Dog Nutrition by Life Stage
To keep your dog healthy and happy, you need to feed the right blend of nutrients. Determining what type of diet is right for your dog will come down to a number of different considerations, including the particular breed of the dog; its size; and, just as importantly, its life stage.
With so many factors to consider, shopping for the right formula can be confusing - but to make things simpler, here’s our guide to which vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins dogs need at different life stages.
Nutrition for puppies
Puppy nutrition is the first step on the road to lifelong health. Growing dogs need more calories, along with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, fats, and protein to aid healthy development. You’ll find that most puppy foods will be suitable for the first 12 months of their lives - although this is by no means set in stone. From there, you can think about hopping onto an adult formula.
All puppies need those nutrient-rich diets to help build tissue and bone density, but their needs will vary slightly depending on the breed’s size, too. Smaller breeds need more concentrated levels of nutrients, whereas larger ones require less. And medium dogs need something in between.
The reason for this is that too little, or too much, of specific nutrients can adversely affect your dog, potentially leading to issues in things like skeletal structure and weight gain.
The other thing to note is that different-sized breeds reach maturity at different rates. This is why using puppy food for 12 months might not be a universal rule, applicable to every breed. For instance, smaller breeds reach adult body size at around 9 to 12 months, and larger breeds at around 18 to 24 months.
By selecting a puppy food that’s suited to the size and lifestage of your dog, you can work towards giving them the right puppy nutrition.
Nutrition for adult dogs
To give you some idea of when to switch from puppy food to adult food, it’s a good idea to do it when they’re getting close to their adult height. Small and medium sized dogs will need more protein, vitamins and minerals, grains and fibre than larger dogs. Again, the breed will dictate your choice here. For instance, active medium sized dogs need higher concentrations of certain vitamins than less-sporty breeds. It’s also worth noting that using a small breed dog food for a medium dog isn’t usually ideal. The balance of nutrients is different for each.
Larger dogs reach adulthood at around two years, and to keep their weight in check they’ll need food with less concentrated fats. They do need more attention paying to those nutrients like glucosamine to help with their joints, however. The idea through teen years and adulthood is to maintain their nutrient intake and a healthy weight. Small differences in breed size dog formulations can also help with this. For instance, large breed dog foods also have larger biscuits, to encourage slower eating.
When shopping for the right adult dog food, think about their lifestyle, size, breed and any health conditions.
Nutrition for senior dogs
As you’d expect, when your dog gets older, they’ll become less active. More rest and recuperation are required, and diseases or conditions can further complicate their diet. Perhaps more than any other age, this is when a unique look at the wider health of your dog will determine their nutritional needs.
The time to make the switch from adult food to seniors will depend on the breed. Again, size matters. In terms of growth and development rates, smaller breeds are considered seniors at around9 years; andmedium to large dogs at around7.To give you a rough rule to work by, senior is a term used to describe the last third of your dog’s life. So, if you look at life expectancy for the breed, you’ll get an idea of what’s right.In broad strokes, a senior dog will need fewer calories,but they’ll usually need higher levels of fibre and protein. If your dog suffers from any diseases though, this will change things. Senior formulations take all the basic needs, as well as more specific ones into account though.
Nutrition for pregnant dogs
Just like other life stages, from puppy nutrition upwards, pregnancy changes nutrient needs for dogs. A pregnant dog will need a similar blend of vitamins and minerals, and the increased calories that their puppy food offered. So, the easy route is to simply switch your dog back to their puppy food during this time. It’s also easier to digest, which will help in the absorption of nutrients.
Their bodies will need a diet that supports lactation and gestation. Often, you can find out whether your puppy food has been used for pregnant females successfully, and this will help you to form a decision. The other benefit of using a puppy food is that it will help the mum to pass the right nutrients to her puppies. This goes for both her pregnancy, up until she weans her pups. From there, you can start slowly reducing her calorie intake to help her return to her natural weight.
The amount you feed your dog will depend on the stage of pregnancy. It’s all about making gradual changes. In the early weeks, she won’t need additional food, so look to increase her intake gradually to get her used to the puppy food. When she gets to around 5 weeks pregnant, it’s advised to slowly up her food intake over a month until she’s getting approximately one third more food a day. You will also need to feed her little and often and get regular check-ups to ensure her weight gain is healthy.