When To Switch To Senior Dog Food

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When to switch to senior dog food

Dogs generally have 3 life stages: puppy, adult & senior. Once your dog reaches his senior years, there are a few things you’ll need to think about to help him manage this stage of his life.

One of those things is his food — what type of food is best for senior dogs? And when you should you transition him over to senior dog food? These questions, and more, we tackle below.

Does my dog need senior dog food?

Before answering when to make the switch to senior dog food, first we ask if the switch is necessary at all. The answer is not a straightforward one, so we’ve broken it down into sections below.

The short version: healthy dogs don’t need to switch to senior dog food. Dogs that have diabetes or other chronic diseases should be guided by vets in their diet. Dogs that are showing signs of aging may benefit from senior dog food.

Dogs that are currently healthy

If your dog is healthy and thriving on his current food, there’s no absolute reason you should switch him over to senior dog food, not purely because he hits a certain age. An older dog that is still in good health is likely already on a high-quality diet, and he continue eating that well into his golden years. Don’t fix what ain’t broken!

Dogs that have diseases directly affected by nutrition

Certain diseases are directly affected by nutrition: diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, heart disease, and certain skin diseases. If your dog has one of these diseases, working in close cooperation with a trusted vet will be your best step forward. A healthy diet can keep these diseases in check and prevent the dreaded complications associated with them. This will likely mean being on a prescription diet rather than a commercial senior dog food.

Dogs that are showing signs of aging

There will come a day that you notice your dog is slowing down — maybe that excited skip in his step is no longer the same; maybe you notice he likes to sit on the couch more than play these days. When this time comes, you can choose to get ahead of expected problems and make the switch to an appropriate senior dog food.

Dogs that have constipation will benefit from more fiber in their diet. Dogs that have arthritis may benefit from added ingredients like glucosamine & chondroitin. Dogs that have lost some or all of their teeth will find wet food easier to chew & swallow. Omega-3 fatty acids have a host of benefits for all senior dogs. Dogs that have gained weight in their old age may benefit from calorie-dense food in controlled amounts.

What’s the difference between adult dog food & senior dog food?

The short answer: maybe not a whole lot!

The AAFCO, which is responsible for setting quality standards for pet foods, has minimum standards for most types of dog food, but not for senior dog food! This suggests that there’s no “best” senior dog food, i.e. no one size that fits all.

Dog food manufacturers adhere to standards set by the AAFCO, but since there are none set for senior dog food, they can just take any adult dog food they already have, slap a new label on it and call it senior dog food. In short, it could be just marketing, a way to sell more products.

The important takeaway here is that fur parents should learn to read dog food labels — understand macronutrients, learn what added ingredients to look for, and compare ingredient percentages between senior dog food and regular dog food.

A final point we want to make here is that not all older dogs need low-salt, low-protein, low-fat diets, which unfortunately some food manufacturers like to claim. These severely restricted diets may be appropriate for certain chronic diseases, but certainly not for all older dogs. If your dog goes on a restricted diet, it should be with the supervision of a veterinarian.

At what age should I switch to senior dog food?

Great, now that you’ve decided to switch your dog over to senior food, the next question is — when is the right time to do that?

The short answer: anywhere from 6-10 years old. Dogs mature at different rates, so smaller dogs might reach senior age later in life (around 9-10 years old), while a large dog can be considered a senior as early as 6-7 years old.

The long answer: rather than using age as a determinant for when to make the switch, your dog’s behavior and appearance will give you a better idea. A decrease in mobility, changes in muscle mass, and decreased mental alertness are all signs of aging. When you start noticing these signs, it’s time to consider making the switch.

Yearly visits to the vet should become part of your traditions once your dog hits his golden years. Your vet will probably recommend routine lab tests to monitor your dog’s overall health & organ functions, which plays a large part in determining the correct diet.

How to transition from adult food to senior dog food

The process of changing your dog food is the same whether you’re switching from adult food to senior food, or even from one brand of food to another. It’ll take about a week to do the transition, and we do it this way to avoid an upset stomach or other unwanted reactions from a sudden change. Slow & steady is the key.

  • Day 1-2: 75% old food, 25% new food
  • Day 3-4: 50% old food, 50% new food
  • Day 5-6: 25% old food, 75% new food
  • Day 7 on: 100% new food

Does my senior dog needs vitamins & supplements?

If your dog is already on a high-quality diet, there is absolutely no need for additional vitamins or supplements. There are certain health conditions for which supplements might be appropriate, but we leave that for vets to prescribe on a case-to-case basis.

Great! Now that you know if to switch your dog over to senior dog, and when and how to make the switch, how about checking out our recommendations for best senior dog food products?

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