• Smart Bark

How to... Care for Senior Dogs

Updated: Apr 8

Smart Bark is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

You may have noticed your dog slowing down slightly or even some grey hairs appearing in their coat, this is perfectly normal as they approach their senior years.

The truth is that just because your dog hits a certain age doesn’t mean their health will start to decline overnight. Just like us humans, ageing tends to be a slow and gradual process that begins with subtle changes. Many of these changes can all to easily be missed.

Old black labrador with grey muzzle

The important thing to remember is that by looking out for your senior dog properly from the outset, you can help manage the inevitable ageing process, and ensure that your four-legged friend continues to live their best life.


What Age is Considered a Senior Dog?

Do Senior Dogs have Different Needs?

What Changes Should I Look Out For?

1. Weight Gain

2. Weight Loss

3. Mobility Issues

4. Cognitive Health

5. Teeth and Gum Health

6. Serving Food

What Age is Considered a Senior Dog?

Senior status in dogs varies greatly according to the breed and size of your dog. Amazingly, smaller dogs can live twice as long as larger dogs.

Smaller dogs tend to mature much faster and then age more gradually once they’ve reached maturity. A little dog such as a toy poodle or terrier isn’t considered senior until the ripe old age of 10 or 12.

At the other end of the scale, the big, giant breeds are considered senior citizens at the young age of 5 or 6.

Generally though, for most breeds, a dog of around 7 or 8 years is considered to be a senior dog.

Do Senior Dogs have Different Needs?

The ageing process depends on a variety of factors including breed, genetics, and health problems.

Ultimately, if you have a senior dog with no health complaints and they’re functioning well, there is probably no need to change their diet.

senior brown labrador lying on a dog bed

It's worth noting that adding dietary supplements to their diet could prove beneficial in maintaining their health.

However, if you have noticed the signs that your dog is slowing down mentally, physically or suffers with other diseases associated with older dogs, then changing to a senior diet and offering nutritional supplements is probably a good idea to slow the decline.

Nutrition and supplements are powerful tools in maintaining health, preventing, and helping to manage disease.

Unfortunately, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ for ageing dogs.

Every dog is different, but regular health checks with your vet are vital to help detect the onset of health problems as early as possible.

What Changes Should I Look Out For?

The subtle and hardly noticeable changes can be so easily missed and rationalised, so let’s explore the most common changes associated with senior dogs. What do you need to look out for and how can you subsequently help and support your four-legged friend ?

1. Weight Gain

Is your dog gaining weight as they age?

It’s worth noting that around age 7 for most dogs and age 5 for giant breed dogs, metabolism slows, and your dog will require fewer calories.

Girl and her white dog walking on a beach

The truth is that even carrying a few extra pounds around the waist can have a serious and prolonged effect on your dog’s health.

Diseases such as diabetes or arthritis can be considerably worsened by obesity and your dog’s joints and cardiovascular system can be placed under additional pressure.

If you think that they are gaining weight as they mature, look for a food with less calories to help prevent weight gain.

Foods aimed at senior dogs are usually in the form of reduced fat content and increased lean protein and fibre. Look for a senior foods with a fat level of around 8 % to 12%.

The vast majority of dog food companies have a low fat range aimed at senior dogs and the best will have high protein content but fewer calories to encourage lean muscle mass whilst helping to maintain a healthy body weight.

2. Weight Loss

On the other hand, not all dogs gain weight as they age, some may lose weight. Digestive problems may mean you need to look at a change to senior food differently and avoid reducing calories.

brown and white cockapoo lying on a bed

If your dog is losing weight and not eating well, visit your vet first to rule out any possible disease problems. If everything checks out, then you may need to alter their diet.

Some older dogs suffer from a disinterest in food and become quite fussy. Dry food especially large kibble, can become harder to chew as their teeth wear, so they eat less.

By feeding a kibble with smaller more digestible pieces can certainly help whilst moistening the food with warm water to release the scent may be more enticing.

If this doesn't entice your pooch you may want to consider switching their diet.

We've provided in-depth Buying Guides on two popular dog diets - Tailored Dog Food and Raw Dog Food.

Each Buying Guide analyses the customer offer, nutritional rating, value for money and levels of service of the best dog foods available.

All the companies featured offer a beautifully balanced and complete dog food which is approved by nutritionists and works well for senior dogs.

