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Does your senior dog have trouble chewing kibble? Are you confused about what distinguishes a senior formula from an adult formula? There are several myths about senior dog food as well as a bit of mystery surrounding it.
In this guide, we’ll review the best dog food for senior dogs, which nutrients need to be adjusted as your dog gets older, and which high-quality meats, veggies, and superfoods to look for in a senior formula.
In this guide:
- Best soft dog food for older dogs
- What to consider when buying dog food for older dogs
- FAQs about dog food for older dogs
Best soft dog food for older dogs
Our top pick
- Whole, human-grade meat and veggies are gently cooked to create a healthy formula that is easily digestible and soft for easy chewing
- Recipes formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists to be nutritionally complete and balanced
- The Dog Tale readers get an exclusive 60% off their first delivery
What we like
Our dog, Max, loves The Farmer’s Dog. It creates four high-quality, freshly prepared dog food recipes to the USDA standard of human consumption. In research, human-grade dog food has shown to benefit dogs’ bowel and coat health, energy levels, and general long-term wellness. The Farmer’s Dog recipes contain human-grade USDA meat, veggies, and fish oil. Most contain liver for a boost of Vitamin B and other important minerals.
The recipes meet and exceed AAFCO standards and are formulated for all life stages which means they are beneficial for the health of puppies to seniors. Many senior formulas contain too little protein, which dogs need to maintain muscle mass as they age. But these recipes contain anywhere from 9% to 11% protein, which is standard for wet dog food.
To make life just a bit easier, The Farmer’s Dog ships directly from their kitchen to your door via an easy subscription service that you can adjust to your liking. Pause or cancel at any time; otherwise, you’ll never need to worry about shopping for dog food again. You can learn more about it and watch us unbox it in our The Farmer’s Dog Food review.
What we’d change
Price: Just as with any premium product, The Farmer’s Dog prices reflect its quality. But based on our research, The Farmer’s Dog is priced lower than many other brands in the human-grade fresh dog food industry.
>> Read more: The Farmer’s Dog vs Ollie: Which Dog Food Subscription Is Best?
Best soft dry dog food for seniors
- Real, human-grade ingredients are gently air-dried with low heat to preserve essential nutrients and provide a pliable soft texture that is easy on damaged teeth.
- High in natural sources of Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Omega 3 and 6 to keep senior joints happy and skin and coat healthy.
- All recipes are “complete and balanced” for adult and senior dogs according to the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO.
What we like
Both of our in-house dog food testers (Max and Hobbes) got to eat Sundays’ beef and chicken recipes, and they both loved it. The brand has since introduced a turkey recipe as well.
There’s a lot to praise about this food besides being a soft senior dog food. Whole foods make up the entire ingredient list—there’s zero junk. In fact, 90% of the beef recipe consists of animal meat, organs, and bone, making it high in protein. Legumes, potatoes, gluten, wheat, soy, rice, and corn are eliminated, as is all of the other junk typically added to dog food.
All the meals are complete and balanced using only whole foods; there are no supplemental vitamins or minerals added because nutrients in their natural form are more absorbable. These ingredients, like chicory root, help build healthy gut bacteria and promote proper digestion and healthy skin and coats.
While the chicken recipe is great for adult and senior dogs, the beef recipe is formulated for puppies, adults, and seniors, which may be helpful for owners that have dogs of multiple ages.
You can learn more about the brand in our full Sundays Dog Food review.
What we’d change
Price: Sundays is a human-grade dog food with clean ingredients, so it’s going to cost more. However, when compared to human-grade fresh food, Sundays is about half the cost and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Firmness: Although Sunday’s is softer than kibble, it’s not as soft as wet or fresh food, such as The Farmer’s Dog (above). The texture is similar to beef jerky. So, depending on how bad your dog’s teeth are, it might not be the best option.
Refined oil: Finally, the ingredients include Sunflower oil, which is a refined oil and is best swapped for a less-refined oil.
Best soft dog food for senior dogs with bad teeth
- Real, raw ingredients, the way dogs were meant to eat. USDA human-grade meats with no fillers, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors
- Raw food contains natural enzymes that are beneficial for a dog's teeth
- Formulated by a PhD animal nutritionist and vet approved. Exceeds AAFCO nutrition standards.
What we like
We’re currently feeding our dog, Hobbes, We Feed Raw. We Feed Raw’s six recipes are high in protein, averaging around 13%. It’s created with human-grade meat, including muscle meat, organ meat, and other healthy meats like neck meat. This mimics how a dog would eat in the wild. The recipes are finished with the necessary vitamins and nutrients to make them nutritionally complete. That’s it—real meat and supplemental nutrients!
