Do we have different nutritional needs?

Anyone who’s ever roamed the pet food aisles knows how overwhelming it can be. You could easily spend more time examining pet food labels than choosing your own food. Is there a way to cut to the chase and find a complete and balanced diet for your pet?

A diet for all life stages could help. But what, exactly, does that mean?

Life-Stage Nutrition

To be labeled “complete and balanced,” pet foods must meet nutritional guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In creating these guidelines, the organization recognized that the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats change over a lifetime.

Compared with adult pets, puppies and kittens need higher levels of vitamins, minerals and even additional calories to help their bodies grow. Pregnant and nursing pets are eating for more than one, so they also need additional vitamins and calories than other pets.

That’s why the AAFCO provides nutritional adequacy statements for the following diets:

  • Growth and reproduction (puppies, kittens, pregnant and nursing animals)
  • Adult maintenance
  • All life stages

Diets that are designed for all life stages meet the nutritional requirements for both growth and reproduction as well as maintenance diets.

Feeding an All Life Stages Diet

Since these kinds of diets are complete and balanced for any life stage, you can feed them to pets of any age.

One caveat: Because these foods tend to be higher in calories, they may be just fine for the energetic Weimaraner that’s wearing a racetrack in your lawn. But if your pet spends more time beached on the couch, you might want to reduce the amount of your pet’s daily food intake.

It’s really like feeding any food. If your pet is active and can stay lean on the diet, there’s no problem. But if your pet starts to lose that hourglass waist and it takes more effort to feel your pet’s ribs, it’s probably time to cut back a bit.

A Special Case: Large Breed Puppies

In general, puppies and kittens need more nutrients until they’ve grown into their adult skeleton, at about one year of age. Large and giant-breed dogs, however, may not finish growing until 12 to 18 months of age.

Because these larger dogs can be prone to developmental orthopedic problems, such as hip dysplasia, it’s generally recommended to prevent them from growing too fast. Diets for these breeds tend to be lower in calcium and calories than other growth diets to help them grow slowly and stay lean, so they’re not putting too much stress on developing joints.

If you want to feed a diet for all life stages to your large breed puppy, look for a food package that states the diet “is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs. or more as an adult).”

What About Senior Pets?

While AAFCO does not provide nutritional guidelines for senior pets, an all life stages diet is generally acceptable for healthy older dogs and cats.

Of course, many older pets may be less active, so they may not need as many calories as a growing puppy or kitten. In those cases, simply reduce the amount fed each day. If this amount becomes significantly less than the amount recommended in the feeding guide, then a transition should be made to a lower calorie formula. And if your older pet has a health condition, such as kidney disease, your veterinarian may recommend a specific dietary therapy to help slow the progression of disease.

But for healthy pets, a diet for all life stages just might make your trip down the pet food aisle that much easier.