To understand lifestage dog food and why it's become more popular we must acknowledge that it is a simple fact that what you put into your dog is reflected in how they look, act and feel. Getting the right balance of nutrients is not entirely simple and depends on a seemingly endless amount of variables such as breed, activity level, age and medical condition.
Lifestage dog food is quite a modern phenomenon, developed to offer a more tailored approach to feeding your dog. The theory behind lifestage foods is that they go much further than simply satisfying the nutritional needs of a dog in a particular age group. So do they really work or are they a marketing gimmick? Are you ignoring lifestage dog food to the detriment of your dog’s health or is it all just a new marketing fad designed by pet food brands?
What are canine lifestages?
For the purposes of pet foods, lifestages are split into three groups, and then divided again to make allowances for breed size and activity level. Whether you plan to feed your dog a natural diet or follow the advice of pet food manufacturers to the letter, you need to be aware of how different lifestages effect the nutritional requirements of your dog.
This is a 3,200 word article including contribution from pet nutrition professionals and a case study and downloadable report
Claire Robinson-Davies of Purina pet care explains the importance of lifestage diets. “The energy needed to support a dog as it goes through various lifestages relates to physical demand and an individual dog’s metabolic rate. Certain lifestages – gestation, lactation, growth – as well as hard work require energy above that of an average adult dog. Other lifestages, such as the geriatric period, may require less energy.
Dog nutritional requirements
The nutritional needs of dogs may also change with changes in lifestyle or function. If energy needs decrease in a dog but energy intake does not decrease accordingly, the dog is at risk of becoming overweight and developing health problems. By providing a diet that conforms closely to the requirements of the pet, it is possible to improve health and performance.”
Regardless which dog food you use, Incredible Things recommends to add CBD oil to their food or find CBD-infused treats to boost their appetite, as well as reintroduce the nutrients that they missed out on when they didn’t want to eat.
Dog Food Diet Calculator:
Whichever breed, age, size of dog you have, our diet calculator should help you see if you are giving your dog the right balance of nutrition.
Puppies: The fact that puppies are always growing is the main consideration when feeding. The need for protein, calcium and energy is at it’s highest at this stage in the dog’s life. Since puppies have smaller stomachs, the nutritional quality of their food needs to satisfy the requirements of a growing dog, but be delivered in a smaller quantity. Claire Robinson-Davies explained why the nutritional requirements for a puppy depend on the breed as well as the age.
“Large breeds grow at a slower rate, so less energy in the form of protein and fat is needed to support the slower growth rate, whilst still enabling the dog to reach its full growth potential. Conversely small breeds grow at a faster rate and hence need increased fat and protein levels to support this. Some small breed puppy formulas also contain increased levels of B vitamins to support their high-energy metabolism.”
Sources of essential nutrients for puppies:
Protein: The type of protein your puppy requires is animal based protein rather than plant based protein. Chicken is a rich source of easily digestible protein.
Calcium: Egg is a good source of calcium. This appears in some foods, but can be added at home to other foods as a supplement.
Energy: By energy, we mean fat. Fatty acids to be precise. These can be found in fish and ‘fishmeal’. Not only are fatty acids essential for energy, they will also give your dog a healthy, glossy coat. Chicken oil is another great source of fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids.
Adult: When your dog is of adult size, you will have entered the realm of what are called maintenance diets. These diets rely on the owner monitoring the needs of the dog and really offer guidance rather than a comprehensive answer to your dog’s dietary needs.
Claire explained why it is important to understand exactly what your dog requires by being familiar with his lifestyle.
“It is the responsibility of the owner to adjust feeding quantities depending on the individual requirements of the pet, taking into account factors such as size and activity levels. Adult small breed formulas have been developed with increased protein and fat to meet the high-energy requirements of small breeds. They also contain increased levels of B vitamins to sustain the high-energy metabolism of small breeds and smaller kibbles to aid chewing.