Since there is almost no processing done to this food, you may find drastic health improvements in your senior dog just a few weeks after switching to this food. However, we do recommend transitioning your dog slowly, since it’s both a new recipe and a new form of food (assuming your dog has been eating cooked kibble).
The food arrives in a raw, frozen patty that resembles ground meat, so it’s easy for dogs with bad teeth to eat (when thawed). Plus, raw meat contains naturally occurring live enzymes and healthy bacteria, which can help prevent plaque and tartar buildup, promoting dental health.
We Feed Raw follows a strict food safety program that uses a cold-pressure process to eliminate any problematic pathogens in the meat. The frozen packs are conveniently cold-shipped to your doorstep, so you don’t need to worry about shopping for dog food. Just put the next day’s pack in the fridge and the rest in the freezer until you need it. You can learn more about the food and its options in our We Feed Raw Dog Food review.
What we’d change
Cost: As with all premium dog foods, We Feed Raw is going to cost more than low-quality kibble.
It’s a new taste: If your dog is not accustomed to a raw diet, they may be suspicious at first. If this happens, we recommend lightly searing the food to enhance the flavor and aroma for your dog. After doing this for a few days, your dog should start accepting the food totally raw.
Soft kibble for senior dogs
To make soft kibble for senior dogs, we recommend soaking good-quality dog kibble with nourishing bone broth. It will produce a tasty, soft dog food perfect for senior dogs’ teeth, joints, and gut health due to the nutrients contained in a dog-friendly bone broth. For the kibble, consider Orijen’s senior dog food, below. For the broth, we recommend Open Farm’s Bone Broth Bundle for Dogs.
- Crafted with 85% premium animal ingredients, including organ meat and bone, for a strong source of essential protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- The first 5 ingredients are always fresh or raw animal protein for plenty of protein and nutrients.
- A convenient, dry food with a freeze-dried coating.
What we like
When looking at Orijen’s ingredients, we like the abundance of animal meats at the top of the list. There are even some super foods included, like collard greens, turmeric, and dried kelp, which provide plenty of nutrients. Glucosamine and Omega 3 and 6 are added to promote healthy joints, skin, and coats—precisely what seniors need.
This USA-made formula doesn’t shy away from protein as some senior formulas do. This recipe is grain- and gluten-free and does not contain any wheat, soy, or corn. It meets the AAFCO standards for all life stages, so you could give this formula to dogs of other ages in your household as well.
Lastly, a kibble such as Orjen is cheaper than premium, human-grade dog foods.
What we’d change
Not soft without the broth: The texture of this kibble may not be soft enough for senior dogs with bad teeth. That’s why we recommend soaking the kibble prior to feeding. You could do this with warm water, but we recommend using a dog-safe bone broth for a boost that promotes a healthy gut microbiome, productive digestive health, and happy joints. Try using Open Farm’s Bone Broth Bundle for Dogs. You can learn more about the brand in our Open Farm Dog Food review.
Best wet food for senior dogs
- This formula promotes healthy skin, coats, and joints with type II Collagen and Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA
- The recipe includes a single protein source and a noble carbohydrate source, which are easy for senior dogs to digest
- Human-grade ingredients which are available as fresh food or as shelf-stable Pantry Fresh boxed food
What we like
This is not your typical pet food. This human-grade dog food contains USDA pork with powerhouse foods: quinoa, kale, carrots, apple, and fish oil. That’s it! There are no preservatives, meat byproducts, fillers, or anything artificial. These gently cooked whole foods are easy to chew and digest.
The Joint & Skin Support recipe contains Omega fatty acids that support brain, skin, coat, and joint health—all areas that need support in aging dogs. If you order from the brand’s site directly, the food will be conveniently delivered to your home via subscription. This means you can set up your schedule and forget it, never having to worry about buying food or running out again.
Not a fan of pork? Just Food For Dogs also offers a Lamb & Brown Rice recipe that is high in calories and controlled in protein, making it the ideal maintenance diet for older dogs, or dogs with smaller appetites. For fresh food variety, try Just Food for Dogs Joint & Skin Fresh Food. You can also try their Joint Care supplement for an extra boost of collagen, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid, all necessary for healthy aging joints.
You can learn more about the brand in our full Just Food For Dogs review.
What we’d change
Price: Just Food For Dogs is on the lower end of the price range for premium dog food, but if you aren’t used to high-quality dog food prices, it can be a bit surprising. It would be similar to the price difference between buying a McDonald’s meal versus purchasing a USDA meat and veggies at a restaurant. You’re going to pay more for healthy food, but you also get health and vitality with it.
