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Should You Buy Dog Food for All Life Stages?

Updated on March 2, 2015
All life stages dog food review.
All life stages dog food review. | Source

Should we feed dog food for all life stages? As we walk through the pet store aisles filled with a variety of dog foods, it's quite normal to feel overwhelmed by the choices. Foods for puppies, foods for senior dogs, foods for adult dogs, foods for athletic dogs, foods for obese dogs and foods for lactating dogs. Then, right at the end of the aisle, you notice a bag of food advertised for all life stages. Well, that sure makes it a no-brainer, why not just buy that and keep the dog on that food for the remaining of his life? The company sure must have thought about busy people like you who are looking for an easy solution and like straightforward solutions to overwhelming choices. In the name of convenience, you therefore purchase that food and are happy about the idea of sticking with it for a very long time. However, it may never cross your mind if that is really a good choice. After all, if the company makes it and has been around for many years, and people haven't been complaining, so there shouldn't be no harm in feeding it, right?

Well, at times what seems convenient to us has some drawbacks we may not be aware of. It's in the best interest of our pets to question products, keep-up-to-date with recalls, figure out what foods are best for them and the best practices to keep our dogs healthy. Things though aren't that easy and it's difficult to keep up. Depending on who you ask, you may always receive different answers. And the store clerk of course will swear by that food and tell you how shiny and odorless it keeps his dogs' coats.

Disclaimer: As with my many other articles tackling dog nutrition, it's important to point out that this article is not a substitute for professional nutritional advice, but it's simply the result of my research conducted on the topic. I try my best to find reputable sources to rely on, and provide links to my resources so all the information provided can be verified. Just because certain websites recommend certain approaches to dog nutrition, doesn't necessarily mean they will prove to be a Godsend for your dog. If you are looking for advice and recommendations as to what is the best diet for your dog, your best bet is to consult with a dog nutrition expert who will work on creating a dietary plan custom-tailored for your dog.

Written by Nutrition Experts

All Life Stages Diet for Dogs Under Scrutiny

So does it make sense to feed dogs an all life-stage diet for the rest of their lives? From a standpoint of convenience, yes, as this will spare you from switching foods every time your dog goes through life changes. Most of all, if you have a multi-dog household with dogs of different ages, it may save your from purchasing different foods. But if we look at this one-size-fits-all approach we may notice some big disadvantages. Despite the fact that The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) authorizes the labeling for all life stages and as long as they meet the stringent guidelines for “growth and reproduction," it's important to realize some important aspects.

One big fact is that the nutritional requirements of dogs change as they go through life changes. This is why you see many diets for dog growth, dog maintenance, dog reproduction, dog seniority. The companies manufacturing these diets produce them with the dog's changing nutritional needs at different stages in mind. To delve deeper into the topic, let's take a look at how nutritional needs vary from one life stage to another.

Diets for Growth

Young dogs have unique nutritional needs as they are in the process of generating new tissue. Those bones must be built, and muscles, nerves and vessels increase to create more body mass. Nutritional needs further vary depending if you own a large dog breed or a small one. Large dogs, in particular, have specific nutritional requirements to prevent orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis, panosteitis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy as they develop. They need high concentrations of nutrients, but without ingesting excessive calories. Staying lean is important for the prevention of orthopedic issues.

Attention in particular must be given in limiting calcium intake which, according to Pets Diets, a website by Dr. Rebecca L. Remillard, a veterinary nutritionist, must be limited to 1% of the diet dry matter. Puppies have different requirements in calcium and phosphorus needs compared to adult dogs, further explains veterinary nutritionist Jennifer Larsen. Large -breed growth diets must be formulated in a way to limit the amount of calories and calcium content. Excessive calories in a large breed puppy may cause rapid growth which leads to bones that cannot keep up with increased body mass.

On the other hand, the problem with calcium is that puppies, unlike adult dogs, cannot regulate how much calcium is absorbed in their intestinal tract for their first 6 months of life. Unlike adult dogs, puppies have minimal regulation over intestinal calcium absorption for their first 6 months of life. This may lead to excessive absorption of calcium, despite the fact that it exceeds physiologic needs, explains veterinary nutritionist Cailin R. Heinze. Supplementation of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D in addition to feeding a complete and balanced diet designed for growth is rarely needed and may even be contraindicated.

