The Nutritional Needs of the Senior Dog

We acknowledge the nutritional needs of puppies are quite different to the adult dog, but the adult dog in many of our eyes simple remains an adult dog.  We know they are getting older, but we perhaps don’t know when to label them as senior and so often miss the opportunity to make supportive dietary changes.

The technical definition of the senior dog is quite vague; it is thought to be when they hit around half of their lifespan and as we know, there are breed differences to consider here.

To bring a little more clarity, we thought we’d take a systems approach.  If we understand the changes that occur in our dog’s systems as they age, armed with this knowledge we can use nutrition as one of our tools to optimise our dog’s health where possible.

System Changes For the Ageing Dog

As we always talk about the role of the digestive system in health, we’ll start there.

The ageing dog can suffer with dental disease, or its more technical term, periodontal disease.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease begins when bacteria in the dog’s mouth forms to create a substance called plaque. The plaque sits on the surface of the teeth and with the help of saliva, it hardens to form tartar.  Not only does it sit on the teeth, plaque and tartar seeps into gum lines which causes inflammation. Over a period of time, this inflammation and presence of bacteria causes damage to the structures surrounding the teeth; causing receding gum lines and eventually tooth loss. These bacteria can also travel to other parts of the body, causing a range of additional health concerns.  It has been found to damage cardiac tissue causing endocarditis (infection and inflammation in the heart). Studies have also shown that periodontal disease is linked to increased insulin resistance, kidney, and liver issues.

Signs your dog has dental disease:

  • Bad breath
  • Pawing at his mouth
  • Reluctance to eat
  • Food or toys will have blood on them

Smaller breeds are statistically more likely to suffer with periodontal disease, as are brachycephalic breeds. Their teeth are often closer together which means food and bacteria can more easily get stuck.

What is also interesting is that it is generally accepted that the inflammation and resulting tissue damage is due to an improperly regulated immune response to bacterial infection, and not solely from the bacterial pathogens themselves. This suggests that if your dog already has immune mediated health concerns, then they may be at a higher risk of dental disease.

To support the dental health of your dog, our top tips include:

  • Avoid ultra-processed, refined foods,
  • Offer opportunities to chew,
  • Offer fibrous foods to gnaw on,
  • Daily brushing if not feeding a species appropriate diet,
  • To understand why we recommend this, check out our blog below:

Periodontal Disease in Dogs

Compromised Digestive Function

Moving through the digestive system, get to the stomach and there can be a decline in stomach acid secretion with ageing.  What this means, is that digestive function may be compromised for the senior dog, we may find that cooking food aids digestive function.  In addition, digestive enzyme production also slows with age, so we may consider including supplemental enzymes under the guidance of a practitioner.

Gastrointestinal Motility

For the ageing dog, we may also notice decreased gastrointestinal motility.  It’s important to support the health of the enteric nervous system responsible for this function, and we can think of the enteric nervous system like the second brain. We therefore need to provide plenty of nutrient dense foods that support nerve health.

Potassium and Sodium

Nerves send signals throughout the nervous system, and they heavily rely on potassium and sodium (and other nutrients) to do this.  If there are low levels, nerves have a harder time carrying out this process.

We often see low levels of sodium in some raw fed dogs.  Check out our blog below:

Are We Really That Good At Doing It Ourselves?

B Vitamins

B vitamins are crucial for nerve health, we often see deficiencies in B12 associated with neuropathy in humans.

Why Your Dog needs Vitamin B12?


Whilst we usually associate calcium with bone health, calcium also plays a role in nerve communication.

Why Does My Dog Need Calcium?

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can support myelin sheath health which is the protective layer around nerves.  It allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells.  If myelin if damaged, these impulses slow down.  This is what happens in cases of degenerative myelopathy; the myelin is damaged resulting in nerve damage.


For the senior dog, they may become less active than they used to be, or with the onset of chronic musculoskeletal issues, we may not be able to exercise them as we used to.  We know that the calorie in vs. calorie out model is limited when it comes to the complexities of obesity, but we must adjust food portions to suit not only nutrient needs but also levels of activity.

Obesity in Pets – Part One

Obesity in Pets – Part Two

Urinary System

The senior dog may experience decreased renal function, urinary bladder disease and more.

To optimise urinary health, this is our checklist:

  • A fresh and unadulterated fresh food diet
  • Moderate in protein
  • Omega fats and antioxidants
  • Super tasty and easily delivered
  • Treats that are part of the daily calorie intake

Hydration should also be prioritised.

The Importance of Water

Musculoskeletal Health

There are a number of degenerative conditions that our trusty canines can suffer with like osteoarthritis, and the reality is that it’s never too early to support musculoskeletal health.  You don’t have to wait for changes to appear.

Our checklist for musculoskeletal health includes:

  • Species appropriate diet – read our range of blogs below for more information
  • Avoid ball flinger activities
  • Use rugs around the home to prevent slipping
  • Regular and appropriate exercise
  • Prioritising rest and recovery
  • Size matched play dates
  • Maintain lean body weight.

Natural Arthritis Guide

Nutrients for Bone and Joint Health in Pets

5 Superfoods For Joint Health in Dogs

Can Nutrition Support Joint Health?

Do Herbs Have a Place in Canine Osteoarthritis?

Cognitive Function

We may see a decline in cognitive function in the ageing pet, and for a long time we accepted that brain neuroplasticity is time limited.  That after so long, the connections in the brain will fade and will not be replaced.  Whilst we haven’t found the key to eternal youth, we now know that a process known as neurogenesis still occurs even in the adult dog.  What this means is that new connections can still be formed in the brain, and we have a chance at supporting cognitive function.

Check out our blog here to learn more:

Supporting The Senior Dog’s Cognitive Function

In addition, we know that there are cognition protecting nutrients including:

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Choline
  • Omega-3
  • SAMe

We know that nutrition influences every system in the body and the body of the ageing dog faces its own varying challenges.  As we mentioned, we haven’t found the key to eternal youth, but armed with knowledge we can make some informed choices on the diet we provide our senior dog.  Not simply protein, fat or carbs, the nutritional needs of the senior dog must take in to account their individual history and health status.

If you would like to optimise the diet of your senior dog, check out our services to see how we can help.

Thanks for reading,

MPN Team ‍

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