Best High Protein Dry Foods For Senior Dogs

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In a rush and just want my recommendation?  I think the Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Food for Dogs is a great choice.

If your beautiful dog is getting on in years, it’s time to take particular notice of any changes in their eating habits. Just like us humans, hounds can’t always tolerate the same foods they used to happily gobble-down, as a younger dog.

Aging brings many physical, as well as cognitive changes, so it’s important to make sure we feed our older dogs appropriately. The range of foods marketed for older dogs is enormous, so I’m having a close look at the best available, to see what’s most important in a healthy diet for our aging dogs.

In this article, I’m comparing the following dry foods for senior dogs.

5 Best Dry Foods For Senior Dogs Reviewed

Wellness Complete Health Senior

First five ingredients: deboned chicken, chicken meal, oatmeal, ground barley, ground brown rice.

Calories: 416 kcal/cup

Dry Matter Content: 

  • Protein 27% (Min)
  • Fat 13% (Min)
  • Fiber 4.25% (Max)
  • Carbohydrates 52%

Wellness Complete Health Senior, is a grain-inclusive dry dog food using chicken meat and chicken meal as its dominant sources of animal protein. Chicken meat contains a lot of water, but the chicken meal is essentially concentrated chicken. This contributes most to the overall protein content of the food. 

The added peas and flaxseed, also high on the ingredients list, offers even more protein to the recipe. The peas are also a good source of carbohydrates, while the flaxseed is a plant-source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Another central and quality ingredient is chicken fat, which is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life.  Ground brown rice is a further source of omega-6 fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

This recipe is supported by the addition of antioxidants to aid with cell repair, glucosamine for joint health and probiotics to aid digestion . It is developed without any GMOs, meat by-products, fillers or artificial preservatives, and suitable for senior dogs of all breeds.

Nutro Ultra Senior

First five ingredients: chicken, chicken meal, whole grain barley, split peas, brewers rice. Calories: 316 kcal/cup

Dry Matter Content: 

  • Protein 27% (Min)
  • Fat 18% (Min)
  • Fiber 3.9% (Max)
  • Carbohydrates 48%

Nutro Ultra Senior has essentially the same major ingredients, with the exception of brewers rice, which is a by-product consisting of the remaining debris left over after milling the whole rice. 

This is a grain-inclusive dry dog food using chicken meat and chicken meal as its dominant sources of animal protein. Chicken meat contains a lot of water, but the chicken meal is essentially concentrated chicken. This contributes most to the overall protein content of the food. 

The added lamb meal, salmon meal and chia seeds deliver a massive protein punch, as well as being a source of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate. Flaxseed provides one of the best plant sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Another central and quality ingredient is chicken fat, which is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life.  Ground brown rice is a further source of omega-6 fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Nutro Senior is suitable for all breeds, and contains a blend of 15 superfoods including coconut, chia, kale, and blueberries that promote coat and skin health. This recipe is free of any artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.

ORIJEN Senior Dry

First five ingredients: chicken, turkey, flounder, whole mackerel, turkey giblets (liver, heart, gizzard)

Calories: 417 kcal/cup

Dry Matter Content: 

  • Protein 43% (Min)
  • Fat 21% (Min)
  • Fiber 8% (Max)
  • Carbohydrates 28%

Orijen Senior Dry Food is a protein packed diet, made with 85% premium animal ingredients including poultry and fish, for a strong source of essential protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Giblets are an acceptable and healthy meat ingredient, with organ meat providing good quality protein.

Chicken liver and whole herring are in 6th and 7th position on the ingredients list. Chicken liver is a quality meat source, and herring is a fatty fish, high in protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Pollock oil is also naturally rich in the superior EPA and DHA type of omega-3 fatty acids.

The addition of dehydrated chicken, turkey and mackerel delivers up to four times the protein of the fresh meat, which contains up to 75% water. The numerous legumes in this formulation, consisting of red and green lentils, pinto beans, navy beans, chickpeas and peas hugely increases the protein content by up to 25%. 

This is a grain-free recipe. There is currently concern around grain-free formulations causing nutritional dilated cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart health issues in dogs. Poorly formulated diets with high rates of legumes such as peas, chickpeas and lentils, may contribute to an imbalance in the amino acid taurine, which then affects heart function.

Orijen Senior contains chelated minerals, meaning they have been chemically attached to protein. This enhances the absorption of the mineral, making it readily available when your dog needs it. 

Freeze-dried coating on this kibble means your hound gets the nutrition and taste of raw, but with the convenience of natural preservatives.

VICTOR Super Premium Dog Food

First five ingredients: beef meal, whole grain brown rice, whole grain millet, grain sorghum, chicken fat

Calories: 360 kcal/cup

Dry Matter Content: 

  • Protein 42% (Min)
  • Fat 20% (Min)
  • Fiber 3.8% (Max)
  • Carbohydrates 30%

Victor Super Premium is a protein packed diet, formulated for senior dogs. Beef meal is a high protein meat concentrate, produced by stewing and rendering quality beef meat. 

