and rice to bulk up the foods sold at a lower price. Premium foods often contain high-quality complex carbohydrates to give the dog fiber and sustained energy.

Vitamins and Minerals

In addition to proteins, carbohydrates and fats, all healthy dogs require vitamins, which help the body fight disease, absorb minerals, regulate metabolism, and grow and function normally. Plant and animal foods naturally contain vitamins. Most commercial and premium diets already contain all the vitamins and minerals that your dog needs.

The body maintains and stores fat-soluble vitamins in the body’s liver and fatty tissues, and water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins B and C, are flushed out daily and must be replaced. The right balance of vitamins is crucial to your dog’s health and well-being.

Minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus and nitrate, are elements and inorganic compounds the body needs for proper growth and function. Minerals help maintain the salt levels in the bloodstream, and build bones and teeth. Like vitamins, minerals must be balanced for good health.

Whether an adult diet or specifically senior dog food, it needs to taste good and be easily digested, adds Dr. Lenox.

“The most important thing is that the ingredients are highly palatable so a dog can properly digest and absorb the nutrients that they provide,” she says. “Reputable pet food companies will perform digestibility testing and use highly consumable and/or finely ground ingredients to increase digestibility.”

Senior Dog Diets

While many seniors can thrive on a diet formulated for an adult dog, some may benefit from a diet created especially for their aging bodies and taste buds. Two examples of highly-rated commercial senior diets are American Journey Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Food for Senior Dogs and Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Mature Consult dry dog food.

Neither the FDA’s CVM nor AAFCO have legal definitions for what "senior dog diets" are to contain, but your veterinarian may assess your dog and recommend a different type of senior dog food if they think it will prolong your pal’s length and quality of life, says Jennifer A. Larsen, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in California.

Some changes that naturally occur with aging may affect a dog’s nutritional needs, Dr. Freeman says.

“Although much more research is needed, aging is typically associated with lower energy requirements and the tendency to gain fat and lose muscle,” she says. “Immune function and kidney function also decline with age, although the degree to which this occurs depends upon the individual animal.”

When looking into the nutrient content of commercial senior dog food, you’ll find the formulas are designed for the special needs of dogs who are older and have lower metabolisms and reduced activity levels, Dr. Lenox says.

“Senior dog diets typically contain higher levels of nutrients that benefit aging dogs and can also contain lower levels of other nutrients to help maintain health,” she says. “The differences will somewhat depend on the manufacturer.”

With the main goals of maintaining health and optimal body weight, slowing or preventing chronic disease and improving the clinical signs of disease that are already present, nutrition experts recommend feeding senior and geriatric dogs diets that have these macronutrient characteristics:

Fewer Calories

Because some dogs lose muscle and gain weight as they age, senior diet recommendations often include fewer calories, says Dr. Larsen. The range, she says, could be 20 to 50 percent less than a typical adult diet, depending on the individual animal.

“In general, the energy requirements of older dogs decrease with age,” she says. “One reason is associated with an age-related decline in lean body mass (LBM). The primary driver of resting energy requirement is LBM, and LBM declines with age with a concurrent increase in body fat mass.”

Another reason for calorie restriction, says Dr. Larsen, is age- or disease-related decline in activity.

“If energy intake is not adjusted to maintain ideal body composition and compensate for decreased energy needs, the risk of obesity will increase.”

However, some dogs may need more calories in their diet, particularly if they are losing weight, notes Dr. Freeman.

“In obesity-prone animals, decreasing the number of calories eaten will help to prevent weight gain (or to lose weight, if they’re already overweight),” she says. “Those extra pounds around the middle can cause or worsen other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis.

“On the other hand, not all animals gain weight as they age, and some may lose weight,” Freeman says. “For dogs that are losing weight as they age but have no underlying medical condition, a diet that is more calorically dense (i.e., has more calories per can or cup) should be selected to help to prevent weight loss.”

A case-by-case assessment, Dr. Larsen emphasizes, is best.

“An individualized approach is indicated with regard to both assessment and nutritional management plans because it cannot be assumed that all dogs older than a certain age need caloric reduction or increase,” she says.

