Just as babies and elderly folks require nutrition that is largely different from adults, our beloved pooches also require different nutrients depending on the stage in life that they are currently in. Just look at the dizzying array of pet foods in your pet store shelves. Some are labeled ‘for puppies only’ while others are directed at senior dogs. Then there are also so-called all-life stage pet foods. The point is that different dog life stages require different types of diet that is a reflection of the physiologic changes occurring in their bodies at any given life stage. Your understanding of these ages and stages of dog food can help you choose the best nutrition for your pooch.
The Rambunctious Puppy
Like human babies, the first year of a dog’s life is marked by rapid growth and development. Tissues and organs continue to form, develop, and mature into adult levels and functionalities. They also learn a lot of things about their new environment. Your puppy is one rambunctious, free-spirited, and still-untamed furry creature that will require more calories and more proteins to help support its energy levels and tissue-building requirements, respectively.
The current feeding recommendation is 4 times a day until the young pups reach 4 months old and thrice a day feeding until 6 months. Soon after, they can already be fed on a twice daily basis just like adult dogs.
The question now is at what age can you start considering a puppy to be mature enough that it can already be considered as an adult dog? Well, if your pooch is a small- to medium-sized breed, then can expect it to mature within 6 to 12 months of age. For large dog breeds, the age of maturity is anywhere between 10 and 16 months. For really large or giant dog breeds, maturity occurs within 2 years.
In addition to higher calories and proteins in their diets, puppies also need more calcium as well as phosphorus in the correct ratio. Vitamins and other minerals as well as nutraceuticals like DHA and EPA are also important as they can help in the normal development of the central nervous system as well as the immune system.
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While puppies need more calories, caution should be observed not to overfeed them as obesity usually has its roots in puppyhood. You don’t want your puppy growing obese into adulthood. Also, giving too many nutrients to large and giant breeds can have an impact on their weight-bearing joints, increasing their susceptibility to joint problems.
The most crucial thing to understand about puppies is that the food you feed them can play a major role in how they grow up into adults and senior dogs. This makes choosing puppy food all the more crucial.
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The Healthy Adult
The adult dog is quite easy to feed since you only need to sustain the optimal functioning of its various body organ systems. Most of the feeding habits of an adult dog are a carryover from its puppyhood feeding patterns. So if you have been giving exceptionally high-calorie food in exceedingly large amounts when your pooch is still a puppy, then you can expect that your adult pooch may already have problems associated with obesity.
On the other hand, if you have been meticulous in your puppy feeding, then your adult dog will only require just enough calories to help it sustain its activity levels. This is where your pooch’s activity levels will be of extreme importance. The more active your pooch is the greater is the need for calories. You can add as much as 40% more calories to its diet if your pooch is a very active one. Conversely, if your pooch is a couch potato, then there is no need to add more calories in its diet than you should. In fact, you need to reduce its calorie consumption by about 10%.
Also depending on the health status of your pooch, your vet may also require nutraceuticals or vitamin and mineral supplements to help augment its nutrient needs. This is especially true for dog breeds that are more vulnerable to certain types of doggie diseases than other breeds. Now is the time to start thinking of reducing the impact of these conditions once your pooch reaches the golden years.
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The Golden Senior Dog
Unlike humans who are already considered ‘seniors’ upon reaching the golden age of 60, dogs will usually have varying ages for them to be considered in their golden years. For instance, small- and medium-sized dogs are considered ‘old’ upon reaching 7 years old while large dog breeds will require 6 years before they can be called as such. For giant breeds, the senior years come much sooner at 5 years old.
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Picking the right dog food for seniors can be tricky as you need to take into consideration any existing health condition that they may have. Generally, however they will require fewer calories since they will no longer be moving that much; their activity levels are substantially reduced compared to puppies and adult dogs. They will still require more proteins, though to help maintain the strength and tonicity of their muscles. However, since their digestive functions are also reduced, it is important to choose dog foods that contain easily-digestible proteins so they can easily process and readily utilize the proteins.
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Be mindful though, that a high-protein diet may not be advisable in pooches that already have significant reduction in their renal capacities. Since the kidneys are already at a severely-compromised state, filtering the waste byproducts of protein metabolism can place undue stress on the kidneys, further hastening its deterioration. As such, if your senior dog is already in its advanced stages of chronic kidney disease, reducing the protein intake should help slow down the speed of deterioration of kidney function. Take note, we said reduce the protein intake, not eliminate it from your senior dog’s diet.
Picking the right food for our dogs depends a lot on how well we understand what is happening to their bodies as they age. In a nutshell, everything starts with good nutrition in puppyhood, maintaining this throughout adulthood, and supporting our senior dogs in their twilight years.