How many calories should a senior dog eat? One of the most common issues for senior dogs is eating too much or too little. If a senior dog eats too many calories, it can lead to obesity and other serious health issues. Understanding how many calories should a senior dog eat can be difficult. And it can be tough finding the dog food or treats that are right for your older pup. But there are some tips and tools you can use to help you feed your senior dog just the right amount of calories every day based on their needs.
At What Age Is a Dog Considered a Senior?
It turns out there’s no medically agreed upon definition of what is considered a senior dog. Every dog is different, but size and weight are major factors. Generally, dogs that grow to a giant size (think Great Danes) have a shorter life expectancy, and we deem them senior at an earlier age, around 5 or 6. Small breeds (like Beagles) tend to live longer and may not be seniors until age 8 or 9.
Still, many dogs are very healthy even when they reach these age ranges. In the future, genetic testing might tell us more about how and when the ‘senior’ period begins.
Signs of Aging in Dogs Include:
- Vision problems;
- Lumps and other skin issues;
- Weight loss or gain; and
- Bad breath, excessive drooling, or other dental symptoms.
It is important to distinguish, too, between “aging” and “geriatric.” When you hear vets talking about geriatric dogs, they are usually referring to those toward the end of the senior period. Most will show some signs of aging like the above, and perhaps a few more severe symptoms, including:
- Memory loss;
- Altered behavior (confusion, irritability, or other personality changes);
- Difficulties following their normal sleep patterns;
- Loss of muscle mass;
- Increased urination (which could indicate kidney disease) or urinary incontinence;
- Osteoarthritis; and
- Impaired mobility.
As your dog crosses into his golden years, keep an eye out for these signs, and remember to take him for regular checkups. Most vets recommend twice yearly visits for senior dogs so they can do a thorough physical exam and blood work to help detect changes in organ function or other internal issues. They can also make recommendations when it comes to senior dogs and nutrition and evaluate which symptoms and signs may benefit from a change in diet.
Differences Between Senior Dog Food vs. Regular?
Is there a difference between senior dog food, regular adult dog food, and food labeled “all life stages” or “multi-stage”? Not necessarily. In fact, some food products might be identical and only market differently; that is, only the packaging changes. According to our experts, there’s no regulation of dog foods claiming to cater to seniors, which is why there’s so much confusion on the topic.
There certainly are, however, some dietary factors that can help manage the physical and medical changes dogs experience as they age. Here are some of the ways a senior dog diet might differ from a regular adult dog diet:
- Nutrient adjustments
- Higher digestibility
- Softer texture and/or formulated to fight dental diseases
- Added joint supplements
- Added MCTs, omega-3s, and antioxidants
Nutrient Adjustments are Needed for Senior Dogs
While some dogs may not need a change in the nutrient composition of their diet as they age, there are nutritional adjustments that may specifically benefit senior dogs, depending on a number of factors (e.g. their activity level or underlying medical conditions). Here are some of the most common:
- Older dogs may require more protein in their diet: “How much protein does a senior dog need?” is a question vets get often and for good reason. The protein stores of a senior dog turn over more rapidly than in younger dogs, and like humans, dogs can start to lose muscle mass as they age. Extra protein supplies amino acids that help make up for that loss, and these keep aging pups stronger and more mobile. Senior dog diets would therefore ideally have more than 75 grams of protein per 1,000 calories. To get an accurate picture of the protein-to-calories ratio in your dog’s current food, check out our pet food nutriend calculator.
Note that there is one caveat here: Phosphorus content tends to increase with the amount of protein, and it is recommended that you find ways to reduce phosphorus intake in senior dogs with kidney disease. Once the disease reaches a certain stage, restricting phosphorus becomes important to prevent its progression. It remains controversial as to whether or not protein needs to be restricted in these dogs. What is clear is that higher-protein diets have never been associated with a higher likelihood of developing kidney disease in dogs.
- Some senior dogs may require higher or lower fat in their food: Some senior dogs struggle to keep on weight. If you notice your dog dropping pounds, talk to your vet about underlying medical conditions that could affect his appetite, calorie needs, and/or digestion. If muscle mass is the problem, a high-protein diet is critical; if your dog is getting thinner for some other reason, your vet may recommend a diet higher in fat. On the other hand, a diet with reduced fat may be in order for a senior dog struggling with obesity.
- Some senior dogs may need more or less fiber: There are two categories of fiber: soluble, which serves as “food” for bacteria to ferment, and insoluble, which adds bulk to the stool that bacteria cannot break down. Mixed fibers, like psyllium, combine both and appear in some senior dog foods to help improve general gastrointestinal support. For those senior dogs who have trouble with constipation, a diet higher in fiber may help them stay regular. On the flipside, some senior foods may have less fiber than usual, perhaps because fiber may decrease the absorption of essential nutrients. It is not yet clear which fiber modification (more or less), if any, is best for senior pets.
- Lower or higher calorie density for senior dogs: If you are asking yourself, “Well, how many calories does a senior dog need?” then the short answer is: it is complicated. Some foods for seniors are formulated to be more calorically dense and others, less. Finding the appropriate calorie density (calories per cups) depends on whether or not your dog needs to gain or lose weight. Some general guidelines:
- For weight gain: More than 450 calories per cup for kibble, or a higher-fat diet with more than 50 grams of fat per 1,000 calories.
- For weight loss: Less than 350 calories per cup for kibble, or a diet with portions premeasured for your dog.
