October 29, 2020

Senior Moments: What to Feed an Old Dog to Make Them Comfortable

by Hindy Pearson


What to feed an old dog – what a minefield that is!!


I say minefield because of the copious amounts of conflicting information that make it tough to know what to do. What is simple is knowing there is no one food that is right for every older dog.




I like options but even I have been overwhelmed. Let’s start simply – I am going on the assumption you have a vet you love and trust. If I’m wrong, you should look into finding one you do. There are a couple of articles on my website to help you with that.


Okay you have your amazing vet so your options are –


Follow his or her advice and move on


Learn about dog nutrition and take it from there


More about these options later on.


My experience


Once upon a time things were simpler, when I was blissfully ignorant. Hey I didn’t say better, I said simpler!!


I fed my senior dogs senior dog food and that was that. My vets recommended it, and I listened. No I’m definitely not one to follow blindly, I ask more questions than most, but it made sense so I had no reason to question.


I remember one of my amazing vets telling me supermarket dog food was perfectly fine, because all dog food contains everything to satisfy their nutritional requirements. Yes I was “uninformed” at the time, but I knew that was not true. Okay I’ll tell you how I really felt; disappointed he actually believed that to be true, and shocked he believed that to be true.


When my older dog Red’s heart murmur started to worsen, my vet at the time recommended she be fed a prescription heart diet, so I bought it. When she developed a kidney problem I was advised to switch to a kidney prescription diet, so I did that. I couldn’t have imagined there would be an issue with the quality or efficacy of a prescription diet.


Why couldn’t I get good advice?


As someone with a case of wanderlust, I’ve had many vets over the years in different cities and countries, and yet there was a common theme throughout. No one was able to give me any real advice about pet nutrition. Some practices had staff members who were “nutrition experts” and the plaques on the walls confirmed that. I started noticing their qualifications were all awarded by major pet food companies, and those are the brands the practice stocked. Nothing unbiased about that then!


Something had to change


Change is slow at times, and it certainly was for me. I carried on feeding senior food or a prescription diet when advised, but the realization it was time for me to learn more kept niggling at me.


When I started my website about how to care for a senior dog, obviously a nutrition section was included. I admit I left it pretty thin for a long time even though I knew its’ importance. I didn’t know where to start…so I didn’t. Now I’ve been including lots of helpful information, and that’s why I decided it was time to write about it here as well.  


What types of food are available?

  • Canned/wet
  • Dry
  • Raw
  • Dehydrated
  • Freeze dried
  • Grain free
  • Senior
  • Prescription diets
  • Organic
  • Home cooked



Which one is the best?


The “best” will depend on who you’re asking. On the one hand a lot is written about the wonders of XYZ brand dry food that will add years to your dog’s life, make his coat super shiny and help with his aching joints. On the other hand there are claims dry food has had all the nutritional value manufactured right out of it, and any supplements added are left inert as well. Not to mention it’s impossible to know the quality of the supplements added, or even the true amount. 


Prescription diets are lauded as the only food a dog with INSERT NAME OF CONDITION HERE should eat, while I recently read an article written by several holistic vets claiming they were of poor quality.




The best advice I can give you


In a minute I’m going to tell you what I feed Red, but for now let me offer you the best possible advice I can. I mentioned the word “options” earlier, and here’s where we’ll talk more about them.


If you and your vet are happy with the way your senior dog is getting on, and you feel the diet he’s on is good, fantastic you have nothing to worry about.


If you’ve been questioning the quality of dog food, or are now interested in learning more, fantastic as well. There’s certainly enough research about, so either start with the nutrition section on my website, or an internet search of “senior dog nutrition.”


The depth you explore is of course up to you. Become an expert in the field if you choose, or you may be satisfied being able to interpret what the actual ingredients on the label means. Pay attention to the source of the information you’re reading, as not everything will be accurate as is commonly the case. If your dog has a specific health issue, you may be curious what others recommend.


As you start familiarizing yourself, you’ll be better able to ask questions of your vet. Why does he recommend a certain type of food over another? What makes brand A better than B? What are the ingredients he believes will benefit your dog?


Another very helpful piece of advice I can offer is to make an appointment with a holistic vet, as they typically take a different approach to nutrition. You don’t have to commit to following their advice, it’s merely another aspect in your information gathering. There are more and more holistic vets around these days, and even “traditional” practices include an alternative element, so finding someone willing to speak to you shouldn’t be a problem. Many will do it free of charge as well.


What I feed Red


A bit of background first if you wouldn’t mind!


For the past couple of years I’ve wanted to take Red to a holistic vet. I do believe in alternative medicine and a more holistic approach to my healthcare, so why not my animals as well! Unfortunately there are no holistic vets in my area. 


Don’t get me wrong I have a fantastic vet, no question about it, but as time passes he’s prescribing more and more drugs. Yes they’re helping the conditions they’re being prescribed for, but are they hurting her in other ways? How can a 9lb dog filter so many chemicals through her tiny little organs, without suffering some adverse effects?


We’ve been spending a few months in Spain, and since I had to find a new vet anyway, I decided it was finally going to be a holistic one, and I found Pepe! His clinic is a fair distance from where we live, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind I now feel. He sees her twice a week for acupuncture, and he’s pretty much available 24/7 – a relief when you have an old dog with issues!


After conducting blood tests to determine her current health status, he created a whole foods recipe specifically for her. It consists of boiled chicken, brown rice, quinoa, cooked broccoli, raw carrots, raw apple and olive oil, and yes it’s formulated with her kidney disease in mind!!


The philosophy is – the basis of a healthy body is a proper diet. When I compare the ingredients in her food now to what she used to eat, the mind boggles. There was nothing this close to wholesome or natural!   


I hate cooking!


I’m not a fan of cooking, so although I trust Pepe completely, my first reaction to her new diet was less than thrilled. Not only do I have to cook for the husband and myself, I have to cook even more!! Luckily I can make the food in big batches and freeze it. I’m relieved knowing how nutritious her meals are, and how much more she enjoys them than ever before.  


Please tell me I helped you!


You might have been expecting me to promote or recommend a specific type or brand of food, but I don’t do that. Each dog has their own set of unique needs, I don’t believe for a moment we should have a “one size fits all” attitude about what they should be eating.

I do hope I’ve either helped you realize you’re happy with what your dog is eating, or inspired you to start learning more.


I am so happy with my holistic vet and his approach to not only what to feed Red, but her overall care, I have no reason to look elsewhere. I realize the route I’m taking is not for everyone, I only present it as an option to those who may be unaware of its’ existence.


What to feed an old dog – conclusion


Whatever path you choose, the most important thing is your dog is a happy, much loved, well cared for member of your family, living a good quality life. What more can we really ask for?


This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs the Saffy Pearson Resource Centre. A mobile centre offering free advice for people who share their lives with cats and dogs. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog and thinks the pet stroller is the greatest invention.

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