Increased Protein

Along with fewer calories, veterinary nutritionists may also recommend an increase in high-quality protein in food for older dogs.

“Some nutritionists believe that because senior dogs can have some muscle loss associated with age or disease, healthy senior dogs should get more protein than younger dogs,” Dr. Lenox says.

Dr. Freeman agrees. She says reduced dietary protein is not beneficial for a healthy older dog.

“Therefore, dogs should not be fed a reduced protein diet just because they are aging,” she says. “The ‘optimal’ protein level for older dogs, however, is still controversial. Some companies make senior dog food with lower protein while others actually make their senior dog diets with increased protein. Just like there’s no evidence for benefits of a low protein diet, it also is not clear that high protein diets are beneficial or even optimal for seniors.”

Dr. Larsen adds that in older dogs, protein requirements increase with age to maintain nitrogen balance in the body.

“This is related to an increase in protein turnover, which results in increased nitrogen excretion,” she says. “There is an age-related decline in protein synthesis and increased protein turnover in older animals. Unless medically indicated, older dogs do not benefit from dietary protein restriction; in fact, healthy adult animals show a reduction in function with dietary protein restriction.”

Again, an individualized approach is key, Dr. Lenox says.

“All senior dogs are unique, so it’s best to discuss with a veterinarian,” she says. “A veterinarian will be able to tell a pet owner if his or her senior dog can tolerate higher protein levels. All protein sources get broken down to amino acids, so the quality and digestibility of the protein source should be prioritized over what type of protein sources are in the diet.”

Less Fiber and Carbohydrates

Because fiber can be difficult for some older dogs to digest, some commercial diets designed for seniors tend to be lower in fiber, Dr. Lenox says.

“Some senior diets tend to be lower in fiber versus adult diets, because they may have more trouble digesting and absorbing food,” she says. “While fiber can be difficult to digest, there needs to be some fiber in the diet, including a blend of different types of fiber in the same diet. Having a fiber blend can help promote optimal stool quality.”

Dr. Freeman notes, however, that increased fiber may be useful for dogs with certain intestinal issues.

“But high fiber foods are not right for all older animals,” she emphasizes. “For example, many of the commercial high-fiber diets would not be ideal for animals that have difficulty maintaining weight since these diets are typically low in calories.”

Fat—It Depends

Fat can be tricky, says Dr. Lenox. It’s an essential nutrient, but too much can lead to obesity.

“The fat content of senior diets can be quite variable,” she says. “For a healthy senior dog, I generally base the fat content of the diet I recommend on the pet’s weight and body condition score,” with a dog’s body condition score being based on an assessment of body fat and muscle in relation to the skeletal system.

If a senior dog is on the pudgy side, Dr. Lenox recommends a diet lower in fat; if the pet is underweight or a picky eater, she recommends a diet that’s higher in fat.

“Remember, too, that senior pets don’t necessarily need to consume a diet marketed for senior animals,” she says. “It may be wise to address specific health tendencies versus picking a senior diet. An example would be an overweight-prone dog. I am more concerned with the amount of total fat versus the source. It is very important to provide essential fatty acids to every pet, so there should be a component of plant-based oils to provide those. Fish oil can also provide beneficial fatty acids.”

Steady Sodium

Unless a senior dog is dealing with heart disease, high blood pressure or kidney disease, there’s no need to restrict dietary sodium, Dr. Freeman says. That’s good because in commercial food for older dogs, the sodium levels vary widely, she says.

"One study of commercial senior dog foods found that the sodium content ranged from 33 to 412 milligrams/100 kilocalories [AAFCO’s minimum for sodium in dog foods is 20 milligrams/100 kilocalories]," she says.

Dr. Lenox agrees, adding that for healthy dogs, sodium requirements do not change with age.

“If a pet owner has a dog that has health needs that they think are sodium-sensitive, they should discuss this with their veterinarian,” she says. “Don’t forget that treats can be high in sodium as well.”

Less Phosphorus

Too much phosphorus is not ideal for older dogs, particularly those with kidney disease, Dr. Freeman says.

