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The 6 best foods for older dogs that veterinarians swear by

Having an aging pet can bring along many adjustments—including to their diet. The best foods for senior dogs will vary depending on their health, size, and preferences, but there are several guidelines you can follow to help you find a kibble or wet food that meets all your pup’s needs.

Of course, your local veterinarian will be your most knowledgeable resource, especially if they have a long history with your pet. They can also recommend and approve a prescription diet for your dog, which opens up many possibilities of brands, flavors, and nutrients to choose from. And since nutrition has such a large impact on overall health, investing in high-quality food is of utmost importance.

Since it can be tricky to know which kibbles and canned foods may be on par with an expert’s overall guidance, we did some research. Here’s what we learned, including a selection of six vet-recommended foods you can try with your dog.

A man hands a bowl of kibble to a yellow labrador retriever with their tongue out

What foods do vets recommend for older dogs?

Though your senior dog may be as energetic as ever, their body will need a different diet when they get older. Banfield Pet Hospital’s KT Boyle, DVM told NBC News that because older pets have particular nutritional needs, you’ll need to think about a few different factors when choosing their food.

For starters, older dogs need fewer calories and more supplementation than their younger counterparts. The reduced caloric need is due to the natural slowing down of an animal’s metabolism as they age, though which supplement or supplements they need depends on the individual. To find out exactly what will benefit them, have a conversation with your veterinarian.

Dr. Boyle notes that even though senior dog foods contain many helpful nutrients—like glucosamine and fatty acids for joint health—you’ll likely need to add supplement drops or chews to your pet’s diet. Luckily, there are many to choose from and many ways to get them.

When it comes to wet versus dry food, there can be benefits to both. Dogs with dental issues may find wet food easier to eat, but the texture in kibble can help fight plaque and tartar buildup on your pup’s teeth. The pet nutrition pros at Pedigree remind owners to consult their vet if they’re at all unsure about when or how to switch up their senior dog’s diet.

That said, there are a few senior dog foods that Dr. Boyle recommends over others. These include:

Remember, your dog is the one who ultimately picks their food, so don’t feel discouraged if you need to try an option or two before finding one you both approve of. It can also help to change your pet’s diet gradually, over the course of a week or two, to help them adjust and prevent stomach upset from a new diet (via Pedigree).

A close up of a bowl of kibble and the nose of a dog who approaches it

What’s the best thing to feed an older dog?

When it comes to finding the best food for older dogs, there is no one answer. Your dog’s preference will determine which flavors you buy and whether wet or dry food makes the cut, but there are a few guidelines to consider on your end.

For one, Dr. Boyle recommends staying away from grain-free diets unless your pet has a grain sensitivity (or your vet recommends it). Not only do grains have nutritional value, but there’s also ongoing research into the relationship of grain-free foods and a heart condition called canine dilated cardiomyopathy.

Another fallacy around senior dog nutrition is that they need less protein than their younger friends. The American Kennel Club states this is not true; senior dogs actually need more protein to make up for the loss of muscle mass that occurs naturally with age. When reading labels of dry food packages, look for a protein percentage of around 28 to 32 percent, which the AKC lists as an appropriate amount for healthy senior pups.

You may also want to consider a low-sodium food for dogs with heart or kidney disease, though whether you opt for a prescription diet or over-the-counter kibble is up to you. A visit with your vet will give you all you need to know about prescription dog foods, which can address health concerns from obesity to kidney disease and even urinary issues.

Your best resource for choosing a new food for your senior dog is your veterinarian, but we hope we’ve been able to help you understand what kind of diet your buddy will need. While the details will vary from pup to pup, these are general guidelines that veterinarians and their patients follow. And remember—be patient during this process, since it’s an adjustment for everyone!

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