Why your dog's health depends on life stage diets: Nutritionist explains.
It can be easy to forget that our furry friends go through different stages in life; like us, their physiology and anatomy changes over time and so it’s important that we as pet owners provide optimum nutrition to support health and longevity through all stages of their life. Not only do dogs develop from puppies to seniors, some dogs may also go through pregnancy and lactation, and unfortunately illness or injury which can all affect their nutritional requirements.
What are my puppy's nutritional needs?
Generally, puppies are fully weaned from their mothers’ milk at the age of 7 weeks and will require nutrients provided through a complete and balanced diet to fully support their growth and development. Less than 14 weeks of age, puppies are going through the early growth phase and then late growth at 14 weeks and above. Puppies have a greater requirement than adult dogs for some nutrients including protein, amino acids, fat, and minerals.
During growth, puppies require higher levels of dietary protein, a minimum of 22.5% on a dry matter basis. However, the amino acid composition (or protein quality) and digestibility of proteins can greatly influence the amounts of protein required in the diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and dogs have an essential requirement for certain amino acids to be provided through the diet. In general, proteins from animal sources have a higher biological value than proteins from plant sources; this means that your pup will be able to utilise more of the protein for muscle development and growth.
You will see that most commercial puppy diets generally contain a higher percentage of fat than adult diets of the same brand, with a minimum of 8.5% fat on a dry matter basis as required to meet The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. Dietary fat provides energy for growth and supports the provision of essential fatty acids; as well as this, fat is known to enhance the palatability of diets, which is especially important for fussy pups that are adjusting to eating solids. Growing puppies require around two times as much energy per unit of body weight as adult dogs of the same breed, with a decline to around 1.2 times the maintenance energy requirements when 80% of adult weight is reached. Although important for supporting growth and development, a diet that is too energy dense can result in rapid growth rates and lead to issues with skeletal development, especially in large breeds. To find out more read the latest blog post on the nutritional requirements of large breed puppies:
Dietary fat, particularly from fish sources, provides a source of polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA. Research has shown that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is considered essential for normal neurological and retinal development in puppies, and that dietary fortification with fish oils rich in DHA and possibly other nutrients improves cognitive, memory and retinal functions in growing dogs and therefore, improved trainability – bonus! Why not try K9 Natural Puppy Feast Beef with Hoki which contains Hoki Oil rich in Omega-3.
How do I maintain my dog's health in their adult years?
Once your pup is ready to transition onto a suitable adult diet, maintenance is key. By this stage your dog should be close to, or have reached their full adult body weight, and so even though your dog is not focusing most of their efforts and energy intake into growth, this is no time to stop monitoring what and how much your dog eats. Certain breeds of dog can be prone to obesity, and so maintaining an ideal body condition score by avoiding overfeeding and ensuring optimal exercise throughout adulthood is very important. As an adult dog, the minimum requirement for certain nutrients lowers, including protein and fat, 18% and 5.5% on a dry matter basis respectively.
Feeding your adult dog a diet that has been specifically formulated to be complete and balanced for them is best, with the potential need to adjust the intake of food dependant on several factors including activity, body condition and breed. A working farm dog would require a diet higher in energy (from fats and protein) to support their activity in comparison to a lap dog who may carry out a couple of short walks per day. And with that in mind, there are diets on the market that suitably tailor the energy content so that other nutrients are not compromised. For your hard-working pooch, why not check out: Pedigree Working Dog Formula Real Beef, or for your lazy bones who could do with maybe loosing a few pounds, check out: Nutro Wholesome Essentials Lite Weight Loss Natural Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato. If you have a dog that sits somewhere in the middle try the Acana range.
Why do I need to change my dog's food when they get older?
The age at which your adult dog transitions into a geriatric is variable and subjective, though many commercially prepared senior diets are suggested from around seven years old. Although there are no recommended minimum or maximum nutrient levels set by AAFCO or the National Research Council (NRC) for senior dogs, there are several things that we can consider when it comes to feeding our furry pensioners. Some senior dogs may have a tendency to reduce their activity and therefore require fewer calories to maintain an ideal body condition, however, other senior dogs may show signs of weight loss with an increase in age due to a variety of factors such as loss of appetite or underlying health conditions.
Diets containing high quality and easily digestible proteins to support the maintenance of lean muscle mass are a great place to start when looking for a senior dog food. However, a variety of other nutrient modifications can be found in senior specific diets, including increased fibre levels to support digestion, the addition of joint supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, and antioxidants to help maintain a healthy immune system. If you’re thinking of feeding your old boy something specific for his age, why not try: Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Youthful Vitality Senior. And of course, if you notice any signs of deterioration or an undesirable body condition score, be sure to seek advice from your vet!
And please remember, if you transition your dog onto a new food, do this gradually over a period of 7 days by decreasing the amount of the current dog food while increasing the amount of new dog food.
- Association of American Feed Control Officials (2020), Inc. Official Publication of the Association American Feed Control Officials. Oxford, IN: AAFCO.
- Nutrient Requirements for Domestic Animals. (1953). [online] Google Books. National Research Council, Committee on Animal Nutrition. Available at: https://books.google.co.nz/books?hl=en&lr=&id=IE4... [Accessed 18 May 2020].
- Nutrient Requirements of Dogs. (1985). [online] Google Books. National Academies Press. Available at: https://books.google.co.nz/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LWC... [Accessed 18 May 2020].
- Zicker, S.C., Jewell, D.E., Yamka, R.M. and Milgram, N.W. (2012). Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 241(5), pp.583–594.
- Hutchinson D, Freeman LM, Schreiner KE, et al. (2011). Survey of opinions about nutritional requirements of senior dogs and analysis of nutrient profiles of commercially available diets for senior dogs, Int J Appl Res Vet Med, 9(1), pp. 68– 79.