Wondering when to switch to senior dog food? Your fur friend has been your loyal companion for years now. They’ve stuck by your side through thick and thin. They might not jump quite as high, but they never fail to greet you with that special doggy smile. Their tail keeps on waggin’. Of course you want to do right by your dog as they get on in years. One of the easiest ways to do that is to provide them with the best senior dog food possible. Are you starting to consider making the move to a dog food specially designed for senior dogs?
So, when to switch to senior dog food? Switch small dog breeds to senior dog food at ages 7-8. Medium dog breeds at ages 6-7. And large dog breeds at ages 5-6. That is a very generic range, so the best answer is always: it depends because age alone doesn’t classify your dog as a “senior” dog. Senior-ness should also factor size and breed. If your dog is in perfect health, he does not need senior dog food, despite being advanced in years. If your dog has an “older dog disease”, special senior dog food may be necessary.
There are many factors to consider regarding what age to switch to senior dog food. In this article, I’ll take a look at what age and under what circumstances you might want to switch your dog to senior dog food.
When is a Dog Considered Old?
One of the first things that you need to know is that your dog is not necessarily considered a senior citizen because it reached a certain predetermined age milestone. They’re not like people, who reach that magic age and join the AARP or claim social security benefits.
So, how do you know when your dog is considered old?
As I mentioned, it has everything to do with the breed and, particularly, the size of your dog.
Smaller dogs can live up to 15 or even 20 years. Larger dogs, like Great Danes, have shorter lifespans and are lucky if they make it to 12 years.
Dogs are old, or “senior”, when they reach the halfway point of their anticipated life expectancy. For large dogs, that can be around 5 or 6 years of age. For small dogs, its around 7 or 8 years.
The thing is, even though your dog might meet the age requirement, it doesn’t mean that you need to switch their food to a senior formulation of your favorite brand.
The most important consideration when thinking about switching to senior dog food should be the state of your dog’s overall health.
Senior Dog Food Age: When to Switch to Senior Dog Food?
The primary factor for deciding when should dogs eat senior dog food has everything to do with your pet’s health.
Let’s say you have done a superb job of keeping your dog’s teeth clean. You’ve maintained them at their ideal weight with lots of exercise. You’ve made sure they have always had high-quality dog food. Your dog may very well be enjoying their senior years in perfect health.
As the saying goes, if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If this is the case, there is no need to switch your dog over to senior dog food.
But let’s imagine that, despite your best efforts, your fur baby has got some health issues going on. Age-related health problems are not your fault. Just like people, dogs tend to experience some physical decline as the years add up.
Is your dog being treated for one or more of the following conditions?
- Kidney Issues
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Periodontal (dental) disease
If so, it might be time to start thinking about switching to senior dog food.
What Makes Senior Dog Food Different?
If you are considering switching to senior dog food, you are probably wondering what makes it different from regular dog food.
One of the first things you have to understand is that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (the AAFCO) nor the National Research Council (the NRC) layout specific requirements for senior dog food formulations.
What does that mean?
Basically, it’s up to the individual dog food company to come up with senior dog food formulations. From one brand to the next, they can vary a lot.
All the same, to get the seal of the AAFCO or the NRC, the dog food should still follow the nutritional guidelines for adult dogs.
So if that’s the case, what are they doing to their dog food that makes it better for senior dogs?
Most dog food manufacturers make the following changes to their recipe to market them as apt for senior dogs:
- Less Protein
- Fewer Calories
- More Fiber
- Lowered levels of phosphorus and sodium
- The addition of other supplements like glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids.
Before taking the leap and switching your pet to senior dog food, you have to ask yourself – are those changes really ideal for my dog?
It’s Time to Consult Your Veterinarian
If your senior or geriatric dog has special health conditions, what you need to do is talk to your vet before making the leap over to senior dog food.
Each of the conditions I named above requires specific dietary changes to keep your pet in the best shape possible.
If your older dog is losing weight and has a hard time eating because of periodontal disease, a low calorie or low protein food might not be the best option for them.
If they are suffering from kidney and liver disease, a lower protein food might be just what they need.
If your dog is obese and has joint issues, they might do great with a lower calorie and higher fiber senior dog food with a glucosamine supplement.
Because there are no clear guidelines for senior dog food formulations, each dog food brand will have a different recipe. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to understand exactly what your dog needs to maintain optimal health.
Then take your time to shop around to find the senior dog food that will work best for your dog.
A senior dog is a term used to describe an older dog who’s reached the halfway point of his lifespan or beyond.
A geriatric dog is a term that refers to the senior dog who has reached a point of fragility that requires quite a bit of attention.
If your dog is at the geriatric stage, they most likely have a host of health problems. This can range from fatty cysts, arthritis and other joint issues, cataracts, hearing loss, and maybe even incontinence. You might notice they have a hard time jumping up to the couch or the bed. They may even be losing their teeth. Geriatric dogs typically need more involved veterinarian care. Constant attention is necessary to help them live out their last years as comfortable as possible.
This question is one that is not so easy to answer in a quick little blurb. It’s a subject worthy of a whole article. To not leave the question unanswered, though, let’s just say that the best dog food for your senior dog should be decided between you and your veterinarian.
Discuss your older dog’s health needs with a professional. Do they need more protein or less? Do they really need more fiber? Will they benefit from added vitamins, minerals, or other supplements? Will they benefit from a wet dog food or dry kibble?
Follow your vet’s advice and then seek out the dog food with the highest quality ingredients that you can afford.