How to Care for Your Senior Dog: Diet, Exercise & More

Senior Dogs: What to Know About Weight Management & Exercise

Whether you’ve cared for your dog all their life or adopted them at a later stage, senior dogs deserve all the love we can give. While they may not be the same boisterous puppy you once knew, just one look in their eyes and you’ll still see that sparkle of mischief and unconditional devotion. 

So, what do you need to know as a pet owner? What kind of dog food is best for senior dogs? How will your dog’s exercise needs change, and what common health concerns should you keep an eye on? In this article, we’ll explore all of that and more.

When is a Dog Considered “Senior”?

First, let’s take a look at when, exactly, a dog is considered a senior pup. While you may have heard that each year of your dog’s life is equal to seven human years, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Recent research shows that for a medium-sized dog, it’s more like this:

  • The first year of the dog’s life is equal to 15 human years 
  • The second year of the dog’s life is equal to nine human years
  • After that, each human year is approximately five years for a dog

With this calculation, a medium-sized dog would be like a human 60-year-old at the age of 10. Many experts prefer to break it down further by breed size:

breed size

The reason for this is that smaller dogs tend to age more slowly and have longer lifespans (about 15-16 years) compared to larger dogs’ average lifespan (around 7-8 years).

The reason for this is that smaller dogs tend to age more slowly and have longer lifespans (about 15-16 years) compared to larger dogs’ average lifespan (around 7-8 years). 

Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy 

That being said, just as there’s not a specific age for the “senior” threshold, a certain age doesn’t automatically mean your dog is bound to slow down. The key is to keep an eye on your dog’s overall health, and talk to your vet if anything seems off. Your vet can also help you determine if your dog needs more frequent check-ups, changes to diet and exercise routines, or other lifestyle adjustments.

Senior Dog Exercise Considerations 

If your dog isn’t as active as they used to be, that’s normal—and it’s one of the most common observations that senior dog owners notice first. It could be that they’re simply sleeping more, or they might show some signs of being uncomfortable (or even in pain) when climbing stairs, jumping, or playing. Unfortunately, arthritis is very common in older dogs; if you notice behavioral changes or it looks like your pup is uncomfortable, check in with your vet.

Treatment plans for arthritis and other mobility issues may include:

  • Prescription medications to reduce inflammation
  • Home environment changes, such as installing carpet for better traction, raising food and water bowls, and installing ramps or steps to assist your pup onto the couch or bed
  • Natural supplements for joint health, such as glucosamine and chondroitin

Daily exercise is still important for senior dogs, but you may need to keep it gentle. Instead of the 10-mile hikes you used to enjoy together, stick with short (and familiar) walking routes and go at your dog’s pace. Swimming is another great exercise to try, as it’s very gentle on your dog’s joints. If it’s too hot or too cold outside, consider engaging in some indoor activities (think puzzle toys, gentle indoor games, or teaching them a new trick!).

Senior Dog Food Considerations

Another thing to keep in mind is that as your senior dog becomes less active, they may gain weight as a result. In addition to the gentle exercise tips above, you may need to adjust their calories and portions to accommodate a more sedentary lifestyle. Your vet can help you determine whether your dog is overweight or underweight, and give you an ideal weight to aim for. 

Nutritional needs can also change as your dog ages, so ask your vet for their recommendations on supplements in addition to healthy, nutritious meals. Ideally, your senior dog’s food should be full of fresh, nutrient-packed and human-grade ingredients. Avoid fillers, byproducts, and anything artificial, as well as high-heat manufacturing processes that can zap nutrients. 

Specifically, look for a balanced nutritious profile of:

  • Fiber, for gastrointestinal health
  • Protein, to maintain body weight and muscle mass
  • Vitamins and minerals, to support healthy bones, skin, and hair/fur

Older dogs are also more prone to dehydration, so make sure to provide fresh, cool water at all times; fresh-cooked food can also help maintain hydration levels because of its higher natural water content.

(Note: While there are plenty of dog food brands that promote a “Senior” designation, it’s not necessary to seek that out. Focus on high-quality meals, offer an appropriate serving size for your dog’s weight and activity level, and you’re all set.)

Some senior dogs also turn into picky eaters as they age. If your older dog isn’t eating, it could just be that their senses are decreasing, which is a normal part of the aging process. To combat this, try warming up the food to add to the aroma or offer some different flavors and meal types. After all, variety is the spice of life!

Common Health Concerns for Senior Dogs

Offering gentle exercise and a healthy diet are the building blocks for a healthy, long life for your pup. But similar to humans, there are many natural parts of aging to keep an eye out for. 

These include:

  • Dental problems. Proper dental care is even more important as your dog ages. Brush their teeth daily at home and schedule annual deep cleans with your vet once a year.

  • Loss of hearing or decreased eyesight. Consider adding a nightlight to help your dog navigate your home at night, and block off stairs with a baby gate.

  • Disorientation. Keeping your dog physically and mentally active may reduce cognitive decline, so break out the puzzles and teach them a new trick every now and then.

  • Increased anxiety. Stick to a predictable routine and environment, and provide a safe, “den-like” area for your dog to retreat to as needed.

  • Duller looking coat or skin. Senior pups are more prone to dry, irritated, and itchy skin; use a gentle shampoo for baths and brush them regularly to avoid tangles and mats.

Establishing a Healthy Diet with PetPlate

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the dog food options out there for your senior pup, you’re not alone. The good news is, that’s where PetPlate can help! Made with real ingredients in a human-grade kitchen, PetPlate’s fresh, healthy dog food is designed to deliver essential nutrients for every stage of life, including senior dogs. It’s healthy dog food, made simple.

Plus, you’ll get a customized meal plan and feeding recommendations based on your dog’s age, weight, and breed. Each meal is perfectly portioned and delivered right to your doorstep for unmatched convenience. 

Ready to get started? Tell us about your dog and we’ll create a meal plan that makes sense for both of you. No cooking, no shopping, and no more worrying about what’s really in your dog’s food.