The second ingredient is brown rice, which is an excellent whole grain for your dog, as it’s highly nutritious and easily digestible. It is a good source of omega-6 fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Millet is a gluten-free grain which is naturally rich in B-vitamins and fiber as well as other essential minerals.

Sorghum is a gluten-free grain, high in carbohydrates, with 10% protein and 3.4% fat, and contains calcium and small amounts of iron, vitamins B1 and B3.

Chicken fat, again, which is high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid essential for life. The chicken fat in dry dog food is preserved with mixed Tocopherols, which are different types of Vitamin E. They are found in oils, such as olive and sunflower, and some vegetables. They serve as an antioxidant, and strengthen the immune system.

The addition of fish, chicken and blood meal in this recipe, bumps up the quality protein content considerably. 

This formulation includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health, and chelated minerals, meaning they have been chemically attached to protein. This enhances the absorption of the mineral, making it readily available when your dog needs it. 

The mix of supplements, vitamins and minerals includes prebiotics and probiotics, so this kibble is gut-friendly and easily digestible. Suitable for hounds of all breeds, ages and activity levels.

Purina Pro Plan Adult 7+

First five ingredients: chicken, rice, poultry by-product meal, soybean meal, corn gluten meal

Calories: 366 kcal/cup

Dry Matter Content: 

  • Protein 30% (Min)
  • Fat 18% (Min)
  • Fiber 3.4% (Max)
  • Carbohydrates 44%

Chicken meat contains up to 73% water. In the absence of other real meat in the recipe, the quality protein content from meat sources is relatively low.

The second ingredient is rice. This could be any variety of rice or product of rice, so it’s impossible to judge the nutritional value of this ingredient.

Poultry by-product meal is slaughterhouse waste. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) description is, “Animal by-products include all parts of a live animal that are not part of the dressed carcass.” This can include organs such as lungs, liver and heart, as well as beaks and feet. The nutritional value of this high-protein meal is determined by the parts of the bird that went into it.

Soybean meal is a lower quality source of protein, and is the by-product of the extraction of soybean oil. Again, this is a source of protein, but not as nutritious for your dog.

Corn gluten meal is another source of low-quality protein. These products really boost the total protein content of a recipe, but they are not a nutritious meat protein. This needs to be taken into account when comparing protein contents of different recipes.

The Purina Pro Plan is fortified with guaranteed live probiotics to support digestive and immune health, and is a hard kibble mixed with meaty pieces, suitable for dogs of all breeds.

Guide To Buying Dry Food For Senior Dogs

There are many variables  to consider, before settling on a particular diet for your older dog. Their age, size, health status, activity levels, as well as your dog’s particular food preferences, all play a part in making the best choices for them.

When is a Dog Considered To Be Senior?

There are four distinct stages of life for canines.

  • Puppy – up to 9 months of age
  • Young Adult – 9 months, to 3 to 4 years of age
  • Adult – 3 to 4 years, to beginning of last 25% of estimated lifespan 
  • Senior – when they are in the last quarter of their life. 

However, there is no one-size-fits-all, when it comes to aging dogs. Smaller breeds generally live longer than large and giant breeds, so large dogs are considered to be senior much earlier, between 5 and 8 years of age, while small dogs move to senior status at 8-10 years of age.

What Are The Signs That Your Dog Is Aging?

Your dog will slow down on walks. They may be more interested in sniffing around, than getting somewhere, fast! That’s what I notice the most with my dogs. They are still interested in going out, but not racing around and socializing.

It’s vital that you continue to enrich your dog’s life even when they do slow down. They need to be stimulated, interested in the world and all the different smells and sights. Never interpret slowness as lack of desire. Always get your dog checked by a vet to make sure they aren’t in pain, when walking or running. Arthritis is very common in older dogs.

You may notice your dog has plumped up a little. This could be a sign that you’re over-feeding them. High protein and lower calorie foods are the ideal combination for senior dogs.

Their appetite may change. They might seem fussy or picky, all of a sudden. It’s time to try a few new things for them. Mix it up to keep it interesting.

They can be slow to come when called, or follow other simple instructions. They are not being naughty. Be patient, and get used to the new normal, for them. Cognitive function declines in all of us as we age.

The Nutritional Needs of a Senior Dog

Dogs need different varieties of nutrients in order to survive, and to live a healthy life.

  • Amino acids from proteins
  • Fatty acids and carbohydrates
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water

Protein and Amino Acids

When proteins are broken down during digestion, amino acids are left. A dog uses these amino acids to build more proteins which help their body grow, repair and survive.

Amino acids can also be used by your dog to provide them with energy.

Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. That means that they must be provided in your dog’s food. Dietary protein contains 10 essential amino acids your dog needs to survive.

Fats and Essential Fatty Acids

When dietary fats are broken down during digestion, fatty acids are left. They are then absorbed into the blood. Fatty acids can come from animal fats or various plant oils, such as Canola.

