Diet guide for older cats and dogs

As dogs and cats get older, their needs tend to change as their body starts to wear down. That’s why the right nutrition is so important to help them continue leading a long and happy life.

So at what age is a pet senior? For felines, the age considered to be a senior cat is around nine to 11 years old, while for dogs it varies according to their size – five or six for giant breeds (e.g. Great Danes), seven or eight for medium-sized dogs (e.g. Border Collies, Huskies), and nine or 10 for small breeds (e.g. Beagles).

Here are the three essential parts of the diet guide for older cats and dogs:

1. How to feed older cats and dogs

Senior dogs

As they age, dogs tend to slow down and therefore will need a slightly different diet to what they had in their youth. You’ll also need to monitor how their body ages, as some foods (like hard bones) may not be appropriate if they develop dental issues as a senior, for example:

  • Feed them senior-specific food that’s appropriate for their age and breed. Some dogs need meals that are higher in protein, while older dogs need senior food that is easier to digest and has fewer calories (to account for lower activity levels). You’ll be able to find a variety of food types at your local pet store.
  • If your dog struggles to bend down to eat, place their food bowl slightly higher so it’s easy to reach.
  • If your dog has special needs (e.g. stomach issues, teeth problems, kidney disease or arthritis) you’ll be able to find specific senior dog food to help them, and Australian studies suggest that senior specific food is beneficial.
  • Serve all food at room temperature so your dog has a chance to get all the smells in – important if their senses are diminishing in older age.

Senior cats

Just like senior dogs, older cats are less active in older age, which means their diets must be adjusted to ensure their ongoing health.

  • Fewer calories and less fat in meals is required as your cat enters their senior years.
  • High-quality, easy-to-digest protein is essential to maintain good overall body health.
  • Feed them senior cat food with lower levels of phosphorous (to help kidneys) and more vitamin E (to strengthen their natural defences).
  • Smaller pieces of soft food are recommended, especially for sensitive mouths (teeth missing, etc.).
  • If your cat develops one of the common old-age ailments like arthritis, diabetes or dental problems, a homemade diet could help them be more comfortable. However, always speak to your vet about a suitable homemade diet – and never start cooking your cat’s food without approval from your vet.
  • Some senior cats lose interest in food, so spice up their meals with juice from sardines or warm water.
  • Always serve their food at room temperature so they can fully appreciate the smells and tastes.
  • Great food options for senior cats include: fish, poultry and beef, as well as low fat dry food.

2. Things to avoid

As with any big change to your pet’s life, you’ll want to ensure you understand what to avoid before altering their diet.

  • If your pet has chronic kidney disease, avoid any foods with an excess amount of protein, salt and phosphorous.
  • For dogs, avoid fatty bones as they are bad for your senior pet’s digestion and may damage fragile teeth.
  • Steer clear of fatty cuts of meat – these can not only cause diarrhoea and slow down digestion, but also lead to issues like pancreatitis.
  • Avoid by-product meals with lots of different ingredients, as well as foods with hard-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains (wheat, corn and barley). Both older dogs and cats can better tolerate carbs in small amounts (e.g. oats, rice and ground flaxseed). 

3. Portion size and frequency

This is an essential consideration as the size of your pet’s meal and how often they eat has a huge impact on their overall health.

  • Senior dogs: Once or twice daily, depending on their prior feeding habits and their current exercise regimen. Their portions should be smaller to accommodate for lower activity levels. Also take your senior dog for a short walk after their meal, as the injection of food will give them the energy they need, rather than waiting until they are digesting the food (and probably a bit lethargic).
  • Senior cats: Regularly throughout the day, although keep their portions very small. Older cats are prone to becoming disinterested in food, so add smelly and warm additions (like warm water or fishy liquids) to their meals to entice their senses. If your cat hasn’t eaten for two days, see your vet.

Life tends to get a little slower for your pet in their senior years, but that’s why it’s so important to keep them healthy with a balanced diet. If your pet is younger than 16 years old, it’s not too late to protect them with Seniors Pet Insurance. Call us today to find out more or get a quote online. Call us today to find out more or get a quote online.


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified animal health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about an animal health condition or nutrition.