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Senior vs Adult Dog Food: Main Differences

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley


Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the dog food aisle and realizing that your dog’s normal food is out of stock, you may have wondered if purchasing the senior version of the food would suffice until the adult food is back in stock. Before you make this decision, you should understand the differences between adult and senior dog foods. There are a few notable differences between the two, and while feeding the wrong food for one or two bags isn’t likely to be a problem, you should still understand the differences between the two to make the best decision for your dog’s health.

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Side by Side Comparison

Image Credit: Left – Africa Studio, Shutterstock | Right – dogboxstudio, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Let’s look at the key points of each product.

Senior Dog Food
  • 18–23% protein
  • Low in fat
  • Less likely to lead to weight gain
  • Supports joint health
  • Somewhat limited options
Adult Dog Food
  • 18–30% protein
  • Moderate fat content
  • Supports active energy levels
  • May or may not contain glucosamine and chondroitin
  • Lots of options

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Overview of Senior Dog Food

Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

When to Choose Senior Dog Food

If your dog is over the age of 7 years, senior dog food may be appropriate for them. As dogs age, their nutritional needs begin to shift. Senior dog food can help ensure your dog maintains a healthy body weight as they age, as well as support healthy muscle mass without leading to fat gain. Senior dog food is formulated to meet the changing organ needs of aging dogs, including supporting the functioning of the kidneys, heart, and brain.

Nutrient Specifications of Senior Dog Food

Senior dog food typically has a lower protein content than adult dog food. They are also usually lower in fat content to prevent weight gain with age and activity decreases. Most senior dog foods have a higher carbohydrate content than adult dog foods, which can support healthy digestion and maintain caloric density without stressing the kidneys of your senior dog with high protein content. They’re also usually a great source of glucosamine and chondroitin, which support joint health.

  • Formulated for the changing needs of dogs aged 7 years and above
  • Helps maintain a healthy body weight and appropriate muscle mass
  • Supports kidney, heart, and brain function
  • Supports healthy digestion
  • Good source of glucosamine and chondroitin
  • May not be appropriate for highly active older dogs

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Overview of Adult Dog Food

labrador retriever eating dog food from a bowl
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

When to Choose Adult Dog Food

If your dog is between the ages of 1–7 years, then adult dog food is likely appropriate for them. If your dog has a high activity level, they may need to stay on adult dog food beyond 7 years of age. Adult dog food is formulated to meet the nutritional and energy needs of healthy adult dogs. They are available in a wide variety of options, including high activity, small breed, and limited ingredient options.

Nutrient Specifications of Adult Dog Food

Adult dog food can have a protein content between 18–30%, so the protein content can be similar to some senior dog foods. Adult dogs need protein to support healthy metabolism and muscle mass. Adult dog foods are usually higher in fat than senior dog foods since younger dogs are better equipped to metabolize fat in their food instead of storing it, causing weight gain. Adult dogs often require lower carbohydrate content in their food than senior dogs do, and there are fewer concerns associated with age-related decline in organ function.

  • Formulated specifically for dogs between ages 1–7 years
  • Supports metabolic and nutritional needs of adult dogs
  • Wide variety of options available
  • Good source of lean protein
  • Higher in fat than senior food
  • Can lead to weight gain in less active dogs

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What Type of Dog Food Does Your Dog Need?

Age is the easiest way to determine if your dog needs senior or adult dog food. For dogs under 1 year of age, they should receive puppy food. Senior food is generally recommended for dogs aged 7 years and above. However, if your dog is an active senior, they may need to stay on adult dog food for a few extra years to support their energy needs.

If your dog has specific nutritional needs because of a medical condition, like kidney disease, then your vet can help you determine what type of food your dog needs. Some dogs may need a prescription diet that is age appropriate for them, and that also can support their specific medical needs.

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If you have a senior dog, it’s generally advised to feed them a senior diet. This will ensure their specific needs are met as they age. If your dog is an adult dog with normal nutritional needs, then a senior dog food is unlikely to meet all of their needs. It’s important to discuss your dog’s nutritional needs with your vet if your dog has a medical condition or a specific issue that may impact their needs or metabolism.

Featured Image credit: (L) mattycoulton, Pixabay, (R)  279photo Studio, Shutterstock

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