“Lowering dietary phosphorus has been shown to be beneficial in pets with kidney disease, but it is not known whether low dietary phosphorus can reduce the risk of development of kidney disease,” she says. “Nonetheless, dietary phosphorus well in excess of requirements may not be ideal for older dogs.”

Phosphorus in commercial foods varies widely, she says, so dog parents should work with their veterinarian to determine the best diet for their pets.

When to Switch to Senior Dog Food

Though experts don’t pinpoint a specific age or time when dogs have to switch to a senior dog diet, veterinarians do consider several factors when recommending their clients transition to food better suited to their dog’s individual needs.

“Veterinarians consider age, breed and size,” Dr. Lenox says. “Smaller dogs can age more slowly than larger dogs. The decision also depends on body condition score, presence of any health issues, tendencies, like a tendency to gain weight or have poor stool quality, and the dog’s appetite quality.”

A dog with an age-related disease may benefit from a diet switch, Dr. Freeman says.

“If your pet has one of the diseases often seen with aging—such as arthritis in dogs, diabetes, cancer, dental problems, heart disease or kidney disease—dietary adjustments may help improve symptoms or even slow progression of the disease,” she says. “Dietary modification can help to optimize health in the dog and to manage any diseases that might arise as they age.”

If your veterinarian recommends a diet switch, Lenox recommends a gradual transition over seven days.

“On Days 1 and 2, feed 25 percent new food and 75 percent old food,” she says. “On Days 3 and 4, feed 50 percent new and 50 percent old; on Days 5 and 6, feed 75 percent new and 25 percent old; and on Day 7, 100 percent new is recommended. Dogs with gastrointestinal sensitivities or really picky appetites may benefit from a 10- to 14-day transition.”

But for an otherwise healthy dog, a veterinarian may not recommend a special diet, experts say.

“If your senior dog is healthy, in good body condition and eating a good quality, nutritionally balanced diet, there is no reason to change foods,” Dr. Freeman says.

Dr. Lenox agrees.

“Some dogs are doing well on their adult foods,” she says. “And because there aren’t set requirements for senior dogs, a change in diet is not always recommended. But providing a senior diet can be beneficial for healthy older dogs. The time to change over to a senior diet will depend on the dog’s size and if they have visible signs of aging.”

Other Senior Dog Diet Factors to Consider

When determining what is the best thing to feed an old dog , you have factors other than nutrients to consider—including special additives and supplements, the food’s texture, how tasty it is for your pal and whether it’ll be easily consumed and digested.

Supplements

According to a number of studies, supplementing a senior dog’s diet with antioxidants and fatty acids may be beneficial for some animals, Dr. Lenox says.

“There is some information that antioxidants can be beneficial for senior dogs, as well as omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil,” she says. “Antioxidants can support health in general. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can support healthy joints.”

Dr. Freeman notes that good quality commercial foods require no supplementation, but some supplements may be helpful for certain diseases.

“Future research will help to better define where they can be beneficial and where they may be detrimental,” she says. “However, all supplements have the potential for side effects and possible interactions with medications, so they should be used with care and only in collaboration with your veterinarian’s advice. It is also very important to be aware that supplements are regulated very differently from drugs, so supplements’ safety, effectiveness and quality control can be a major concern.”

Experts—once again—recommend an individualized approach.

“And if a dog has a health tendency, then I would recommend trying to look for a diet that would promote health for that,” Dr. Lenox says.

Kibble Shape and Texture

The shape and texture of food makes a difference, too, particularly when it comes to keeping a senior dog’s teeth and gums healthy, notes Lenox.

“Kibble texture can help create a brushing effect to help promote dental health,” she says. “There are also nutrients such as sodium hexametaphosphate that support dental health. Some dogs with sore mouths or missing teeth will need wet food to help them take in enough calories to maintain their weight. Other dogs with missing teeth can do well with dry food, so it’s best for pet owners to discuss this with their veterinarian.”

Palatability

Like humans, senior dogs use their senses of sight, smell and taste to eat—so the food should be appealing, especially as their faculties start to wane, Dr. Lenox says.

“Dogs that are not eating or drinking enough should be seen by their veterinarian first, to make sure there are no health issues causing the changes in appetite,” she says.

