Choosing the right food for your pet: life stage feeding of dogs

Choosing the right dog food is important.

Most dogs are not fussy eaters: many would eat almost anything tasty that you put in front of them. They especially seem to love scrapings from the human plates after dinner. So why not just give them what they want?

The problem with this approach is that “what they want” does not necessarily equate to “balanced nutrition”. And dogs, like humans, need to have the right combination of nutrients: protein, carbohydrate, fats and oils, vitamins,minerals and fibre. The precise combination of these nutrients varies according to a pet’s size and age. So a small puppy has different needs to a large adult dog.

Ideally, an owner could make up their own diet for their pet, choosing different sources of each nutrient and creating bespoke nutrition. And yes, some people do this. The problem is that to do it properly, you need to employ the services of a professional nutritional expert (a vet who has done extra studies and exams in pet nutrition). You can do this – there are websites that allow you to work with a nutritionist to create your own home prepared diet. But it’s complicated and pricey. For most pets, it’s easier and cheaper to buy a commercial diet where the company has already used a professional nutritionist to do the work for you.

You can choose dry food or wet food (tins or sachets)  – whatever you and your dog prefer. There is a wide range of brands and flavours on the market.

If you buy a diet “for puppies”, the aim is to have nutrition that has a higher level of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, chloride and vitamins, in comparison to adult foods, to support a young dog’s rapid growth and development. Once a puppy has reached about 80 percent of its adult size, its growth rate slows and it can be switched to an adult-type food. Most vets recommend that puppies eat puppy food until they are around twelve months of age, but it’s best to talk to your vet about your dog’s individual situation.

Large or giant breed puppies should be fed a puppy food specific for their body type: the idea is to support a slightly slower growth rate. If they are fed a standard puppy diet they may grow too quickly, and may be more prone to metabolic diseases such as joint complications. Large breed diets have a lower energy content with lower levels of calcium and phosphorus, in a balanced ratio to maintain a healthy rate of growth.

Standard adult dog foods are the best choice for most adult dogs.   If your dog is pregnant or nursing or has other lifestyle or health situations that change his or her nutritional needs, talk to your vet.

As dogs grow older, their nutritional needs change, and a “mature or senior adult” type of food is appropriate. These diets tend to contain lower levels of fat to help prevent obesity, increased levels of anti-oxidants (to help the aging body), and reduced levels of protein to  maintain muscle mass while not over-stressing the kidneys. Most dogs should move onto this type of diet from around eight years of age, while giant breeds should start younger, from around five.

At a conference recently, I asked a question from the floor: how come dogs need to have the advice of professional nutritionists while humans can happily make up their own diets from whatever seems roughly right? The answer was interesting: the truth is that many humans do suffer from nutritional disorders, including low Vitamin D levels that make people feel generally poorly, and of course overweight and obese issues too. We may think we get our nutrition right, but we’re often wrong. And dogs are no different.

1 Comment

  • Tricia Murphy says:

    Hi Pete i had my jack russell terrier spayed at 7 mount old all went well ,but in the last 2 mounts she got sick 3 time,she vomited up yellow bile,have brought back to the vet but got no answers,we feed her can and fresh fish and dry puppy food,she also likes chicken,are we feeding her wrongly,please can you help me,your sincerly Tricia

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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