In addition, some of these growth diets for large breeds may be supplemented with glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, and chondroitin for added orthopedic benefits, adds Cailin R. Heinze. So these growth diets are very helpful and appropriate for large breed growing puppies. It's important to also consider differing nutritional needs between large breed dogs and small breed dogs. For instance, according to Merck Veterinary Manual large- and giant-breed puppies require complete, balanced diets that contain calcium, fat, and protein at levels closer to the minimums stated by AAFCO; whereas, small-breed puppies, which may need to be fed more than three times a day require a diet containing calcium, fat, and protein at levels greater than the minimums stated by AAFCO.

For how long are these growth diets fed for? Generally, until the puppy reaches approximately 80%- 90% of his anticipated adult size, which occurs around 12 months in small to medium-sized dogs, and around 18 to 24 months in the large to giant-sized dogs.

Maintenance Diet

Adult dogs are often fed maintenance adult diets meant to meet the nutritional needs of the average adult dog. These diets are less nutrient dense than those for growth. The goal is to maintain optimal body weight and condition. However, not all maintenance diets are appropriate for all adult dogs and may provide more nutrients and calories than needed. For instance, adult intact dogs that are not spayed or neutered, have higher energy requirements compared to a dog that is neutered or spayed. This explains why dogs who are spayed and neutered have a tendency to increase in weight after being put on a maintenance diet and being offered limited opportunities for exercise. According to Clinical Nutritionist Meg Smart, "A maintenance ration will meet the needs of an adult, non-reproducing dog or cat of normal activity, but may not be sufficient for a growing, reproducing, or hard-working animal. "

Gestation Diet

Female dogs who are pregnant require a 10 to 20 percent increase in nutrients as they reach the last 20 days of pregnancy. Nutritional needs further vary as mother dog starts nursing, as her caloric intake and need for energy will increase 2 to 8 times depending on how many pups she needs to nurse. A big mistake is overfeeding during mother dog's early gestation and underfeeding during lactation, at time when she will need 2 to 4 times more energy levels than those of maintenance, explains the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Active Diet

Dogs who lead active lives will have higher energy requirements compared to the average pet who walks once or twice a day and then lounges on the couch for the rest of the time. Working dogs or athlete dogs require about 2 to 8 times more energy than the average dog kept mainly as a pet for companionship.There the caloric needs of these dogs exceed those of dogs on a maintenance diet. Diets for working dogs, or even stressed dogs, should therefore contain increased levels of fat and nutrients, explains the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Geriatric Diet

This a diet for senior dogs. Many pet food stores recommend senior diets when a dog reaches 7 years of age, but that's not appropriate for all dogs. Depending on your dog's size and breed, he may be considered senior at a different age. The nutritional needs of senior dogs tend to vary from one to another because they may be afflicted by different conditions requiring different dietary approaches. In addition, according to Merck Veterinary Manual older dogs become less efficient in metabolizing protein compared to when they were younger. This means that they may need increased dietary protein so to maintain their protein reserves. Best to consult with a veterinary nutritionist for the best diet for a senior dog.

As seen, there are several other factors to keep in mind when searching for the best diet for your dog. For instance, dogs kept outdoors year round, will necessitate more energy in the winter to maintain their normal body temperatures. Other factors involved, other than life stage, include body condition, reproductive status, emotional state, exercise, health status and environment.

So should you feed an all life stage food? Despite the fact that The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) authorizes the labeling for all life stages, we must consider the nutritional needs of dogs in different stages of their lives. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual:" Dietary modifications are required by changes in life stage, environment, body weight and condition, and disease." And to be even more precise, " feeding recommendations should be individualized." Dr. Rebecca L. Remillard, in regards to "All Life Stages" foods further adds "These products carry the AAFCO statement “for all lifestages”. We do not believe this is the best way to feed pets just as one shoe size does not fit all people."

