Life Stage Nutrition: Dog

A pet’s nutritional needs are influenced by life stage and lifestyle factors, which should e considered when feeding.

A dog’s life stage or age is one of the most important considerations when choosing a dog food. Feeding more or less than optimal nutrient quantities can have a negative effect on the pet’s health.

There are three general age categories for dogs:

Puppy or growth: < 1 year old ( <2for large and giant breed-size dogs )

Adult: 1 – 2 years old

Senior: 7 years of age and older

Note: dogs with clinical conditions may have different nutritional requirements than a healthy dog and a clinical or veterinary diet may be appropriate.

Nutrition for Growing Puppies

Nutrient requirements are higher during growth than during any other life stage.

  • Compared to an adult dog, growing puppies may require as much as two to four times more energy per pound (or kilogram) of body weight.
  • As the puppy approaches adulthood, growth and energy requirements slow.
  • By the time a dog reaches maturity, most will have increased their birth weight 40- to 50-fold.

Because growing puppies have different nutritional needs from adult dogs, they should be fed a growth or puppy food. Growth or puppy foods are formulated to contain:

  • Higher levels of energy (or calories)
  • Higher levels of protein
  • Fatty acids such as DHA to support brain and vision development
  • Optimal levels of calcium and phosphorus for proper bone growth
  • Antioxidants to support the developing immune system

Feeding Puppies

A puppy’s stomach is too small to hold enough food in a single feeding to provide its daily requirement of needed nutrients.

  • Young puppies should be fed at least three times a day until their food requirements, per pound/kilogram of body weight, begin to level off.
  • Depending on breed size, feedings can be reduced to twice a day when puppies are 4 to 5 months old.

Puppies that are fed a complete, balanced diet do not need supplemental vitamins, minerals or protein.

  • Supplementation may cause a nutritional imbalance and interfere with the normal development of growing puppies.

The importance of digestibility

A diet that is highly digestible, combined with high caloric (or energy) density, reduces the volume of food required to deliver the needed nutrients to puppies.

By eating a highly digestible diet, the puppy receives proper levels of nutrients in smaller

quantities of food, thus reducing the likelihood of digestive upset and a pot-belly appearance.

Breed-Size Variations in Puppy Growth Rates

While cats are more uniform in their growth rate, breed size influences when a dog reaches each life stage and, therefore, its nutritional needs. A puppy’s calorie requirements on a per weight basis will gradually decrease as it matures and reaches adulthood.

  • Small breed-size dogs are generally considered to be an adult at about 1 year of age.
  • Large and giant breed-size dogs continue to develop until they are 1.5 to 2 years of age.

Although many people love the appearance of a plump puppy, feeding young dogs for that pudgy look is not good for their health and development.

  • Excessive calorie intake during growth promotes rapid growth rate and an overweight body condition.
  • The rapid growth rate, especially in large and giant breed-size dogs, is associated with the development of skeletal disorders such as canine hip dysplasia.
  • Overweight puppies are also more likely to be overweight as adult dogs.
  • Growth should be slow and steady.
  • Expected size at maturity affects more than which food to feed a growing puppy. Different breed sizes also may impact:
  • Meal size portions – small breed-size dogs have smaller stomachs and thus may need to be fed smaller-size meals.
  • Feeding frequency – small breed-size dogs have smaller stomachs and thus may need to be fed more often.
  • When to switch to an adult diet – smaller breed-size dogs mature around the age of 1, while large and giant breed-size dogs do not fully mature until they are 1.5 to 2 years old.
  • Kibble size – Smaller breed-size dogs have smaller mouths and thus kibbles designed for their smaller mouths may be beneficial.

Controlling caloric intake during growth and feeding to promote a lean and well-muscled body type supports a moderate and not excessive rate of growth and helps to prevent overweight conditions and developmental skeletal disorders.

Adult Dogs

After a dog is fully grown, it is classified as an adult and enters the maintenance period of life. Different breed sizes reach adult size and maturity at different times.

An adult maintenance diet should:

  • Provide complete and balanced nutrition
  • Contain high-quality ingredients
  • Be highly digestible

Feeding an adult maintenance food is important to ensure:

  • Healthy skin and coat
  • Healthy digestion
  • Optimal immune function

Due to their increased energy and nutrient requirements, some dogs should not be fed an adult maintenance food:

  • Working dogs (guard, hunting, racing, herding)
  • Pregnant or lactating bitches

With the variety of nutritionally complete and balanced dog foods available, there are different factors to consider.

Feeding recommendations for adult dogs will vary depending on many factors, such as:

  • Breed size
  • Lifestyle
  • Spay/neuter status
  • Individual metabolism

Nutrition for Adult Dogs

Healthy adult dogs that are not pregnant, nursing or hard-working have lower nutritional requirements for maintaining appropriate body condition compared to puppies. An adult maintenance food should contain:

  • High quality protein
    • Helps maintain lean body mass
    • Preferred energy source
    • Minimum 34% ME
  • Highly digestible ingredients
  • Appropriate energy density
  • Antioxidants to support a strong immune system
  • Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids to help keep the skin health and the coat shine

Senior Dogs

The average canine life span is 13 years. The age at which dogs are considered senior varies according to breed size.

Most dogs at 7 years of age are still very fit and active and are showing few external signs that they are ageing. However, internally, changes start to occur due to the ageing process.

  • This can make it difficult to convince owners of senior dogs to switch to a seniordog formula.
  • The onset of old age and signs of ageing vary with size and between individual dogs.

Signs of ageing in senior dogs

  • Changes in metabolism
    • Reduced basal metabolic rate (energy require just to perform vital body functions)
  • Change in activity level
    • Reduced mobility including joint problems eg. Stiffness, less able to jump and walk up the stairs
  • Change in body condition
    • Decreased lean muscle mass
    • Possible weight gain
  • Changes in skin and coast
  • Changes in immune function (less efficient)
  • Changes in digestive system
    • Reduced ability to digest and absorb nutrients
  • Changes inn brain function including eating and drinking and other behavioural changes
  • Changes in sensory functions (vision, hearing, taste)
  • Change in functional capacity of organs (less efficient)
  • Change in oral health

Why Change a Senior Dog’s Diet?

The primary objectives for feeding senior dogs are to:

  • Support optimal health and body condition
  • Slow or prevent the development of chronic disease
  • Manage signs of any disease already present
  • Support optimal organ function

Although some dogs remain active and athletic throughout their lives and continue to have high energy requirements, most senior dogs need less food to maintain an ideal body condition because:

  • Physical activity decreases
  • Basal metabolic rate (or the energy required just to perform vital body functions) decreases

Nutrition for Senior Dogs

When feeding a senior dog, the diet should contain:

What intake should be closely monitored in senior dogs since disease or medications may cause dehydration.