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Feeding Senior Pets

Wondering what to feed your senior pets? Check out Stella and Chewy’s definitive guide for what should be in your senior pet's diet.

As dogs and cats get older, their needs change, including their eating habits and nutritional needs. We all want to feed our senior pets the best food to help them achieve happy, healthy and longer lives. Keep reading to learn what (and how) to feed your senior dog or cat.

senior cat food

When Are Pets Considered “Senior”?

Your pet is considered a senior pet at different ages depending on your pet’s species, size and/or breed.

Senior Dog Age

In general, larger dog breeds age more quickly, though longevity can also vary by individual breed. Large and giant breeds like German Shepherds and Mastiffs are considered seniors at age 7. Medium breeds like Huskies and Retrievers are considered senior at age 10. Small breeds like French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas are considered senior when they reach 11-12 years old.

Senior Cat Age

Cats are typically considered seniors once they are over 10 years old (ages 11-14). Cats aged 15 and older are considered geriatric.

The term ‘geriatric’ is used for ‘older senior’ dogs and cats, when they’re showing more obvious signs of aging and may have more age-related health issues.

Why Senior Pets Need Different Food

There are many reasons why a senior dog or cat may benefit from different food and feeding routines as they age:

  • Older dogs and cats are typically less active and require fewer calories. If you feed a 10-year-old dog like a 5-year old dog, it’s likely to become overweight.
  • Older pets are more likely to have oral or dental issues. Changing their food can help improve oral health, and help them eat more comfortably.
  • Older pets can have a harder time maintaining healthy hydration levels. Feeding wet food with a higher moisture content can help prevent dehydration.
  • Older pets tend to have more digestive issues, so feeding less-processed foods with quality ingredients is gentler on their digestive system. Pet food with probiotics can also be helpful.
  • Older pets commonly experience joint pain or arthritis, so pet foods with glucosamine and chondroitin (and other anti-inflammatory supplements) can help.
  • Some older pets develop health conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and your vet may recommend dietary adjustments to help manage the condition.

Proper nutrition is important for all pets, but especially for senior dogs and cats. Improving the quality of your senior pet’s nutrition may help manage symptoms and even the progression of some age-related diseases. Be sure to keep up with regular wellness checks and always follow your veterinarian’s advice around food and feeding.

senior dog feeding guide

Senior Dogs Feeding Guide

Understanding more about senior dog food and feeding can help maintain quality of life as dogs age.

Nutrition for Senior Dogs

All Stella & Chewy’s dog food recipes are developed by an animal nutritionist and reviewed by our cooperating team of veterinarians to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for dogs of all ages, including seniors!

Adequate protein is especially important for senior dogs. Studies show that senior dogs need more dietary protein to maintain lean muscle mass, compared to adult dogs. Experts recommend that senior dogs get at least 25% of their daily calories from protein.

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for senior dogs because they help reduce inflammation, which is linked to joint pain and obesity.

The two most important nutritional guidelines for senior dogs are:

  1. Feeding high-quality food in proper portions to avoid or reduce obesity
  2. Promoting proper hydration

Portion Sizes for Senior Dogs

Even when feeding high-quality food, it’s important to feed the correct amount. The first place to start is with the feeding guidelines on the packaging. Optimal feeding amounts may vary depending on your dog’s age, size, breed, activity level and overall health. 

If your senior dog has been diagnosed as overweight or obese, you should reduce the portion size. If your senior dog is underweight, you may need to increase how much you feed them. Make changes gradually, not suddenly, to give your dog’s metabolism time to adjust.

How Often to Feed Senior Dogs

Typically, both adult and senior dogs should be fed twice a day. If you notice that your senior dog prefers to be fed more often, measure out their total food for the day and divide it into three or more portions to be fed periodically. “Eyeballing it” often leads to overfeeding.

Is Raw Food Good for Senior Dogs?

A raw diet is good for any dog, especially seniors!

  • Raw dog food is highly digestible, which benefits senior dogs who often have slower, less effective digestive systems than adult dogs.
  • Raw natural dog food is rich in antioxidants, which are destroyed by heat. Antioxidants counteract inflammation, which comes with many age-related health conditions.
  • Raw dog food promotes more diverse and abundant gut flora, which is an important factor in both digestion and immune function.

All the other benefits of feeding a raw diet also apply to senior dogs, and it’s never too late to transition your senior dog to a raw food diet.

Should Senior Dogs Eat Wet Food?

Wet food is a great choice for senior dogs. Wet dog food is usually easier to digest (as long as it has high-quality ingredients), which can be helpful for senior dogs. Wet foods can also be easier to eat for senior dogs with tooth decay, sensitive gums, or other oral health issues. Wet dog food also provides more moisture than kibble, which can help keep your senior dog hydrated.