>> Read more: Just Food For Dogs vs Farmer’s Dog
Moist dog food for senior dogs
- Human-grade ingredients, freshly cooked before delivery
- Minimally processed whole foods that you can actually see in the bowl
- The Dog Tale readers get an exclusive 60% off their first box
What we like
This moist dog food for senior dogs offers the same minimally processed whole foods as The Farmer’s Dog (at the top of this list). Choose from four main protein options (fresh chicken, beef, turkey, or pork). One thing we like about Nom Nom is that you can actually see the individual, natural ingredients in your dog’s food, unlike most kibbles and processed wet foods, which just look like mush. To see what we mean, check out the side-by-side photo in our comparison of Nom Nom vs Ollie.
Nom Nom’s food is moist and soft enough for senior dogs to eat, but not quite as wet as some canned dog food, such as Blue Buffalo (below). Our dog Hobbes loved Nom Nom so much that we worked with the brand to score an exclusive 60% discount for our readers. Get the discount through the button above or learn more in our full Nom Nom Dog Food review.
What we’d change
Price: As we’ve mentioned with several of the options above, this premium fresh food is more expensive than store-bought kibble. Learn more in our guide to how much Nom Nom dog food costs.
For all adults: All of Nom Nom’s recipes meet or exceed AAFCO standards for adult dogs, including seniors. However, they aren’t specifically formulated for senior dogs.
But as we point out lower in this guide, there isn’t actually an agreed-upon formulation for senior dogs, and Nom Nom’s whole food ingredients should be a significant upgrade to the diets of older dogs who have been eating kibble. The minimal processing and fresh ingredients used in Nom Nom’s food mean more nutrients are available for your dog’s body to absorb, which can aid in addressing problems such as deteriorating joints, digestive issues, and other issues senior dogs develop.
>> Read more: Nom Nom vs Farmer’s Dog: Which Is Better?
- Real chicken, chicken broth, and chicken liver are the first 3 ingredients in a pâté texture that is easy for seniors to chew
- Formulated with flaxseed to boost omega fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin to reduce joint inflammation and help stabilize joint health
- No animal byproducts or meat meals and no corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors, or preservatives
What we like
This dog food for senior dogs combines chicken, veggies, grains, and fruit along with ingredients known to help aging hips and joints. The soft texture makes it easier to eat for a dog with dental issues.
This is our budget-friendly pick for soft dog food for older dogs. If human-grade food is too expensive, this widely-available formula is a decent option that we think your dog will love.
What we’d change
Additives: We don’t prefer the non-essential ingredients such as carrageenan or cassia gum.
Not fresh: We also have to recognize that while this food is cheaper, it’s not made from the same wholesome, fresh ingredients in many of the options above.
>> Read more: Best Dog Food for Tear Stains
What to consider when buying dog food for older dogs
There are a few things you’ll want to be aware of when choosing a beneficial senior dog formula. We advise you to speak with your veterinarian before choosing a new diet.
What you need to know about senior formulas
It’s important to know that there is no legal definition for “senior” or “geriatric” pet food. In fact, there’s not even a set age at which all dogs can be considered seniors, since it depends largely on the life expectancy of different breeds.
In reality, senior dog food formulas must follow the same legal standards as those for adult dogs. Since there are no senior standards, the nutrition levels can vary from one manufacturer to the next. Some formulas will be a more appropriate choice for your dog than other options.
What does set some senior dog foods apart is their density or texture. Since senior dogs are more likely to have advanced dental decay or even broken or missing teeth, soft or wet dog food may be easier for them to consume. We’ve tested several excellent options, which are listed above.
Is a senior formula right for your dog?
Just because a food is formulated for older dogs doesn’t mean that it is a good fit for your senior dog, according to Tufts University. Your dog may be 11 and in better health than a 7-year-old dog of another breed. Each dog is different and has unique needs. The aging process depends on a variety of factors such as breed sizes, genetics, lifestyle, and health.
So, “if your senior dog or cat is healthy, in good body condition, and eating a good quality nutritionally balanced diet, there is no reason to change foods.” However, Tufts adds that if a senior dog has one of the common diseases that come with aging, such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer, dental issues, heart disease, or kidney disease, a change in diet may help restore health or at least slow the disease’s progression. In these cases, seek out your veterinarian’s advice.
Nutrients commonly adjusted for seniors
As stated above, there may be some nutrients that need to be adjusted with your dog’s age.
It’s a myth that reduced protein levels are healthy for senior dogs. Lowering sources of protein can have negative effects, such as muscle loss. And there’s no evidence to support high-protein diets, either. So, what’s the best protein level for senior dogs? Well, that’s still debated, but it may not be much different from formulations for other adult dogs. When picking a senior formula, be sure to choose one with adequate protein levels for your pet.
Older dogs with kidney issues may benefit from reduced levels of dietary phosphorus. If your dog has kidney disease, work with your veterinarian to find an appropriate senior formula as phosphorus levels vary widely in commercial dog foods.