Adult large breed formulas have reduced energy values and carefully selected types of fat that promote a lean body mass. This is particularly important in large breed dogs, as excess weight can lead to joint damage.”
Sources of essential nutrients for adult dogs- Large Breeds.
B Vitamins: Brown rice is a primary source of B vitamins. It also contains high levels of calcium, fibre and zinc.
Phosphorus: Sea weed is an excellent source of phosphorus. Although it’s presence is rare in a lot of the ‘off the shelf’ pet foods, it is easily obtainable from health shops and can be added to any meal. Remember that your dog is essentially a carnivore though.
Sources of essential nutrients for adult dogs-Small Breeds.
Increased Protein: For a higher balance of protein, brown rice is essential.
Fats: Smaller dogs require more fats than larger dogs. Fish and chicken or chicken oils will provide higher fat levels than found in a large dog formula.
Lifestage dog food for older dogs.
Less is more when it comes to older dogs as the activity level decreases. Smaller portions in general to prevent weight gain and subsequent joint and ligament damage in large breeds are essential. Fats should give way to protein to preserve skeletal muscle mass. Take into account age related health problems when feeding older dogs too.
Claire Robinson-Davies outlines one of the important changes that need to be made for the senior diet. “Phosphorus levels should be restricted to protect and support the kidneys and liver, whereas vitamin E levels need to be generally increased as their antioxidant properties are beneficial in cell protection and also help boost the immune system.”
Sources of essential nutrients for older dogs.
Vitamin E: Chicken oils are a good source of vitamin E, as is seaweed. But remember, seaweed contains high levels of phosphorus, which we need to reduce.
Protein: Brown rice is a good source of protein, as are many meats. Brown rice or milled rice are also good sources of fibre. Milled rice is easy to digest.
What if my dog is overweight?
Sometimes excessive weight and obesity can culminate in a vicious cycle. Fats are needed to increase energy levels that are essential to exercise, which is essential for weight loss, but if unused, will add to the problem. Reducing portion sizes gradually is a safe option but can take longer to take effect. Lower levels of carbohydrates found in foods such as potatoes will also help weight loss.
I only want to feed my dog a natural diet.
All of the nutrients needed for a balanced, lifestage diet are available in a non-processed form. Be prepared to do your research and spend a lot of time preparing your dog’s meals if you are thinking of feeding all natural ingredients in their raw form – or consider an all natural complete food available commercially. Here are some ingredients rich in essential nutrients used in many ‘all natural’ pet foods from ‘Land of Holistic Pets.’
Brown rice is the natural state of rice with the husk removed, it contains calcium, iron, some zinc and the B vitamins thiamine niacin and riboflavin and is renowned for its health giving properties. However, the B group vitamins are all very soluble in water and heavy loss of these vitamins may occur if rice is boiled in excess water or fried at high temperatures , hence the preference for dehydrated rather than extruded. From a Chinese Medicine standpoint Brown rice has a cooling effect on the body, regulates the spleen and stomach, clears heat and helps to provide energy.
Chicken: The Chicken used in Caesar & Luath Holistic Cuisine is from hens which have not been battery reared. It is a highly digestible protein source so small amounts can satisfy the nutritional needs of dogs. Chicken has also a warming effect on the body enriching energy (QI) and blood, while toning the kidneys
Oats: A whole food that has antiseptic properties thus helping to prevent contagious infections - \
Chicken Oil a rich source of Omega 3 and 6 Fatty acids
Seaweed -Nutrient dense sea vegetables contain vitamin A, D, E, B1, B2, vitamin C, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, iron, iodine, fiber, sodium and small amounts of protein. Most important is the iodine in seaweed that supports thyroid organ function. The thyroid controls metabolism and specifically protein metabolism.
Sunflower Oil –Cholesterol Free naturally rich in vitamin E, high in polyunsaturated fat.
Chicken Liver – Nutritional nourishment for the liver – organ meats are used regularly by holistic vets to treat specific organs – like with like.
