An introduction to your dog's nutrition requirements for each life stage
Diet is a tricky subject, and even more so when it comes to your pet! Luckily, we are here to break it down for you.
Your dog's diet is dependent on several factors mainly age, weight, body condition score and activity levels. As dogs age, their dietary requirements change too, mainly due to a slowing down metabolism, reduced activity levels and possible health issues that crop up.
Dogs are omnivores, which means that they can digest both non vegetarian and vegetarian sources of food. That being said, the macronutrients needed by our canine friends are protein, fats and carbohydrates. The main source of protein in your dog’s diet should be meat protein. This is an extremely important part of their diet – this meat protein constitutes the main building blocks for the essential amino acids that a dog’s body needs to produce in order for it to thrive.
However, each life stage brings with it, different requirements and we are here to guide you through each of them.
Puppies pick up a lot of their general immunity from their mothers at the initial stage during the lactation phase. As you bring a new puppy home at roughly 3 months of age (it is not recommended to separate puppies from their mother too early as this could compromise their immunity and create behavioural issues due to lack of socialisation and correction from their mother), you would need to feed them a nutrient dense diet. Their meals need to be broken up into many small portions in the day (you would be feeding your puppy roughly 5 times at this point). As your puppy grows you would be feeding less frequently. It’s also very important to manage their calcium and phosphorus requirements, as puppies have a higher requirement for this than adult dogs. This needs to be looked at carefully though as excess calcium can cause development orthopaedic disease especially in rapidly growing large and giant breed puppies for example.
Different sized dogs grow at a different pace and age differently – for instance, toy breeds reach their full grown size at 6 months of age, small breeds at 8 months of age, medium breeds 1 year and large size dogs at 1.5 years. This is important to keep in mind because as a puppy nears its adult weight and its growth rate slows down, it no longer needs as high a calorie diet as it was eating previously. Also, the frequency of feeding times is now reduced to twice daily, usually. Overfeeding is a very common mistake made by pet parents, which results in overweight pets and a host of other lifestyle chronic diseases associated with obesity.
When a dog reaches about 90% of its adult size, it is considered to be an adult. This, as mentioned above, varies depending on sizing. Most pet owners now make a conscious decision of spaying or neutering their pets. This changes your dog’s hormonal balance and metabolism and the amount fed needs to be altered accordingly.
If you are not able to feed your dog a fresh meat-based diet, when looking at packaged food, remember to look out for the better quality ones. What do we mean by this? Always check the ingredient list – the first few ingredients are key. If the first few words are not meat protein sources that you recognise, that in itself is a red flag. Words like “meal” often mean leftovers from what the human industry uses, ground up and used in pet food. Always check for other ingredients like artificial flavours and preservatives – always try and pick a food that is as natural as possible. Adding a little bit of fresh food to your dog’s packaged food and really help enhance its nutritional value. Including some species appropriate steamed vegetables, yoghurt, fruit or even some essential fatty acids like coconut oil can up the nutrient quotient of your dog’s bowl.
Each dog is an individual, when it comes to assessing whether your dog is being fed enough food, one’s best guide would be the body condition score chart. Rate your dog based on that, keep a log of what exactly your dog is eating and then speak to your nutritionist or vet to assess whether you are on the right path or the same needs to be tweaked. Did you know that close to 50% of the canine population is overweight? Along with obesity, our trusted companions are also subject to a host of lifestyle diseases just like us humans. By ensuring your dog is eating a species appropriate diet and is eating the correct amounts, you can eliminate this problem altogether.
The way dogs age varies with size, the smaller the dog the slower the ageing process. On average, once a dog crosses 7 years of age, he is considered to be a senior dog. Seniors could face many challenges such as poor vision, periodontal disease, excessive drooling, liver and kidney problems, weight gain and so on.
For these reasons we should also pay close attention to what our senior pups are eating. Senior dogs still require a good quantity of bio available protein in their diets, on top of that we can look at supplementing their diet with functional ingredients like antioxidants to help with oxidative stress, glucosamine and chondroitin for their joints and general mobility, pre and probiotics along with a good amount of dietary fibre to help with digestive health and omega 3 fatty acids and medium chain triglycerides to help with cognitive health.
Some senior dogs may have weaker teeth, it is important to feed them softer foods to make their food easier to digest and chew.
Remember, feeding healthy does not preclude your dog from illness, it just means you equip their body to handle disease better with the right nutrition. At the end of the day, our only defence is feeding a species appropriate balanced diet to allow them to fair better if and when faced with health issues.
For each of these stages, it is important to remember that every dog is different and it is always beneficial to get in touch with a nutritionist or a vet to best understand your dog's needs.