Skip to content
5 Things To Include In The Senior Dog’s Bowl | Lisa Hannaby-Aird | Vanity Fur Magazine
5 Things To Include In The Senior Dog’s Bowl

We know the nutritional needs of puppies are quite different to the adult dog, but the adult dog in many of our eyes simply remains an adult dog.  The reality is that our adult dog will become a senior dog and with that comes its own set of challenges.  We may notice they’re a little stiff after their usual favourite walk or their cognitive functions slowing down a little.  

There are a number of system changes that can occur in the senior dog, and for those your dog deserves more personalised attention, but there are some great nutritional additions that can support nearly every senior dog.  Here are my top 5 things to include in the senior dog’s bowl.  

Essential Fatty Acids 

We have established that there is a protein that can defend the brain against shrinkage and support its regrowth and repair.  It is known as BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor).  This is important across all life-stages, but even more important if we are looking to maintain sufficient cognitive function in our senior dog.  

Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been seen to normalise BDNF levels in the brain.  They are also thought to be neuroprotective which means they protect neurons from death (all very important for our ageing dog).  

We also know that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in inflammation and when many of our senior dogs can suffer with inflammatory musculoskeletal issues, the inclusion of these compounds in the diet provides a win, win situation!

Great sources of Omega-3 for our dogs include fatty fish like sprats, sardines, mackerel, and salmon.  You can buy frozen and feed whole, or tinned fish is perfectly safe to feed, even that mackerel in tomato sauce.  Add fish to your dog’s bowl 2-3 times a week or source a good quality supplement (one from a reputable brand, one that comes in a dark, tinted bottle to prevent the oils going rancid and with a good dollop of EPA and DHA included).  

Vitamin B12

When we pair omega-3 and Vitamin B12 together, higher levels of BDNF are found in the hippocampus and cortex (important parts of the brain).  To that end, I would suggest including sources of Vitamin B12 in your dog’s diet.  

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that keeps nerve and blood cells healthy.  It is particularly important for those senior dogs whose messages throughout the nervous system have slowed down a little.  It is also involved in energy production and more.  

There are no known plant-sources of B12, it is produced in the gut of vegetarian animals, then absorbed into their bloodstream and makes its way around their body.  Their tissue then provides B12 to whoever eats it.  To this end, we need to offer our dogs meat to ramp up their B12 supplies.  

It is also worth noting that adequate stomach acid secretion/production along with intrinsic factor are necessary for the absorption of B12 and these processes can be compromised as our pets age and so they may naturally suffer lower levels of this important vitamin. 

Sources of B12 include meat, fish and eggs.  You can add eggs to your dog’s bowl 2-3 times a week.  Whether this is poached, boiled or raw.  You can also find B12 in supplemental form.  Speak with a qualified practitioner if you would like to know more about supplementing Vitamin B12 for your dog.  

5 Things To Include In The Senior Dog’s Bowl | Lisa Hannaby-Aird | Vanity Fur Magazine

Bone Broth 

Bone broth is a liquid containing brewed bones and connective tissues, known by many of us in the dog world as liquid gold! 

Bones themselves are rich in vitamins and nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.  In addition, brewing connective tissue into bone broth provides the body with natural compounds from the cartilage.  You will also find collagen and cooking collagen turns it to gelatin, which provides the body with amino acids; the building blocks of proteins.

It is not possible to say how much of any nutrient will be in a particular batch of bone broth, since this largely depends on the type and quantity of the bones and tissues that went into it, but a good rotation of bones and tissues will provide a range of nutrients.

A 2017 review suggests that both laboratory and animal studies show gelatin supplementation increases the amount of collagen in the tissues which may help protect the joints from unnecessary stress.  I mentioned, gelatin is formed by the cooking of collagen. 

Other data has suggested that collagen can improve knee joint symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, and poorer physical function in humans with osteoarthritis.

Bone broth can also support hydration status in dogs, which is particularly beneficial for the senior dog who can be a little forgetful with their drinking habits.  In addition, the appetite of our senior dog can often change, they can sometimes become a little fussy.  Bone broth can be a great strategy to entice even the fussiest of eaters!

You can add bone broth to your dog’s bowl as much as you want – there really is no risk of toxicity.  It’s just a hearty, nutrient dense addition.  My brand of choice is Boil and Broth.   


The word protein comes from the Greek meaning “of prime importance” and it really is.  Protein is the building blocks of the body. 

When our senior dog eats sources of protein like lamb, beef or eggs they are broken down in the stomach and then reassembled by the liver to form new proteins which carry out a range of jobs throughout the body. 

We have structural proteins which are key components of hair/fur, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. This is why signs of low protein include dry skin, poor coat condition or frequent injuries.  

Puppies need protein to grow, but on the other side of the scale, our senior dogs require sufficient protein to maintain their structure as they age, especially their muscle mass.  

Proteins are also crucial to immune system function – many different immune cells like antibodies are made up of protein.  Antibodies are those cells that latch onto harmful invaders and remove them.  So if we want our dog to have a well-functioning immune system, they need protein.  

Whilst we know that protein is necessary for muscle growth, we often forget that it’s needed for muscle function too.  Different proteins are involved in muscle contraction and relaxation; in short, protein ensures a muscle moves when it needs to.  Protein is also necessary to maintain those carefully grown and functioning muscles.  Muscle atrophy is common in the senior dog, and this can be influenced by both activity and diet.  

For all of these reasons, sufficient protein is still necessary for the senior dog.  Many moons ago, protein intake was implicated in compromised kidney function, but it must be remembered that these studies were relating to humans who were already diagnosed with kidney disease.  Protein intake should be a consideration in kidney and liver issues, but it shouldn’t be avoided in the senior dog, your senior dog (in the absence of any diagnosed conditions that are being supervised by a vet or qualified practitioner) does not need a low protein diet. 

I’m a huge advocate of fresh food for dogs, so consider adding fresh sources of protein to your senior dog’s bowl.  

5 Things To Include In The Senior Dog’s Bowl | Lisa Hannaby-Aird | Vanity Fur Magazine

Green Lipped Mussels (GLMs)

GLMs contain around 90 different fatty acids, glycosaminoglycans (chondroitin sulphate), glutamine (a glycosaminoglycan precursor), vitamins C and E and minerals including zinc, copper and selenium. The synergy of these nutritional components work in perfect harmony to support joint and mobility issues in the senior pet.

When looking at joint health you need to consider all mechanisms responsible for the disease and then how to address them.  It’s often the inflammation and rubbing of joints that create pain and stiffness.

The fatty acids found in green lipped mussels include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid).  These are important fatty acids known to reduce inflammation. 

You can buy fresh green lipped mussels (Canumi is my brand of choice in the UK), or you can buy supplemental GLM.  If feeding fresh, add them to the bowl a couple of times a week, and if you are using supplemental GLM, follow the dosage instructions on the product.  

I hope these additions have given you some food for thought for your senior dog.  As always, check with your vet before making any dietary changes and introduce any new foods to your dog, slowly and in small amounts.  If they show any signs of digestive discomfort then stop feeding the food.  If you add any of these to your dog’s bowl, don’t forget to share with us on social media.

Article Author

Psychologist, Registered Associate Nutritionist, Published Author


Back To Top