Senior Dog Food: Protein, Fat, and Carbs

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Last week, I discussed one of the longstanding myths that says that senior dogs should be fed a lower protein food. Although this approach was recognized as viable for many years, more recent research supports the notion that older dogs in fact, require higher amounts of protein, not lower amounts.


Unfortunately, the pet food industry has not yet caught up with current thinking. Approximately 5% of all dog foods are marketed as being appropriate for seniors. I calculated the average macronutrient values across these and compared them to the macronutrient values of non- senior specific foods. The results are shown in the table below.

feeding your senior dog


Average Macronutrients in Dog Food
Type Protein % Fat % Carbs % Kcals/cup
Senior 28.3 14.9 50.7 324.3
Non Senior 35.2 19.7 40.2 329.3


As you can see, dog food formulations that target senior dogs contain, on average, more than 10% more carbohydrates (and thus a lower amount of protein and fat) than do non-senior recipes. This is exactly the opposite of what senior dogs need.


Checking for common filler ingredients also yielded a subpar result. A whopping 66% of senior dog food recipes contain rice, 38% contain wheat or gluten, 21% contain corn, and 18% contain soy. Again, these are not the kind of ingredients that a senior dog’s body needs.


As old habits (or profits) are hard to break, most of the senior dog foods on the market are formulated based on old thinking and the end result is a set of dog food products that are not necessarily appropriate for an older pet. Owners of senior dogs should be very wary of purchasing dog foods that are marketed for senior dogs, at least without checking the macronutrient profile and the ingredient list. The best way to keep a senior dog healthy, active, and living as long as possible is the combination of appropriate diet (e.g. not high carb!) and regular exercise.

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  1. That carb count is shocking! It is amazing how most pet foods really “lie” about what kind of food it is. Healthy is often full of bad stuff, senior is full of carbs. Scary!
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  2. Commercial pet foods seem to be marketed with very little accurate information. That’s too bad because even reading the labels won’t tell you all you need to know.
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  3. I think you have to be leery of any specialty foods – including things labeled for seniors. I feel like they make these foods more for people than for dogs. It’s like Royal Canin and their “breed specific” diets, the ingredient lists are all basically the same!

    Based off of your findings, no wonder so many senior dogs are overweight! They are being loaded with carbs!
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  4. Thank you for the heads up. Although our dogs aren’t seniors yet, it’s good for me to start thinking of what I may have to do with their diet besides changing their supplements. I belong to a local raw community and will ask my group about anything I need to know.

    I appreciate the inspiration.

  5. Makes no sense to me. As the senior dog slows down, so must their metabolism, so why on earth would we stuff them with so many carbs? Crazy….. Thanks for the heads up.
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…A NEW PUPPYMy Profile

  6. Hopefully companies catch up sooner than later!!!
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  7. Our senior dogs are still on their regular food (not a senior version).
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  8. I think it’s better to feed “normal” food and supplement as needed instead of trying to feed “senior” food. Do wolves change their diet when they get to ripe age?
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  9. It’s just crazy that dog food marketing (“Great for senior dogs!”) & reality are so far apart. When will the larger dog food companies come to the understanding that dogs don’t thrive on carbs??
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  10. Love that picture! Gosh, this is disappointing to read. I know some people just buy the senior food because they assume the senior food is better for their older dog. Makes sense to assume that! However, this shows once again how important it is to actually read the labels. I’m sure it’s the same with cat foods too.
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  11. I’m glad that we stopped buying these special senior foods a while ago. I’m sure that there are so many people that just don’t realize this.
    When we were searching for cat food once, I was looking at senior foods for Conrad and Sam, and the girl at the supply store steered me away from them, saying that they were usually lower in calories and that was about it. Since Conrad was underweight, that was the last thing we needed!
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  12. Thank you for this information.
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