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How Much Protein Do Senior Dogs Need?

Nicole Cosgrove

Providing proper nutrition to senior dogs is not as straightforward as it might seem. For starters, different breeds have different nutritional needs. Secondly, the age at which a dog is considered senior varies between breeds as well.

For instance, larger breeds have shorter life expectancies, meaning they reach their senior years much sooner than smaller breeds. Finally, and most importantly, neither the National Research Council nor the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set guidelines regarding the dietary requirements of senior dogs.

As a result, it can be challenging to determine the exact nutritional requirements of your senior dog, especially when it comes to the appropriate protein levels. Fortunately, by understanding your senior dog’s physiology, you can adjust the dog’s diet accordingly. This article will detail everything you need to know about a senior dog’s protein requirements.divider-dog

How Much Protein Do Senior Dogs Need?

Dogs are omnivorous, meaning that protein (meat) accounts for a large portion of their diet, along with fruits and vegetables. As such, they have evolved to rely on protein across all stages of their lives.

There is a myth that protein is bad for senior dogs.

senior-dog-eating-chicken_Sophie-Louise-Davis_shutterstock
Credit: Sophie Louise Davis, Shutterstock

Apparently, too much protein can overtax an older dog’s kidneys due to the high phosphorus levels that come with it. However, the study responsible for that myth used rats, not dogs. Therefore, while too much protein can be hazardous for a senior rat, the same does not apply to dogs.

Senior Dog Food vs. Regular Dog Food

As a matter of fact, senior dogs require more protein than other dogs, and here is the reason. One of the functions of protein in the dog’s body is building and maintaining muscle tissue. Since dogs lose muscle mass as they grow older, they require more protein in their diet to hold on to muscle tissue for longer.

Muscle tissue loss compromises the dog’s immune system, making the animal more susceptible to diseases. Additionally, the dog loses its physical strength, affecting its energy levels and mobility.

Therefore, by increasing the amount of protein in your senior pup’s diet, you will help them hold onto their strength for longer. Experts recommend ensuring that protein makes up at least 25% of your senior dog’s daily caloric intake.

Dog-with-a-full-food-bowl_nancy-dressel_shutterstock
Credit: Nancy Dressel, Shutterstock

Encouraging Your Senior Dog to Eat

The main reason senior dogs tend to be frail is their decreased appetite. Therefore, increasing the amount of protein in their food will not mean much if they do not eat that food in the first place. As such, you should make the dog’s food more palatable. That could involve warming the food to enhance its aroma, thus stimulating the dog’s appetite.

High-fat foods are also worth considering, as they tend to be tastier. But be sure to toe the line of moderation between fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in your pooch’s diet.divider-cat

Conclusion

How much protein do senior dogs need? Much more than the average dog does. That is because protein helps build muscle tissue, allowing the frail senior to hold onto its withering muscle mass for longer. Nevertheless, the exact amount of protein a senior dog requires varies between breeds, but a good rule of thumb is that protein should make up roughly ¼ of your dog’s daily calories. For more specifics regarding your loved one, consult your vet to determine the ideal nutritional requirements for your aging pet.

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Featured image credit: Maggie McManus, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.