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In this introductory guide we'll focus on what your dog needs and how to feed your dog for his or her best, healthy life to make sure your dog's diet gives him/her the essential nutrients to get and stay healthy at any age.
Join me in learning how to feed your dog - from puppies to adult dogs to seniors - to be healthy dogs living their best lives at every stage. AND ask me any and all questions about YOUR dog and all things nutrition and dog food (from commercial dog foods to raw diets and everything in between).
Why life stage matters in canine nutrition
Life stage is an important way to approach the way you feed your dog, because nutritional requirements for nutrients like essential fatty acids, dietary protein, fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins, amino acids, and more are needed to supply energy and support your dog's health in different ways depending on whether you're feeding your puppy, adult dog, or older dog.
Different life stages need different levels of calories
It's important to feed your dog based on his or her life stage for a few reasons. First, because puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs have different energy needs. Puppies need more calories since they're growing and their bodies are developing, while senior dogs may need fewer calories since they tend to be less active.
Different dogs have different nutritional needs
Another reason to feed your dog based on life stage is because different dogs have different nutritional needs. For example, large breed puppies are prone to developing skeletal problems if they eat too much calcium, so they need a diet that's lower in calcium than other puppies. Similarly, senior dogs are more prone to developing joint problems, so they need a diet that's rich in joint-supporting nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin.
Different dogs have different digestive needs
Finally, feeding your dog for his or her life stage is important because different dogs have different digestive needs. For example, puppies' stomachs are still developing, so they need a diet that's easy to digest. Older dogs, on the other hand, may have trouble digesting certain ingredients, so they need a diet that's more easily digestible.
What does that actually mean?
We'll dive into nutrition for each life stage in the Life Stage Feeding Channel here on Dogly, but here's a couple quick examples for now to illustrate how we'll want to shift our thinking on your dog's food to suit your dog...
Why feeding your puppy the right puppy food matters
In general, your puppy food will be very much about fueling energy and growth and building a strong immune system as your puppy grows into his or her bigger dog's body. That means plenty of calories in quantity, quality, and at a higher frequency feeding schedule. (You can see the Puppy/Adolescent feeding step-by-step guide here.)
Why feeding your adult dog the right dog food matters
As your dog becomes an adult, his or her energy needs will start to even out and you'll be able to transition to a maintenance diet. That doesn't mean, however, that you can skimp on quality ingredients - your dog still needs plenty of nutrients to fuel a healthy, active lifestyle. (Check out the Adult Dog feeding step-by-step guide part one and part two here.)
Why feeding your senior dog the right dog food matters
As your dog enters his or her golden years, you'll want to focus on foods that help maintain healthy joints and a strong immune system. That means plenty of nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids.
For most dogs who are seniors and may be less active, you might want to give fewer calories to keep an eye on extra weight on your dog's joints and also think about counteracting health problems older dogs often experience like muscle mass loss with dietary fats and probiotics that help with absorption of your senior pet's diet of nutrient-dense/high-protein foods. (When you're ready, jump to the Senior Dog feeding step-by-step guide here.)
In any case, dog nutrition is about your individual dog's nutritional needs, and at the same time, making sure all dog diets are complete and balanced.
How do I know which dog food is right for my dog at which stage?
Pet owners often ask me how to know when their puppy or adolescent dog becomes an adult dog or when their adult dog is considered a senior from a canine nutrition perspective. In the Life Stage Feeding Channel, I will break down the major life stages (which are puppy and adolescence, adult, and senior) in the context of pet nutrition.
However, here are a few things to keep in mind throughout as we unpack nutritional requirements for your dog's diet...
There are no sweeping generalities in dog nutrition
Each of our dogs are individuals and can hit certain life stages at a different time. Even the obvious of being a puppy can stop between the age of one or two years old. Between one and two years has the potential for a pretty big gap in my mind, especially when we are prioritizing the way our dogs eat based on life stage.
We'll dive into puppies specifically in the next step-by-step guide, but in a broader sense this is what I want you to be aware of as we go forward to talk about dog food and dog FOODS that fit your dog.
Where your dog's life stage falls might not be exactly in line with a specific age range given. Like humans, some dogs develop more slowly or age faster, metabolism might be faster or slower too. Genetics plays a big role in this and so do some outside factors like spay/neuter.
Give me an example... or two
Getting my start in the rescue world, I've seen puppies spayed and neutered as young as 8 weeks old - this can have a significant effect on aging and metabolism. Now veering more into the holistic world, I see the health benefits of a dog waiting until they've reached a sexual maturity before being spayed or neutered.
Lifestyle can also play a role in the aging process. If a dog is overweight and sedentary that could mean faster aging as muscle mass is lost more easily from being sedentary, joints and bones aren't in optimal condition, and obesity can cause additional health complications.
What else impacts my dog's life stage?
Oxidative stress is a topic I've shared about previously here on Dogly and it also has an effect on how quickly or slowly dogs age. Check it out here to learn more about protecting your dog's cells from oxidative damage. Dogs with higher levels of oxidative stress tend to age faster.
Breed can have an effect too. Small breeds often have a longer life expectancy than large breeds and giant breeds often have shorter life spans.
Unfortunately, our dogs cannot talk and tell us how their individual aging process is going. We have to look for signs and make decisions based on that.
Think through what I've mentioned and make a list of what you think matches your own dog's overall life stage and aging. Take into consideration when (or if yet) they were spayed/neutered.
Do you think your dog has a slow or quick metabolism? How have your dog's energy levels been? If you've raised a puppy or adolescent dog, you can definitely tell the differences in energy levels from adolescent to adult. Has your dog been faced with major outside stressors that could cause oxidative damage and age them quicker?
Make note of these things and it will help shape what life stage you feel your dog is in. Then as we dive into each guide I will help you understand the best way to feed a dog and what types of pet food and nutrition is best for each life stage.
Next up in the Life Stage Feeding Channel on Dogly
Now that you have an introduction to dog food nutrition by life stage, you're ready for the puppy and adolescent, adult dog, and senior dog feeding guides. Or you can always continue expanding your nutritional knowledge for your dog in learning which nutrients your dog could be missing in his/her diet or my dog food recommendations.
Hop over to the Life Stage Feeding Channel if you'd like to ask a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Puppy Feeding, Adult Feeding, or Senior Feeding. And if you ever need more personalized nutrition guidance, please reach out!