Should my dog’s diet change with age?

small white fluffy dog with bottle

These days, the pet food aisle can be quite an overwhelming place for many of us. With so many varieties of dog food, labelled as suitable for puppies, adult dogs, senior dogs, we can find ourselves getting confused about which is best for our dogs. How can we know which diets will keep our dogs healthier for longer, or if changing their diet as they age will help them at all?

If you’re wondering whether to change your dog’s diet at different life stages, the experts at Canagan, the grain-free pet food specialists, share the best ways you can change your dog’s diet to meet their needs and when the best time is to do so. 

Can all dogs eat the same food?

Like humans, puppies and adult dogs consume significantly more energy than senior dogs, and so require more protein, fat and nutrients. The good news is, whilst there are options out there for more senior dogs, your pet will be used to the diet they have been accustomed to since a young age and so won’t require a radical diet change.

As your dog starts to show signs of aging and often become less active, they use less energy. Senior dogs don’t need the same calorific food as younger dogs and following such a diet could lead to issues relating to their weight. Older dogs could benefit from a diet that focuses on protecting them against infections and illnesses that with age and should have reduced fat and calorie content.

What is the best diet for dogs?

The European pet food industry (FEDIAF) have clear guidelines on the nutritional requirements of pet food. To achieve a balanced diet, pet food manufacturers need to blend a mixture of ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables, vitamins and minerals, in order to meet the nutritional requirements of pets and to ensure they are receiving all of the ingredients needed for a healthy diet. These nutritional requirements will vary depending on the size, age and activity of your pet.

For instance, senior dog foods contain a larger range of ingredients which target joint health such as glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). These ingredients help do the following:

  • Glucosamine
    Glucosamine hydrochloride is a major building block of cartilage, and it is found naturally within the body. Glucosamine is necessary for the construction of connective tissues, and it enhances the body's ability to produce collagen and joint fluid. It also helps supply the body with the necessary materials to repair joint damage.
  • Chondroitin
    Chondroitin sulfate is a natural compound found in cartilage. It promotes healthy joints by warding off the effects of damaging enzymes. It also increases water retention and enhances the elastic properties of cartilage.
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
    Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is one of nature's sources of dietary sulphur, which is mainly used to support healthy joints and cartilage. It helps relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis by lubricating the joint cartilage and improving mobility. When used in combination with Vitamin C, it allows more nutrients to enter the cells, which helps eliminate unwanted toxins and improve overall health.

Senior dog food varieties are often adjusted in terms of the following elements: nutrients, digestibility, texture, joint supplements and fatty acids. We would therefore suggest that you consider the following when changing your senior dog’s diet:

  • If your dog is becoming weaker and less mobile, this may be a result of lower protein stores causing them to lose muscle mass. A high-protein diet could help them regain some of their strength. However, increased protein can mean increased levels of phosphorus, which needs to be limited to prevent the progression of kidney disease. If your dog suffers from problems with their kidney, you are likely to be looking for a low-protein diet. Some senior dog foods will therefore be better for your dog than others.
  • If your dog is gaining weight, think about reducing their calorie intake. Senior dogs often gain weight because they are less active, so most senior dog foods are less calorific. But this is not always the case. If you have an older dog who is losing weight, watch out for those products with reduced calories.
  • Older dogs are more susceptible to issues with their digestion. If this is the case for yours, consider increasing the amount of fibre in their diet or giving them fresh food since it can be easier to break down than uncooked food.
  • Senior dogs often struggle with both dental disease and loose or infected teeth. Food of a softer texture can make it more comfortable for them to eat.

How do I know when to change my dog’s diet?

It is best to consult your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet. They will be able to advise on what kind of food your dog needs and can make you feel reassured in your decisions.

There is no single solution to when to change your dog’s diet and it can be hard to know when to give your dog senior dog food. The age at which a dog becomes ‘senior’ can vary between breeds. Larger dogs are usually considered senior at around five or six years old, whereas smaller breeds are not considered as senior until nearer eight or nine old. Vision problems, skin issues, weight change and symptoms of dental disease are all signs that can indicate to you that your dog is ageing, and it may be time to switch to a senior dog food.

Skin issues can also be improved by introducing a grain-free diet to your dog. Many grain-free dog foods contain more protein and animal fats and fewer carbohydrates than their grain-based counterparts, helping maintain a shinier coat and healthier skin.

Essentially, knowing when to change your dog’s diet is a matter of looking at and knowing your dog, consulting your vet and making an educated decision on what would benefit your dog’s health the most.

old grey scruffy dog

How do I change my dogs diet?

In terms of how to change what your dog is eating; the answer is gradually. Sudden changes can cause tummy upset and/or diarrhoea.

Start with a very small amount of the new food and just place it next to their regular meal. You don’t need to mix it in. This lets your dog familiarise themselves with it, allowing them to have a sniff or a taste if they want to. You don’t need to panic if they don’t give it a taste the first time it’s there.

After a few days, you can start to mix the new food with their old food but in gradual doses. If your dog is eating the food quite happily, you can start increasing the amount of new food and reducing the old, keeping the same overall portion size. If the amount of new food then puts them off and you can see they are eating less, decrease the amount of new food. Wait a few days, make sure they are eating normally and then very gradually try to increase the amount again. This should help prevent any tummy upset.

Spend at least a week mixing the two foods together and phasing out the old food before you completely remove it from their diet. Again, if you see that they stop eating the new food, reintroduce some of the old food and try again a few days later.

Essentially, your dog can benefit from a diet that changes with age, but there is not a generic diet that will work for all. Sometimes, it can be easy to over complicate your dog’s diet too. As humans, we are used to a diverse range of food, so it is natural to think our dogs require the same. However, their ancestors will have just been used to eating meat and any food they could find.

You need to pay attention to your dog’s behaviour and stay in tune with their body, but you should remember that they do have a natural calling to their original diet in the wild.

For more advice on your dog’s nutrition visit the Canagan blog.

*The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified pet health provider with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s health*