With all of the dog foods out there, it can be a painstaking process to decide which one is right for your dog. Because of this, some people choose to buy the same dog food for their dog’s entire life. However, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang warns that this is an error. “We now know our pet’s dietary needs can and do change over time due to factors like their life stage, their overall health and their activity level.”
Buying the Right Dog Food for Your Dog’s Age
In regards to nutrition, there are 3 key life stages to consider in determining which food is right for your dog. The first one is the puppy stage, of course. When dogs are puppies, they need dog food rated for “growth.” It should be labeled as such, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, who is in charge of setting the standards for pet foods. Growing puppies require food with a high level of protein and a high calorie count, so that they can grow like they need to. If puppies consume food that is not rated for growth, they may become ill or their growth could be stunted. In looking at the puppy’s mother, you should choose a formula rated for “reproduction” or “gestation/lactation.”
The adult life stage is the second time when your dog should have dietary changes. During this stage, obesity in dogs is very common. Some dogs who lead a sedentary lifestyle add to the problem. One reason for overweight dogs is that they may be getting fed the wrong food. An adult dog can become obese if he is fed dog food that can also be fed to puppies. These foods are labeled as an “all life stage,” and they have excessive fat and nutrients that adult dogs do not need. The solution for an adult dog is to look for a food that is labeled “adult maintenance.”
The final life phase to consider is the senior stage. Often times, senior dogs may have medical issues which can benefit from changing their diet. For example, dogs that have mobility issues from arthritis would benefit from a dog food that contains glucosamine, DHA and EPA fatty acids. Feeding your senior dog the right food can sometimes be an effective way to manage health problems such as heart disease. Surprisingly, the AAFCO does not have a specific food label for senior dogs. You will just need to look through the list of ingredients on a food labeled for adult maintenance.
Other Signs It Is Time to Make a Switch
- A Dull, Flaky Coat: If your dog’s coat does not shine, you should find a food that contains nutrients to enrich it. Ingredients to look for include Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
- Lethargy or Weakness: If your dog is suddenly weak or lethargic, you should begin by taking them to see their veterinarian. Or, perhaps they are recovering from an illness, stressful event or surgery. The food that will get them on the road to recovery has a high level of antioxidants in it. This type of food will stimulate their immune response and accelerate their recovery.
- Old Age: A pet is considered to be middle-aged to senior when they reach 5 to 7 years of age. A dog’s nutrient requirements change as they get older. Look for a diet that is lower in calories and high in fiber. A good senior dog food also contains antioxidants and nutrients that support joint health. For the senior stage, it is important not to choose a food that simply says “all life stage” as it will give too much fat content to the senior dog.
- An Overweight Midsection: Particularly noticeable in small dogs, an overweight midsection is something that should be remedied. If your dog needs to lose a little weight, choose a food that is specifically designated for weight loss. They will still receive the right amount of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, the calorie count will just be lower. However, it should be noted that if your dog is seriously obese, your veterinarian should guide you on what to do about it.
- GI Disturbances: If your dog’s GI tract is off-balance, it can cause issues like chronic flatulence, loose stool or a rumbly stomach. If your dog is experiencing these problems, it may be because they are being fed low-quality dog food. If switching the food does not remedy the problem, your veterinarian can guide you toward feeding your dog a diet for a sensitive stomach.
- Itchiness: Allergies in dogs can cause itchiness. Dog food is just one of the possible causes. For a dog that is having allergy problems, choosing a low-allergen food will reduce the amount of potential allergens they are being exposed to. Ask your veterinarian for advise on either a prescription diet or an over the counter sensitive skin diet to choose. The type of food will depend on whether your dog is allergic to wheat, or allergic to certain meats, for example.