At some point between the ages of 8 and 10, your dog becomes a senior. He may still have a lot of energy and years left, but he isn't the young pup that he was. You'll start seeing him slow down a bit and perhaps be a little stiff when he gets up. Your dog now is "senior," so shouldn't you be feeding him senior food? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
Your Dog's Adult Food
If you've been feeding your dog an adult dog food, you may be thinking about switching to the senior formulation of the same dog food, or one that says it's for senior dogs. If you look at your pet's adult dog food, you may see that it says for all life stages under the nutritional adequacy statement. Does that mean you can continue feeding it? The answer is yes.
Senior Pet Food
The Association for American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established guidelines for dog foods. The formulations can be either for growth (puppy) or maintenance (adult). According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the words "senior" on pet food is nothing more than a marketing term. The food must have at least 18 percent crude protein and 5 percent crude fat on a dry-matter basis, or is not considered complete and balanced for adult dogs according to the AAFCO standards.
So, should you just feed an adult dog food and forget about feeding a senior diet? Maybe. According to the Whole Dog Journal, over-the-counter geriatric foods for dogs usually have lower levels of protein and fat than the "regular" maintenance versions. However, over-the-counter senior diets may have additional dietary supplements and nutraceuticals (a product offered to prevent or treat a disease that is marketed as a dietary supplement), such as Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, which may help older dogs' conditions, such as arthritis.
Prescription Senior Diets
Your veterinarian may wish you to feed your dog a prescription diet. There now are many diets formulated for geriatric dogs and dogs with conditions, such as kidney disease, cancer, obesity, liver disease, loss of weight, heart problems, arthritis and joint problems, diabetes, and other age-related diets. These diets may not follow the AAFCO nutritional guidelines because dogs with these problems may have special needs in nutrition.
Talk to your veterinarian before changing your dog over to a senior diet. Your veterinarian may wish to evaluate your dog's diet and recommend a special nutrition program for your dog.