These important components help with your dog’s cellular growth, keep their skin and coat healthy, assist with nerve function, normal growth and development, and, most important for your hound, they contribute to the taste of the food.

Carbohydrates

Dogs get some of their energy from carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches, and dietary fibers. These are often seen in commercial dog food ingredients such as cereals, grains, beans, peas and other legumes.

Vitamins

Dogs need vitamins in their diet. Deficiencies are responsible for many health problems, such as sight and mobility impairment, skin lesions, breathing problems and low resistance to infections. Other consequences of vitamin deficiency are muscle wasting and neurological problems.

Minerals

Some essential minerals for dogs include calcium and phosphorus for bone and teeth health. Magnesium, potassium and sodium help with neurological function.

Other Additives

Chondroprotective agents, such as glucosamine and chondroitin may be beneficial for some dogs. If your dog has mobility issues, or appears to suffer from joint pain, see your vet for appropriate treatments.

Antioxidants are substances that can reduce damage to cells caused by free radicals. These are waste substances produced by the body in reaction to the environment, illness or other stressors. 

Flavors and Colors

Natural flavorings come from plant or animal sources. Colorings, in my opinion, are completely unnecessary. Dogs don’t care if something looks meaty red. Something that looks red to humans, actually looks yellow to dogs. If you want to learn more about your dog’s vision, check this article on interesting facts about dogs.

Daily Recommended Nutritional Allowances

Older, active dogs still need plenty of protein and energy producing food in their diet. Their daily calorie intake should be approximately 20% less than that of a similar sized, young adult dog. This is because they are less active, and have a slower metabolism. If they continue on a higher-calorie diet, they tend to become overweight.

All pet food labels must state guarantees for the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture.

To convert these percentages to grams, simply multiply the crude percentages times the weight of your dog’s daily portion. So, if you feed your dog a 1 lb. (454-gram) can of food per day, and the food contains 8% crude protein, the grams of protein would be 0.08 ✕ 454 = 36 grams.

When you are making comparisons between dry and wet foods, it’s important to calculate totals on a Dry Matter Basis. This comprehensive article teaches you how to read dog food labels.

How To Estimate Carbohydrate Content in Dog Food 

First, you need to know the percentages of proteins, fats and moisture. These are always on the packaging, in the guaranteed analysis. The fiber content isn’t relevant in this calculation, as fiber is part of the carbohydrates content.

Next, you need to account for the ash content of the food. The ash is the mineral waste left when any food is incinerated. This is always between 5 and 8%, so let’s call it 6.5% for all foods.

So, for any food, the proteins, fats, ash, water and carbohydrates = 100% content of that food. If you know the percentages of all other components, the carbohydrates content is what makes it up to 100%.

As an example, a food has:

  • Proteins = 27%
  • Fats = 12%
  • Water = 12%
  • Ash = 6.5%
  • Total = 57.5%

That means that 100 minus 57.5 = 42.5% carbohydrates.

What is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is a non-profit organization that sets standards for both animal feeds and pet foods in the United States.

In order for a dog food to be marketed as “complete and balanced”, it must meet the nutritional standards established by AAFCO. If the dog food you purchase meets AAFCO standards, it will be stated on the packaging.

Key Points

Senior dogs are best fed a diet rich in protein, with below-average calorie content. This strategy promotes lean muscle mass and a healthy body weight. Older dogs need plenty of protein in order to stay active.

Beware of ingredient splitting. This is when a manufacturer lists an inferior ingredient, in different ways, to make it look as if there is less of it in the food. A typical example is, peas, pea protein, pea meal, pea flour. It’s all just peas!

Remember it’s much easier for an older dog to gain weight, due to their reduced activity levels and slower metabolism. This video shows you how to check your dog’s body condition score.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and chondroprotective agents are not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.

Comparison of Protein Content and Calories/Cup 

Here’s a quick round-up of those two important values in each of our reviewed dry foods for senior dogs.

RECIPEProtein Calories/cup
Wellness Complete Health Senior27%416
Nutro Ultra Senior27%316
ORIJEN Senior Dry43%417
VICTOR Super Premium42%360
Purina Pro Plan Adult 7+30%366

Conclusion

All these dry foods for senior dogs have some excellent components, and some, not so nutritionally valuable. The highest protein content doesn’t always win the day, because as we’ve learned, not all protein is high-quality.

Keeping in mind too, that we need to keep the calories down for our aging dogs. You can see that there is a whopping 25% difference in calorie content between our lowest and highest calorie foods.

After comparing these five foods, my choice for my hound is the Nutro Ultra Senior Dry Food. It doesn’t have the highest protein content, but the protein is of a good nutritional quality. The calories are the lowest in this compared group, and it’s full of healthy grains, antioxidants and vitamins. 

On top of that, the tasty kibble is free of all unnatural preservatives, flavors  and colors. With the Nutro Ultra Senior, I feel I’m providing my older dog with the best nutrition possible.

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