You might be interested in.......

Best Tailored Dog Foods Review We explore 4 of the best dog foods customised to your pooch and delivered to your door.

3. Mobility Issues

Are they moving slower?

Slowing down a little with old age is normal, but your dog doesn’t need to suffer in silence. When looking at joint problems associated with old age and arthritis, ageing dogs can benefit from additional nutritional supplements.

Specifically created with older dogs in mind, these supplements can help to maintain their mobility levels and help stave off and decline in movement.

Older dog lying on the sand at the beach

Increasingly they use natural ‘functional foods’, which may improve your dog’s quality of life as they mature. Popular ingredients include omega-3 fatty acids and green-lipped mussel extract which can both help support many common joint issues in dogs.

YuMOVE are the UK’s top veterinary joint supplement brand and they work with organisations like the Royal Veterinary College to evidence the efficiency of their products.

YuMove Essential Joint Support PLUS

Their wide range of products include tablets and chews specifically formulated to improve mobility for senior dogs.

YuMove Plus for Dogs is a high strength formula specifically designed for older dogs who may need extra joint support.

It contains 20% more green lipped mussel than their regular formula and provides a super concentrated source of omega 3 fatty acids which helps soothe stiff joints.

4. Canine Cognitive Health

Are they thinking slower?

There are ways in which you can help to stave off the symptoms of age-related cognitive decline. One simple method is to provide regular physical exercise which helps your dog's mental as well as their physical health. Daily dog walks or a round of ‘fetch’ enrich your dog’s life experience.

What’s more, mental exercise in the form of stimulating games helps. Consider starting a new training programme or adding some new and interesting dog puzzle toys to your collection – You can teach an old dog new tricks !

Dog with a Bob-a-lot puzzle toy

Puzzle toys not only provide opportunities for your dog to learn and problem solve they also provide plenty of interactive possibilities for you and your dog. Puzzle toys are very different from other dog toys. They are not for chewing, chasing, or fetching, they are primarily aimed at learning and concentration.

We review the best and most innovative puzzle toys in the UK – Top 10 Puzzle Toys for Dogs (and don’t worry if your dog isn’t Einstein – we’ve divided the toys into easy, intermediate, and difficult so you can choose the right level of toy for your four-legged friend).

5. Dog Teeth and Gum Health

Senior dogs are at a high risk of suffering from gum conditions as they age. Research shows that only 2% of dog owners actually brush their dog's teeth on a regular basis.

whimzees dog treats with dog toothbrush

Whilst dental dog chews can't replace brushing your dog's teeth, they are better than ignoring your dog's dental health all together.

A daily dental stick can also help rub off some of the plaque build-up on canine teeth. If you’re interested in dog dental chews, we recently tested and reviewed whimzees natural dog dental treats for over a month.

We choose to review whimzees dental chews as they are not only natural, contain no artificial ingredients, flavours or additives, but they are made from only six primary ingredients so you know exactly what your dog is getting. Read our review - Whimzees Dog Dental Sticks Review

6. Eating Posture

We've covered you're dog's diet, but how about helping with the position in which your dog eats. When dishing up your dog’s food, consider introducing a raised dog bowl which can help senior dogs with mobility issues.

The idea behind a raised dog bowl is that it brings the food closer to your dog’s mouth, meaning your four-legged friend doesn’t need to bend down so far. In turn this can help with their posture and eliminates any potential neck pain while they’re eating.

Dog eating from a raised dog bowl

Dogs suffering with joint issues or arthritis can experience enormous relief from raised dog bowls as they can find putting their head to the ground difficult.

Raised dog bowls come in all shapes and sizes. Ideally they should stand square with your dog's chest. That way, your dog doesn’t need to lift their neck up or down to get to their food and water. As a general rule of paw, the best heights are :-

For small breeds 5 - 17 cm

For medium breeds 15 – 35 cm

For larger breeds 30 – 50 cm

We review the Top 10 Raised Dog Bowls available in the UK today. To help you find the perfect elevated bowl for your four-legged friends, we've indicated size with - small medium and large - by each dog bowl.


The important thing to remember is that by keeping a watchful eye for the signs of old age you can certainly help your four-legged friend. Combining the best of diet, supplements, physical exercise, and behavioural enrichment, you can help to keep your best friend happy and healthy for a long time to come.