Lower-calorie foods are often the way to go, because senior dogs tend to be less active than their younger counterparts. In fact, dogs’ activity levels tend to drop by as much as one-third to one-half as they age; that means they do not need to take in as many calories. Portion control is key! That said, for those senior dogs who are losing muscle mass, a vet might recommend a diet higher in protein and calories.
Finally, always consult your vet, who can help you determine what is right for your dog and make adjustments accordingly.
Best Dog Food For Senior Dogs
- As dogs age, their nutritional requirements change and evolve.
- Obesity, arthritis, and cognitive and appetite loss are common problems for seniors.
- While there’s no food bowl Fountain of Youth, some nutrients can help.
- dog food
A long life is the result of good genes, good care, and good luck. While a few four-leaf clovers never hurt anyone, chances are it’s a little late to worry about good genes once you’ve welcomed a dog into your heart. That leaves good care as the one thing you can control now. And a big part of good care is good nutrition.
However, there are issues when it comes to feeding your senior dog. Neither the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nor the National Research Council have determined official dietary requirements for aging dogs. It’s partly because senior dogs vary so much in their individual needs. That may explain why commercial foods for seniors vary so widely in nutrient levels.
Nobody expects you to be a nutritionist just to pick out a bag of dog food. But you should be aware of just a few important factors that apply to most senior dogs. This will help you choose the best dog food for your senior dog.
Don’t Restrict Protein
This matter is widely misunderstood. Many people still believe senior dogs should eat less protein. We now know the opposite is true. Healthy seniors need more protein, not less, in order to fuel muscle. Loss of muscle mass is a major problem in older dogs. Some seniors lose so much muscle they can no longer walk unassisted.
Older dogs need about 50 percent more protein to maintain muscle mass compared to younger ones. But, diets formulated for adult maintenance diets often don’t have enough protein to satisfy these needs. Veterinarian Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, recommends 28 to 32 percent protein on a dry-matter basis for healthy older dogs, especially in those cases where weight loss is needed.
Younger seniors tend to be overweight. But, very old dogs tend to be underweight. A 2011 study found that calories in senior foods varied widely, ranging from 246 to 408 calories per cup. So, the same senior food may be a great choice if your dog needs to lose weight. But it may be a bad choice if they need to gain weight.
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Don’t forget that the time to consider calories is well before old age sets in. Two benchmark studies conducted by major dog food companies Purina and Waltham both found that restricting calories throughout life improved longevity and reduced illnesses. Essentially, good care for senior dogs starts in youth.
Feed For Organ Health
Other factors to consider are senior dog health problems such as heart and kidney disease. For both conditions, you’ll want a low-sodium food. But, that same 2011 study found that sodium levels in senior foods ranged from 33 to 412 mg/100 kcal. For kidney disease, you’ll want low phosphorous, but that’s not even mentioned on any label. The 2011 study found phosphorous levels varied by threefold in the senior foods they examined, but were on average higher than their representative adult maintenance food.
Prescription diets are available for heart, kidney, and other diseases that take into account these nutritional needs. However, even those foods may have wide ranges of nutrients. Any dog food manufacturer should be able to provide these numbers to you on their website or with a simple phone call. While you’re at it, ask them about the credentials of the people formulating their foods. If they can’t provide either, that’s clue number one that you should find another product.
How do I control calorie intake and avoid nutrient excesses?
It is important to closely monitor your dog’s body condition and muscle condition and keep both in a good range as discussed in the handout “Obesity in Dogs.”
Calorie control in mature and senior dogs usually means reducing calorie consumption by approximately 20-30%. In very old dogs, it may be more important to increase their caloric intake to sustain a normal physique as their body condition and weight naturally declines with advanced age.
For the average mature and senior dog, reducing calories reduces the risk for obesity and many other diseases, including cancer, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and immune-mediated disease. It can slow the progression of age-related changes and increase a dog’s lifespan.
Avoiding nutrient excesses means reducing the recommended upper limits of some nutrients, like protein, compared to the recommended limits for younger dogs.
Portion feeding plays an important role in controlling calorie intake and decreasing your dog’s chance of becoming overweight or obese. On the other hand, portion feeding also helps you identify a decreased or absent appetite early on, which could signal underlying medical problems.
Be sure to ask your veterinarian for a specific portion recommendation and divide the daily total into 2-5 meals depending upon your schedule. Do not rely on the feeding chart on the bag of kibble as it will overestimate how much you should feed. You need a portion recommendation tailored to your specific dog’s needs.
Once you know the appropriate quantity to feed at each meal, you can schedule regular weigh-ins at your veterinarian’s office to monitor any weight gain or loss.
Dog Calorie Calculator
How many calories in dog food?
Just when everyone sits down for dinner, you hear the pounding of four furry paws as your Chocolate Lab dashes towards the dining room. She skids to a stop next to your chair, and drool begins to pool on the floor under her open mouth as she stares longingly at the delicious meal atop the table. While she patiently waits for a morsel of food to drop you think to yourself: is she still hungry? Am I not feeding her enough? How much food should I be feeding her?
Although dogs communicate in other ways, they cannot tell us what they’re thinking. It can be difficult to understand what kind of food they need or how much they really should be eating.
In order to better understand dogs’ daily food requirements, the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine created the MER, or the “maintenance energy requirement.” Your pup’s MER represents the amount of calories she needs to consume in order to do her everyday activities. Weight and exercise habits are contributing factors in your dog’s MER.
Suggested Calorie Intake for Dogs by Weight
10 lbs. 200 to 275 calories
20 lbs. 325 to 400 calories
50 lbs. 700 to 900 calories
70 lbs. 900 to 1050 calories
90 lbs. 1100 to 1350 calories