What should the diet of the canine senior citizen be?
Firstly, we must understand that older dogs – being less active – would need less energy-giving foods (less calories). If you continue to feed the old dog the same amount of food as when he was a young stud, he is certain to put on weight, mainly in the form of fat. This, in turn, leads to more pressure on some of the organ systems (heart, liver, kidneys).
Further, this tendency to feed “Rover” (irrespective of whether he is young or old) sweets (chocolate), snacks, and left-over food (table scraps) will surely result in obesity, if there is no equivalency via energy-burning activities.
Secondly, we must recognize that, in biology, we can only speak of averages. That which is correct for one dog is not necessarily the right thing for another pooch. The feed (energy) requirements vary from dog to dog, even within the same breed, or in dogs of the same gender. Each old dog is different, and may need a different diet and his/her own personal care.
So, how do we define the old dog’s needs? Well, for one thing, it is important to differentiate between an active old dog and a listless, lethargic old dog. Is it a temperamentally hyper old dog or an apathetic, sedentary dog? Moreover, you want your dog, old as he is, not to be exhibiting “skin and bones”, or to be flabby and obese.
The rule of thumb is to feed the dog with 25–30 calories per pound body weight. The problem is how to calculate the calories. This matter is easily dealt with if you feed a “name-brand” imported dog food – whether dry or in a tin. The label on the package will tell you how many calories are in each serving, and you can calculate accordingly.
The situation is more difficult if you are feeding local food. Your vet will advise you how much mince, or chicken, or fish and rice you may feed. A one-to-one ratio of cooked meat and rice is an acceptable proportion. Vegetables provide additional vitamins and minerals.
One thing is clear: the food has got to be of a high quality. This usually means that the digestive protein component must be higher (and the carbohydrate component lower) than that which was offered when the dog was a young, energetic animal.
Actually, some authors recommend, as a rule of thumb, that one should use the puppy formula for the old dog.
Please take care not to overfeed the old dog with too much pure protein. Such a “rich” diet (of meat, say) would increase the nitrogen load, which tends to place an added stress on the liver and kidneys. And if the old dog cannot handle the excessive amounts of protein, the organs — especially the function of the kidneys — can be compromised (kidney failure). Because of this fear, I tend to advise clients to feed more rice, which is a relatively easily digestible carbohydrate, and which contains some proteins as well, all within the rice-and-meat combination diet.
Examples of foods which contain high quality, relatively easily digestible protein would be cottage cheese, skimmed milk, high quality (low fat) special mince, eggs. If you notice your dog losing weight with this type of diet, then I advise you to add more boiled rice to the feeding regime at once, then contact your vet.
Now, what do we do about fats in the diet? You have always heard (and you know only too well from your personal enjoyment) that fats increase the palatability of food. However, in the older dog, fats (high in calories) are not easily digested; yet, some amount of fat has to be in the diet, if for no other reason than to aid in the absorption of certain vitamins, and for the production of essential fatty acids. Plant oils or fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) are food sources of fats for the elderly dog.
A simple (sample) basic maintenance diet which I would recommend for a canine senior citizen comprises 50 per cent corn meal porridge together with 50 per cent commercial puppy ration. You may add a vitamin/mineral supplement and a vegetable (carrot, pumpkin, spinach).
Do recall that the function of the kidneys in the elderly dog is more often than not the first to be compromised. This reduced kidney function often results in loss of B-vitamins in the urine.
Moreover, some minerals and vitamins are not optimally absorbed through the intestines of the old dog. They are defecated, and must be replaced. You can use any of the many pet vitamins/ minerals products on the market – following veterinary advice, of course.
If the dog needs to lose weight, give him a quarter less than this maintenance diet.

Some general
dietary considerations
– Instead of feeding the old dog only once daily, it may be of value to divide his daily requirements into two or three feeds.
– If the dog has a specific organ ailment, or is already too obese, let your vet prescribe a specific diet for your pet.
– Do not feed the old dog cold food.
– Do not change his diet. Whatever is the routine, stick to it, as long as there are no obvious deleterious consequences. The digestive tract of the elderly dog has specific bacteria which have “evolved” to deal with a specific diet. A sudden change (even in the water quality) can create diarrhoea and other gastro-intestinal upsets. If you have to change the diet, do it gradually.
– Examine the oral cavity often for gum disease and tooth problems, which would affect intake and need veterinary care.
– Note the impact of diet on the stomach (distension), defecation, and discomfort.
Discuss any digestive issues with your veterinarian.