Parsley- A member of the carrot family rich in iron and vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
What if my dog is a working dog, will I need to change his diet accordingly?
This depends again on breed, level of activity and age. Claire Robinson-Davies explains. “Active/Performance diets are produced for working dogs such as greyhounds or sheepdogs, which require increased levels of calories or nutrients. The product needs to be energy dense as there is a limit to how much a dog can actually eat. They therefore have increased fat and protein levels. Certain vitamins such as the B group, E and C may also be increased to help sustain energy metabolism and also help protect and repair tissue damage.”
My dog is relatively young, but suffers with Arthritis, is a lifestage diet appropriate?
You will definitely need to bear the condition in mind when preparing the diet. Omega 3 fish oils are a fantastic supplement for the wellbeing of joints. Canine osteoarthritis is a serious, painful and debilitating disease which can affect a dog at any age and which is often under-diagnosed until it is at a serious stage. At present, Hill's Prescription j/d formulation is the only clinically proven formulation available which can help prevent canine Osteoarthritis.
Professor Stuart Carmichael, a veterinary surgeon from the University of Glasgow who has treated hundreds cases of canine OA, believes the condition is so prevalent because sadly, owners are unable to recognise the signs of OA and are often unaware that their pet is in pain.
Telltale signals that your pet may be suffering in silence include: limping, difficulty rising, stiffness, decreased activity level, reluctance to play, run or climb stairs, as well as behavioural changes such as aggression or withdrawal. If your dog has demonstrated any of these signs, an appointment for an arthritis screen by your vet is highly recommended.
Controlled weight loss and exercise programmes are usually recommended along with a course of pain-relieving medication. Thankfully further help is at hand, with the introduction of a new dietary supplement designed to alleviate the pain and physical signs of your dog’s OA.
The result of years of research, Prescription Diet Canine j/d from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, is a technologically advanced nutritional supplement containing appropriate levels of nutrients for the management of dogs with arthritis.
Containing the nutrient, EPA, a natural fish oil extract, Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine j/d is beneficial not only for dogs already suffering from OA, but is also suitable for the long-term feeding of adult and senior dogs, to help prevent the development of this disease.
Additionally, as EPA is an effective, natural supplement, the need for drug therapy, and the potential for associated side effects, is also reduced.
The use of fish oil supplements rich in EPA has been a traditional remedy for joint pain in man for decades, and according to Dr Martin Owen, an expert in canine OA, can be of equal benefit to our canine companions.
To achieve a balanced and healthy diet for my dog, is my only option feeding him lifestage formulae?
No, it is not your only option. Using the lifestage theory as guide can often be helpful, but many people believe that their dog benefits from a more holistic approach. George Burns, owner and founder of ‘Land of holistic pets’ offered his theory as to why a lifestage diet is not always necessary. “My mother is 90 years of age and doesn’t need to look for special food for old people.
The key factor of both puppy food and food for older dogs is the protein and fat levels. Higher proteins and fat for puppies, lowering for the junior and then lower again for adult and again lower for older dogs. We must ask the question – What protein and fat levels do we feed ourselves in terms of lifestages? Essentially the argument I would take is that all stages should be fed a low to moderate level of fat and protein dependant on age, activity, spayed or neutered (This removes hormone activity so less energy requirements thus less food required). It is important to reinforce the notion that pet owners should take responsibility for their pet’s health by adopting healthy lifestyle and feeding good diet.”
“I decided to launch into holistic cuisine for dogs after many years of studying the health issues associated with many commercially prepared pet foods. I realised that while the holistic approach is widely adopted in the states, it is relatively unheard of in the UK,” said Burns.
“Nutrition is the foundation of good health in any pet. By introducing herbs to a dog’s diet, it is possible to correct any imbalance there may be in their body, which in turn boosts the immune system and can help fight off common symptoms such as itchy skin, eczema, runny eyes, bad breath and loss of energy.
