Choosing a dog food is not such a straightforward exercise as it used to be. Look at the shelves in the pet shop and the variety is mind-boggling. By the time your dog is getting old, you have probably settled on a favorite brand, favorite flavor and so on.
The question is: is it still good enough? Especially in the case of big dogs, is there a food that can be considered the best large breed senior dog food?
Dog food formulas change all the time and there are new ones at least once a year. Knowing what to look for in the ingredients and not shopping for the name is the ticket to make sure your large breed senior dog is getting the best possible nutrition. You may even consider making it yourself, and then you need to know what will be best for an older dog.
Best Large Breed Senior Dog Food 2020
Is Your Dog Considered a Large Breed?
Don’t listen to the cynics, size matters, even in dogs. Some dogs are clearly NOT large breeds. Let’s see…Chihuau? Naahhh, surely not. Maltese Poodle? No, dearie, you are just a small person, so the dog looks large. Staffie? Getting there, getting there. I got one! Bergamasco Sheepdog! Close, but no banana. Hah.
Let’s give you the list of official Large Breed Dogs as compiled by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Don’t argue, they the experts, dude.
By the way, I look at the list and wonder – what is it about these Belgians and Irish? They like large dogs, it seems.
- Aghan Hound
- Alaskan Malamute
- Belgian Laekenois
- Belgian Malinois
- Belgian Sheepdog
- Belgian Tervuren
- Berger Picard
- Black and Tan Coonhound
- Black Russian Terrier
- Bouvier Des Flandres
- Bracco Italiano
- Cane Corso
- Catahoula Leopard Dog
- Central Asian Shepherd Dog
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Curly-Coated Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Dogo Argentino
- Estrela Mountain Dog
- German Longhaired Pointer
- German Shepherd Dog
- Giant Schnauzer
- Golden Retriever
- Gordon Setter
- Hanoverian Scenthound
- Ibizan Hound
- Irish Red and White Setter
- Irish Setter
- Irish Water Spaniel
- Old English Sheepdog
- Perro de Presa Canario
- Rafeiro do Alentejo
- Redbone Coonhound
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Slovensky Cuvac
- Treeing Walker Coonhound
Phew, that’s quite a list!
Do you think that’s all?
No, actually that’s just the large dogs. Now we get to the list of the Largest Dog Breeds! It includes all of the above, plus these woofers:
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Bluetick Coonhound
- Caucasian Shepherd Dog
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- Great Dane
- Great Pyrenees
- Neapolitan Mastiff
- Pyrenean Mastiff
- Romanian Mioritic Shepherd Dog
- Saint Bernard
- Scottish Deerhound
- Siberian Husky
- Spanish Mastiff
- Tibetan Mastiff
Clearly if you encounter a dog with the word “Mastiff” in it, expect something big!
Remember that these are only the official breeds. There are a number of crossbreeds that are not recognized by the AKC, or for that matter, the International Federation of Pedigreed Dogs (FCI), but that are still large dogs.
Examples are the Labradoodle, Goldador, and Weimador, better known by the more tongue-twisting Labmaraner.
If you have one of those, you won’t find them on the official list but you can still work out whether it is a Large Breed. And no, it’s not good enough just to look at it and say, “Wow, that’s a big dog!”.
To determine whether your mixed breed qualifies as a large dog, apply these criteria – when fully grown it must:
- Weigh at least 50 lb (23 kg)
- Stand 24 in (61 cm) high*
*Dog height is measured from the ground to the highest point of its shoulder blades (withers).
Any dog meeting or exceeding these measurements is considered Large.
When is a Dog Senior?
Unfortunately, large dog breeds become senior citizens at an earlier age than smaller dogs. Their life span is typically only 10 – 13 years whereas small breeds easily reach 15 years and older. My mother’s fox terrier died at 25…back to Large Breeds. They are considered seniors from around 6 to 7 years. It goes by in a jiffy.
Just like humans, some individuals will age quicker than others. And just like humans, there are signs that tell you that your dog is aging and becoming a senior, regardless of the exact number of years his age is.
1. Age-related diseases begin to develop
Typically it begins with joint disorders and cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This means stiffness, reluctance to move and exercise, even lameness and difficulty in getting up.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is basically dog dementia. Yes, they suffer from this horrible condition as well. The signs of dog dementia are numerous:
- Extreme irritability
- Decreased desire to play
- Excessive licking
- Seeming disregard for previously learned training or house rules
- Slow to learn new tasks
- Inability to follow familiar routes
- Excessive barking
- Lack of self-grooming
- Fecal and urinary incontinence
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Changes in sleep cycle (e.g., night waking, sleeping during the day)
2. Lumpy skin
Fat lumps beneath the dog’s skin are called lipomas and develop as the dog gets older and uses less energy. These fat deposits are usually harmless, but an indication of aging.
3. Behavioral changes
As indicated above, the dog may start to behave differently if it is getting dementia. However, there may also be other changes such as being less enthusiastic about greeting you and being more cautious about exploring on walks.
These are mainly due to loss of sensory sharpness and loss of mobility.
4. Loss of hearing, smell and vision
As your dog is going deaf he may not hear you approach or give a command. So he may be startled to the point of being aggressive when he suddenly realizes you, or any other person is next to him. He may not react when you give a command.
None of these are “bad” behaviors, the poor thing cannot hear so well anymore. If you respond to these signs with punishment, you are causing stress that will exacerbate aggression or fear.
