You are what you eat!
When you walk down the food aisle of your local pet store or supermarket, you will see an overwhelming variety of pet food products. There are diets labelled for “growth” (puppies and kittens), “adult”, “senior” and “all life stages”. How do you choose the right food for your pet and why are there so many options?
“Growth” is the first life stage and is specifically designed for puppies, kittens, pregnant or lactating pets. Puppies need almost FOUR times the energy per bodyweight than adult dogs, so these foods have higher levels of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, sodium and chloride. The extra minerals and nutrients support a young dog/cat’s rapid growth, metabolism and development. As well, they offer extra support for dog/cat mothers that are expecting or providing milk for their litter. Pet store associates that direct you to “all life stage” diets for your new puppy/kitten are doing you a disservice. No individual has the same health needs through their entire lives!
Large breed puppies are at risk of developmental bone diseases (eg. hip dysplasia) so it is important to feed a food that maintains a slow and steady growth rate to prevent debilitating conditions. Large breed puppy foods, compared to regular puppy food, have lower energy content and fat, and a very carefully balanced calcium: phosphorus ratio to maintain a healthy rate of growth. Dogs fed large breed puppy foods still end up at their expected size, so it takes them a little longer to get there, but they do so more safely!
Kittens, due to the small size of their mouths and stomachs, cannot eat much at one sitting. So, it is important for their diet to be calorie dense. Their food should be high in easily digestible animal proteins.
Once a pet reaches 90% of its expected adult size, you can switch to a food rated for “adult maintenance”. This can vary according to breed. In small breed dogs, this is around 7-12 months of age, in medium breed dogs, 10-16 months and in giant breed dogs, this can be 18-24 months. In cats, this is around 6-8 months.
While some dogs may require special diets due to medical issues, the “average” dog does well with most “adult” foods. Large breed dogs may need food containing glucosamine and less fat than a medium breed dog to help maintain joint health. Please note that joint supporting foods which say they contain glucosamine do not necessarily contain a therapeutic level of it!
Cats are strict meat eaters (obligate carnivores) so their food should contain a high level of easily digestible animal proteins. Dogs are omnivores, and there is value to having carbs, grains and fibre in their diet for good gut health.
A senior pet is one considered to be in the last third of their life, and there is no hard and fast rule as to when to make the switch to a “senior” food, but many veterinarians recommend that small dogs make the change at 8-10 years of age, medium-sized dogs at around 7 years, large breeds at 6 years, and giant breeds at about 5 years of age. The differences between an adult and senior food within the same product line are sometimes not very great but are important. They may contain lower levels of fat to help prevent obesity, increased levels of anti-oxidants, or moderated levels of protein aimed at maintaining muscle mass while not overworking the kidneys. Senior foods should contain decreased levels of phosphorus for kidney health.
Senior cats do not necessarily need a reduced-calorie diet and they still need a relatively high amount of protein. They do not necessarily absorb fat as well, so they might need more digestible fat in their diets for the same amount of energy.
It is important to keep your pet active and maintain lean body weight. Feeding a diet that is appropriate for your pet’s life stages can go a long way in keeping them strong and healthy. Make sure the pet food you are feeding has an AAFCO label. This is a statement that indicates the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage, such as growth, reproduction, adult maintenance or a combination of these, or intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only. Here at Edgemont Veterinary Clinic, we would be happy to consult with you and recommend the best food to feed your pet at each stage of their life.