If your dog has a clean bill of health, Dr. Lenox recommends:

  • Mixing wet and dry food or just feeding wet food (to increase both food and water intake)
  • Picking foods that are especially aromatic
  • Warming the food to increase smell

Digestibility

Senior dogs who have gastrointestinal issues and trouble with digestion may benefit from foods that use a blend of different fiber sources, Dr. Lenox says.

“The way the ingredients are prepared or ground can be important to improving digestibility,” she says. “Foods should also contain a blend of different fiber sources to promote gastrointestinal health. Different fiber sources contain different types of fiber and providing both types of fiber—soluble and insoluble fiber—can help pets with gastrointestinal issues. As always, if there are digestive concerns, the pet owner should talk to his or her veterinarian.”

Senior Dog Diets for Common Senior Dog Issues

As dogs age, they naturally develop certain health-related issues. Some of their symptoms can be eased with diet and supplements, say experts.

“Several other nutrients and other compounds may be of interest because of their impact on cognitive dysfunction, oxidative damage and/or the immune system and degenerative joint disease,” Dr. Larsen says.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is a degenerative brain condition that leads to dementia, altered behavior and altered thinking. It affects some dogs in their geriatric life stage, says Lenox.

“If a dog has behavioral or memory changes, the dog should first be seen by a veterinarian,” she says. “If the dog is otherwise healthy, then consuming antioxidants and using tools like food puzzles to help keep the dog’s mind active and enrich their environment may be beneficial.”

An interactive feeder, like the Aikiou interactive dog bowl, provides mental stimulation by requiring the dog to spin and slide the compartments to hunt down their food.

Dr. Larsen also agrees that an antioxidant-rich diet can be beneficial. “The combination of environmental enrichment and dietary enrichment with antioxidants has been reported to improve clinical signs related to recognition, sleep patterns, social interaction, house soiling and owner- and veterinarian-perceived behavior score in dogs with cognitive dysfunction,” she says. “In another study, dogs fed a diet enriched with a different antioxidant blend including vitamin C, vitamin E, L-carnitine, lipoic acid, glutathione and a variety of fruit and vegetables showed improved learning, ability to perform specific tasks, agility and recognition compared with dogs fed a control diet, similar to findings in other species.”

Dr. Larsen also points to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and medium-chain triglycerides.

“Dietary supplementation with these PUFA could be beneficial with respect to brain aging; this has not been assessed in dogs, but results from other species show some benefit to cognitive function,” she says. “Supplementation with medium-chain triglycerides resulted in improved cognitive performance in old dogs, compared with un-supplemented controls.”

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets NeuroCare dog food is one commercial food option that includes omega-3 fatty acids and medium chain triglyceride oil to support cognitive health.

Immune System Changes

Aging dogs may also experience oxidative damage at the cellular and subcellular level, Dr. Larsen says.

“Oxidative damage plays a role in declining immunity with age, but this decline can be affected nutritionally,” she says, adding that research is still being done on the specific compounds and dosages of nutrients.

However, Dr. Larsen says that dietary enrichment with a combination of antioxidants—vitamin E, L-carnitine, lipoic acid, vitamin C and fruits and vegetables—along with behavioral enrichment can improve the dog’s immune system response to damaging bacteria.

Degenerative Joint Disease

Degenerative joint disease (DJD) can be a painful and disabling condition older dogs, but certain nutritional interventions can help minimize the discomfort, says Dr. Larsen, including managing the senior’s weight and supplementing the diet with omega-3 PUFAs.

Maintaining lean body mass (LBM) is key to weight maintenance, she says.

“Maintenance of appropriate LBM and skeletal muscle mass is warranted in senior dogs,” Larsen says. “Promoting daily exercise and the use of a balanced diet that meets the requirements for protein and other nutrients will help avoid fat gain while preventing loss of muscle mass; the goal is to delay the onset or progression of disease.”

Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have been shown to ease painful joints, she says.