Loss of vision is indicated when the dog becomes clumsy, bumps into walls and furniture, and sad to witness – can not find his food or water bowls, can not find his bedding or flops down and misses it. Uncharacteristic aggression towards movements and sounds is also an indication that your dog can not see well and feels vulnerable.
5. Tooth decay and gum disease
Bad breath, plaque, swollen gums and a loss of appetite are all indications of teeth and gum problems.
Definitely Large Breed and Definitely Senior, Now it’s Feeding Time!
So now you have established (as though you did not know it when you got your bundle of fur) that you have a “Large Breed, Senior” dog and you want to know what is the best food to give to it.
If you established that it has any of the diseases or conditions mentioned above, not forgetting stuff like diabetes or kidney problems, the most important is to first choose a food that will not worsen the condition or disease. Also, you don’t want to give it anything that will actually bring on one of those conditions in an otherwise healthy old dog.
This kind of diet requires a specialized combination of food and supplements.
You must confer with your vet (who must diagnose or confirm the condition or disease) to ensure that you end up with the optimal food for your individual dog.
As a general rule, obesity is one of the conditions that lead to many of the diseases seen in old dogs.
So just making sure that you do not overfeed it or give it food that contains too much fat and carbohydrates will be an excellent first step toward a healthy senior dog diet. Having said that, bear in mind that large breed dogs do have larger nutritional needs than small breeds.
Compared to what you gave him when he was younger the senior dog’s diet now must be lower in calories, higher in fiber but still have adequate protein and fat. Next question, what is meant by “adequate”?
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) does not have a nutrient profile for a “senior” life stage for dogs. The best sources to consult regarding a feeding program for older dogs are then various veterinary recommendations.
The most important aspects that need to to be addressed in the large breed older dog’s diet can be summarized as:
- Less energy-rich food. Yes, we keep on harping about that, but it really is important. Fat dogs develop heart problems, painful arthritic joints, torn ligaments, diabetes, breathing difficulty, decreaed liver function, and some more. Do you really want your dog, especially an older dog to suffer like that?
- More protein. There are a number of physiological reasons why older dogs, particularly large ones with lots of muscle mass, need more protein when they get older. As a general guideline, provide up to ~1.5 g protein/lb body weight (3.9 g protein/kg body weight).
- Fat should be around 10 to 14 % of the food content. That is adequate for most dogs that are not obese, to begin with. They still need fat for energy, to maintain healthy skin and coat, to support the immune system, and to transport fat-soluble vitamins.
- Fiber. Older dogs do not move around so much any more, for various reasons, so they may start to be a bit constipated. It could be better to increase the amount of fiber in their diet.
- Lots of water. The dog may drink less since it does not feel thirst but may still be dehydrated. Make sure there is always enough water. You may also consider giving more wet food just to make sure it gets enough fluids.
Next Up: Commercial or Homemade? Kibbles (Dry, Hard) or Tins (Wet, Soft)?
If you have had your dog for all of its life you will know how it feels about kibbles and wet food. Kibbles are generally advantageous because it helps to prevent tartar buildup on the teeth, it is easy to store and feed, and it is usually less expensive.
In fact, look here to see a list of dog foods that have been approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council for reduction of plaque and tartar. But be careful if your dog has already developed dental problems – the kibbles may be uncomfortable for it to chew or may irritate the gums.
A downside regarding kibbles is that it usually has a higher phosphorus content than wet food, which is not good for a dog with kidney problems. Many older dogs have reduced kidney function so make sure that kibbles is not making it worse.
Something you may not think about, is that older dogs lose their sense of smell and therefore may not be overwhelmed by dry food any more. Wet foods are richer in scent and flavor so your dog may be more inclined to eat that than when you offer it kibbles, even if it used to be its absolute favorite. Besides the scent, wet food is more palatable – easier to eat and more pleasant to taste.
I am reluctant to even touch the home-made, or raw diet options in relation to senior dogs. There is such a vigorous debate about the pros and cons and everyone gets so excited about proving their point it becomes a bun fight.
They are opportunistic generalists.
That means their primary food items are medium-large mammals, small mammals, reptiles, birds, refuse, carrion, and grass. They also have the enzymes that can break down starch (unlike animals that are exclusively carnivorous) and therefore have lived successfully on grain based diets fed to them by humans.
Let’s cut to the chase.
Whatever food you are considering feeding your senior large breed dog, look for premium foods that are free from artificial additives, preservatives and chemicals and contain human-grade/organic ingredients (not feed-grade).
Make sure the proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrates are suitable for the nutritional requirements of your dog, especially if it has health problems. Try to make sure that the food source is the best possible – i.e. whole foods not meals and none of that other stuff labelled “by-products”.
If you make the food yourself, avoid common mistakes like not providing balanced nutrition, using dodgy recipes and choosing ingredients on the basis of price rather than quality.
You can soften regular kibbles with water or stock (but watch the salt), you can buy a “soft-moist” dog food, you can buy a dehydrated/freeze-dried prepared meal that you just add water too, and you can resort to feeding it only from tins. There are many choices in brands, composition, texture etc. available, so you need to study them carefully, but somewhere out there will be one to suit your dog.
Yes you can, once you have ensured that both are of the very best quality. There are benefits like increasing palatibility and water intake, and it may also be more cost effective. As always, first consider any health issues your dog may have and make sure that neither of the foods will contribute to worsening the condition.