If you are looking for the best diet for your dog, your best bet is to consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (DACVN). Feeding recommendations should be individualized by considering several factors. Finding the ideal diet takes some homework, and your veterinary nutritionist will look at many factors before deciding what diet is the best for your dog.

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.


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    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Thanks! And keep up the great work with the information.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      I see, yes, smaller dogs tend to be more predisposed to dental problems because of those teeth so compressed in those petite jaws. Gotta love those adorable faces though! Sending best wishes to Molly for a speedy recovery!

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Our last Doxie had all of her teeth removed at about age 12. Molly is 12. Problem with Dachshunds (minis, especially) is that their jaws are tiny, so a conservative route is usually suggested.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Dental problems are sure a pain. My rotties, who are respectively 7, are due for a dental cleaning soon.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Not sure, alexadry. We just adopted Molly about a month ago. I'd say the dental thing is extremely likely, though. We have her on antibiotic for the terrible smell from her mouth (per her vet's suggestion), and I believe we're going to remove some if not all of her remaining teeth pretty soon.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Has she been this way for most of his life or only as she reached her senior years?At times, in senior dogs acting finicky can be triggered by some underlying dental problems, or perhaps, more commonly, a deteriorated sense of smell which is for a good part normal as they age.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 3 years ago from Richmond, VA

      I absolutely loved the picture at the top. For the first time ever, we have a senior Dachshund who is super finicky, and who would rather sleep than eat. I'm honestly baffled. If we're standing there over her, she will eat. Otherwise, she just wanders off and tries to play with us or go to sleep!

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 3 years ago from Jamaica

      When since dogs needed stages food, all this is just marketing and money making. i am sure if you feed your dog the appropriate nutrients he/she will be just fine. Dogs are mammals just like us. when we are born we eat baby food, after that we just EAT!... Don't waste your money on commercial junkies

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Valuable information for dog owners and you make all the helpful points here on such an issue.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      You're right, Adrienne, and the same goes for the feeding guidelines on the back of the bag. They're a good starting point, but I tell people that no manufacturer can say how much THIS particular dog needs to eat. There are variables, such as genetics, health and lifestyle, that come into play, so you may have to adjust the portion up or down a bit

    • NetBlots profile image

      NetBlots 3 years ago from Melbourne

      Cheeky little buggers ;)

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Thanks for sharing your input Bob and the votes up. It seems like you agree with what most veterinary nutritionist recommend: dealing with dogs on an individual basis. There seem to be too many variances from one dog and another to make an all life stage food the perfect fit.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Great hub, Adrienne. One thing dog and cat owners should keep in mind is that the only regulated and standardized formulations are: growth and reproduction (puppy and kitten food) and adult. Everything else is more marketing than science.

      I could formulate a "senior" food based on the premise that all senior dogs are couch potatoes. You could formulate a "senior" food based on the premise that many senior dogs still lead active lives. The result is two "senior" dog foods that are entirely different.

      It's the same with any other designation such as large breed, small breed, weight control, lite, super premium, holistic, etc. There are no regulated, standardized definitions for any of those.

      It has always been held that a puppy can go on adult food right off the mother, but advances in our knowledge of canine nutrition have identified certain nutrients that are beneficial to puppies, but not necessarily adult dogs, etc.

      As you say, an animal's nutritional requirements change over the years. I rep for a pet food company that produces some all life stages foods and I don't particularly like the concept.

      But, all life stages diets have been around for a decade or more and dogs seem to be doing OK on them. In the case of older dogs, I tell people to go by the dog's lifestyle rather than age. If he's 9 and still active, give him a regular maintenance formulation. If he's slowing down, look at various senior diets...keeping in mind that they're not all the same...and select one that your vet or nutritionist approves of.

      You've provided a lot of useful information for people as they navigate the increasingly complex pet food aisle. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      We've actually gone both directions with our dogs' diets. The big factor for us has been to watch what health issues they are facing and then adjust accordingly. I think it's important to monitor both life stage and health issues together to find the perfect diet. Great info as always! Voted up, useful and interesting!