“Of the nutraceutical treatments for DJD, the most evidence for efficacy exists for use of long-chain omega-3 PUFA found in marine oils,” Larsen says. “Supplementation with fish oils has shown clinical improvement and decreases in synovial inflammation and osteophyte formation, improved weight bearing and owner-reported reduced clinical signs in arthritic dogs.”

Talk to your veterinarian about adding an omega-3 supplement, like Nordic Naturals omega-3 pet soft gels, to your dog’s diet.

Muscle Loss

Muscle loss can be another natural part of aging, but a diet rich in high-quality protein and some low-impact exercise can improve muscle condition, Dr. Lenox says.

“Different nutrients impact muscle mass and body weight,” she says. “Providing high-quality protein at increased levels if well-tolerated by the dog can be fed to help improve muscle condition. Increasing activity can also help muscle condition. A veterinarian will be able to tell a pet owner if his or her dog can tolerate protein and activity.”

If an underweight dog needs to put on some pounds, a higher-fat diet can help, Dr. Lenox says.

“For gaining weight, fat provides more calories than protein or carbohydrate, so a higher fat diet may be recommended,” she says. “However, it is essential for a pet owner to ask their veterinarian if their dog can tolerate more fat, especially if they have a history of gastrointestinal sensitivities.”

Senior dogs with excess fat, however, could benefit from a lower-fat diet, Dr. Lenox says, and there are even weight management commercial formulas specifically for seniors, like VICTOR Senior Healthy Weight dry dog food, that you can discuss with your veterinarian.

“It’s perfectly OK to feed a senior diet a weight management or weight loss diet, provided the weight loss plan is supervised by a veterinarian,” she says. “The veterinarian would need to make sure that the dog could tolerate the higher levels of protein that are typically found in weight management and weight loss diets.”

Senior Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid

Regardless of age, dogs should avoid eating certain types of human foods. A diet rich in quality protein, vegetables and fruits provides a cornucopia of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients, but certain ingredients can poison dogs and lead to stomach upset or toxic reactions that could be fatal, says Dr. Lenox.

“Because senior dogs have pickier appetites, some people will try human foods to entice their dogs to eat,” she says. “But these foods that are toxic to dogs, which are typically human foods, should be avoided.”

  • Alcohol: Can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death
  • Avocado: Can cause stomach irritation
  • Chocolate, Coffee and Caffeine: Caffeine-like compounds called methylxanthines can cause a range of problems from GI upset to serious cardiovascular issues, tremors and seizures
  • Citrus: Can cause stomach irritation if too much is consumed
  • Coconut Milk and Fresh Coconut: Can cause some stomach irritation, loose stools or diarrhea
  • Garlic: Can cause stomach irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations, tremors, seizures and death
  • Grapes and Raisins: Can cause kidney failure
  • Onions: Can cause stomach irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations, tremors, seizures and death
  • Macadamia Nuts: Can cause stomach upset, weakness and temporary paralysis; non-fatal
  • Nuts: Can cause vomiting and diarrhea because of the high fat content
  • Xylitol and Other Artificial Sweeteners: Can send animal into a hypoglycemic state and cause coma

“The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center will have a more extensive list and should be contacted if a pet has consumed any of these foods,” Dr. Lenox says. If your pet has ingested something that’s making them sick, call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for assistance.

Talking to Your Veterinarian

As your dog ages, it’s critical to maintain an ongoing dialog with your veterinarian regarding your pal’s nutritional needs. Would they benefit from a higher-protein, lower-fat diet? Could supplements and antioxidants ease their painful joints? If they show signs of dog dementia, what nutritional interventions will help? All of these questions factor into the ultimate question of what is the best thing to feed an old dog.

“Pudger’s vet—who had been treating him since I adopted him—knew him inside and out, and she told me exactly what diet to feed him to help him lose weight and reduce his arthritis pain,” Jeter says. “She even recommended some special treats to help with his dental issues.”

Because of Jeter’s love for her dog and her veterinarian’s ever-watchful eye, there’s no doubt that Pudger will be well cared for his entire life.

“I’m thankful for every day I have with my Pudge,” Jeter says. “And hopefully, by feeding him a nutrient-packed diet, I’ll have a few extra years with him.”

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