Feeding Senior Dogs with Missing Teeth

Raw dog food and wet dog food are both good options for senior dogs with missing teeth, no teeth, or oral health problems. Raw and wet dog foods are much easier to eat for dogs who have difficulty chewing. Stella’s Shredrs are protein rich, made from minimal ingredients, and come in a convenient tear-open pouch.

Can Senior Dogs Eat Puppy Food?

Technically, yes, but puppy food probably isn’t the best choice for your senior dog. Puppy food is formulated to promote growth, so it’s usually extra calorie dense and higher in fat. For senior dogs who aren’t growing and have lower energy levels, feeding puppy food can lead to unhealthy weight gain.If your senior dog is underweight, you can try feeding them gently cooked wet dog food. Stella’s Stews and Gourmet Patés and Stews are softer and more flavorful than dry food, which can encourage more mealtime interest.

senior cat feeding guide

Senior Cats Feeding Guide

As cats age they may experience health or lifestyle changes that call for dietary changes to be made.

Nutrition for Senior Cats

All Stella & Chewy’s cat food recipes are developed by an animal nutritionist and reviewed by our cooperating team of veterinarians to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for cats of all ages, including seniors!

All cats are carnivores, but senior cats benefit from higher protein intake, which helps them maintain lean muscle mass. Because some senior cats can have a harder time digesting protein, it’s especially important to feed high-quality animal protein sources.

Taurine is an important amino acid that many mammals can synthesize, but not cats. Cats need to get all their taurine from meat in their diet.

To help your senior cat benefit from the extra protein, make sure they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals they need—another reason to choose high-quality cat food.

The two most important nutritional requirements for senior cats are:

  1. Feeding a high-protein diet made from high-quality animal proteins
  2. Promoting proper hydration

Learn more about helping your cat stay hydrated.

How Much to Feed Senior Cats

In general, healthy senior cats need the same amount of calories as adult cats. Geriatric cats may even require more calories to maintain a healthy body composition as they age.

Follow the feeding guidelines on the packaging, and adjust as needed to account for your cat’s age, size, activity level, and overall health. Your vet may also prescribe specific feeding guidelines if your cat is over or underweight, or has a health condition.

How Often to Feed Senior Cats

In most cases you can continue feeding your senior cat once or twice daily, keeping with the feeding schedule they’ve been following as an adult.

Some older cats may experience a decrease in appetite, or have more difficulty digesting food. If your senior cat prefers to eat smaller, more frequent meals, measure out their daily amount of food and divide it into multiple portions to feed throughout the day. Failing to pre-measure often leads to overfeeding.

Feeding a Raw Diet to Senior Cats

Raw cat food is a great choice for senior cats!

  • Raw cat food is a natural way to feed your senior cat a high-protein diet. Stella & Chewy’s raw cat foods are made from high-quality, responsibly sourced animal proteins.
  • Raw cat food is less processed than conventional cat food, so it retains more nutrients and antioxidants, and is easier to digest.
  • Raw cat food has ground bone and natural enzymes from raw meat that help break down and remove tartar from cats’ teeth, to help maintain or promote oral health.

There are many benefits of a raw food diet for cats, and senior cats are no exception. Just be sure to transition your cat gradually when making any dietary changes.

Wet Food for Senior Cats

Wet food is good for cats of all ages, but especially for senior cats, due to its high moisture content. Wet cat food is also softer, which can be easier for senior cats with dental problems. Senior cats who are picky eaters or have lost their appetite may prefer a wet diet, which has more appealing smell and taste compared to dry cat food.

Feeding Senior Cats with Missing Teeth

Some cat parents find that their senior cat with missing teeth continues to eat dry food. If your senior cat is struggling to chew or refuses to eat dry food, raw cat food and wet cat food are both great options. Carnivore Cravings meal pouches are easy to serve and eat, with shredded muscle meat in a nutritious broth.

Can I Feed My Senior Cat Kitten Food?

Kitten food typically has higher protein, fat, and calories to support growth. If your senior cat is overweight, it’s probably best to avoid feeding them kitten food which could lead to unwanted weight gain. If your senior cat is underweight, start with a wellness check so the vet can rule out disease-related causes of weight loss, and ask them if they recommend feeding kitten food.

transitioning senior dogs to new food

Transitioning Your Senior Pet to New Food

If introducing a new food to your senior cat or dog’s diet, do so slowly by mixing the new food with their current diet for the first 7-10 days, gradually increasing the amount of the new food while decreasing the amount of the old food.

Regardless of which breed or species your pet is, it’s important to feed your senior pet nutritious, high quality food. This supports their overall well-being as they grow older so you can help make their golden years the best they can be!

Helping Senior Dogs & Cats Find Forever Homes

Stella & Chewy’s is committed to helping senior pets find forever homes through our Journey Home Fund. During Adopt a Senior Pet Month each November, we help sponsor adoption fees for senior dogs and cats. Learn more about how we can help you adopt a senior pet by visiting our adopt page!

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Cat, Dog, Lifestyle