Another widely varying nutrient in senior formulas is sodium. The minimum amount recommended by the AAFCO is 20 milligrams per 100 kilocalories. Sodium reduction is not necessary for the majority of senior dogs unless they have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart disease.
Weight gain is common in older pets, and the extra weight can cause or worsen health concerns. But feeding your dog an adequate number of calories is also important. Senior dog food comes with a wide range of calorie counts, so it’s important to work with your veterinarian to choose a formula that is appropriate for your dog’s activity level, health, and body composition. If your dog isn’t showing any signs of weight gain, a change in calorie count may not be necessary.
One thing we like about several of the fresh food options above, such as The Farmer’s Dog, is that you can log into your account and make slight adjustments to their daily calorie intake to address needed weight change. The company will then tweak your dog’s portion amounts for all meals moving forward.
For dogs dealing with sensitive stomachs and gastrointestinal problems, increasing your senior dog’s fiber amount is generally a great idea. However, it may not be ideal for all dogs, particularly dogs that have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Raised Right Dog Food offers a couple of recipes that prominently feature pumpkin, a fibrous prebiotic that is beneficial for a dog’s digestive health.
>> Read more: Best Dog Food for IBD and IBS
Supplemental vitamins and minerals
Supplements can be helpful for specific health issues or diseases. However, if your pet is healthy and they are eating a high-quality diet, supplementation is unnecessary, says Tufts University. Only use supplements with your vet’s guidance as all supplements have the potential to cause side effects or interact negatively with medications. Additionally, supplements are not under the same regulation as medication, so their safety, efficacy, and quality control can be unpredictable.
If you’re interested in exploring dietary or holistic supplements, check out Front Of The Pack.
Types of food
Just as with other dog food, senior formulas come in a variety of textures: fresh, wet, air-dried, and kibble. Often, senior formulas are wet due to the prevalence of dental disease in older dogs. Hard, dry kibble may be too difficult to eat with damaged or missing teeth. Consider your pet’s dental health when choosing a new diet. We recommend choosing fresh dog food, such as The Farmer’s Dog, since it offers a texture similar to canned wet food, but with healthier ingredients and less processing.
Ingredients to avoid
The recommendations given here are provided with a bent toward the quality of the ingredients over any other feature. I make the best attempt at including foods that include real, whole-food ingredients because real food is healthier and easier to digest. I avoid the following:
- Meat meals (like chicken meal)
- Meat byproducts
- Artificial ingredients
- Chemical preservatives
- Fillers (e.g. rice, bran), especially in the first few ingredients
- Overly genetically modified ingredients like wheat, corn, or soy
- “Natural flavors”
- Anything I cannot pronounce
Ingredients to include
Additionally, I look for dog food that has meat as the first ingredient and hopefully includes some kind of organ meat. Ideally, it contains only whole foods that supply all the necessary nutrients and does not need supplemental vitamins and minerals. There are only a few dog foods that are complete and balanced by only using whole food, including Raised Right Pet Food and Sundays For Dogs.
There are a few ingredients you may want to look for on the label:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (often in the form of fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, or chia seed) are good to include as these help with a variety of body functions, including but not limited to joint, brain, skin, and coat health.
- Turmeric, ginger, and Astaxanthin are great to reduce inflammation in the body, such as achy joints.
- Glucosamine may potentially delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage.
- Chondroitin supports the elasticity of cartilage and can help slow or prevent the degeneration of joint cartilage. It also may reduce joint pain and swelling as it’s thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
>> Get holistic pet supplements from Front Of The Pack
FAQs about dog food for older dogs
Can I feed my senior dog table scraps?
It’s always risky to feed your dog table scraps. Human food tends to be too fatty and sugary for dogs, which can lead to weight gain or nutritional imbalances. Table scraps can cause poor digestion and a myriad of health issues such as pancreatitis. A small scrap here or there might not hurt, but it’s best to leave the table food for your family and provide your dog with a complete and balanced diet formulated for their needs.
How often should I feed my senior dog?
This is something you’ll want to discuss with your veterinarian. Adult dogs usually need to eat less often than puppies. But how often you feed your senior dog will depend on any health conditions they may have, as well as their age and activity level. Most adult dogs that are moderately healthy will eat twice a day.
Do breed sizes matter?
Your dog’s unique dental, digestive, and joint health matter more than any other factors. However, larger breeds are more prone to certain health issues that can affect what diet they need. For example, certain giant breeds, such as Great Danes, are more likely to experience hip dysplasia and arthritis, meaning they may need a diet that includes glucosamine and chondroitin to repair cartilage deterioration.
On the other hand, certain small breeds, such as Yorkshire Terriers, are more prone to periodontal disease because their tiny jaws result in overcrowded teeth. This means regular dental cleanings are important to prevent bad teeth later in life.
>> Read more: Best Dog Food for Yorkies: Wet, Dry & More