Our Caesar & Luath holistic recipe contains a blend of quality herbs and ingredients that all contribute to promote health and vitality, while allowing the internal organs to function in a more efficient way. Following extensive trials, we discovered that the general condition of dogs on the Caesar & Luath diet improved dramatically.
As toxins were forced from their system, their owners witnessed greater ease of digestion in their dogs as well as clearer eyes and fewer trips to the vet.
The dried food, which is reconstituted from its natural state by simply adding hot water, contains carbohydrates, vegetables, proteins, fats, herbs, vitamins, minerals and seaweed.
It is essential to the animal's wellbeing that owners take steps to alleviate any ailments their pets may have. The holistic approach to pet care must be welcomed as it is crucial that pet owners have a choice of foods with something to suit their more sensitive pets."
Generally my dog is in good health, but her coat is rather dull. Is there any way I can alter her diet to improve her coat?
Fatty acids such as those found in fish oil are known to have dramatic effects on the condition of a dog’s coat.
Which nutrients are good for boosting the immune system in older dogs?
A healthy diet overall is possibly the best was to keep the immune system working to its full potential. With common complaints in older dogs such as Arthritis there are specific nutrients for each. E P A, a nutrient found in fish oils is an excellent preventative against the onset of arthritis.
Professor Bruce Caterson of the University of Cardiff who is an expert on the effects of EPA and its nutritional benefits explained. "Studies in our lab have shown that EPA is preferentially incorporated into cartilage cells. This incorporation of EPA helps to reduce inflammatory responses and cartilage degradation in our model test culture systems that mimic cartilage destruction in arthritis. Similarly, other labs have shown that EPA in the canine diet increases an arthritic dog's activity and general quality of life.
Is lifestage dog food a gimmick?
No, not when you consider the level of combined research and product development which goes into creating diets tailored for certain dogs at certain stages of their lives. When you think about it, we humans have always ate lifestage food but have only just got accustomed to giving our dogs the same privilege.
After all, could you imagine a 21 year old Olympic swimmer existing on a diet of pie and mash? At the same time it might not be entirely healthy for a 40 year old office worker to eat the sort of diet being consumed by 19 stone weight lifter. Our dogs are all different and have many different needs as they get older, more active, less active or simply to maintain a level of good health.
As with all good nutrition the best advice is to arm yourself with the facts, do your research, speak to as many experts as you can and try your best to match your dog with the most appropriate diet to suit their age, breed and activity levels.
Lifestage dog food case study.
Liz Smith a 40 years old actress, who developed arthritis just recently. Co-incidentally, so did her dog, Hector, a Scottie. Liz ached when she walked down stairs and Hector was reluctant to go out. He frequently held up his paw to her and she wondered about this as it was not something he had previously done.
Liz had a rare virus a few years ago and took antibiotics, which really depressed her immune system. She has restored herself to good health by following the advice of a naturopath and takes supplements rather than medication. She went back to her naturopath for advice and he suggested she take oily fish 3 times a week as the omega-3 oils contained in oily fish are well-known to improve joint mobility.
At the beginning of this year, Liz took Hector to the vet as he seemed reluctant to go out and rather bad-tempered. The vet said he had probably got arthritis and said she could either put him on medication for life or add omega-3 fish oils to his food. He said she could add omega-3 supplements to his feed but getting the proportions right could be tricky as too much would upset his stomach and too little would be ineffective.
“When the vet first diagnosed Hector’s arthritis I was in shock. I didn’t even know dogs suffered from this disease. My second thought was, oh my poor baby, because I could instantly relate to the pain he must have been feeling,” said Liz.
Fortunately, following an accurate diagnosis, management of the disease and alleviation of the physical stress and associated pain can begin.
Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine j/d is available solely through veterinary clinics. If you think your dog may be suffering from OA, it is important that you male an appointment to visit your vet, who can make a professional assessment and food recommendation.
The was trialling a new formulation of prescription dog food and offered to enrol Hector on the trial. Given her own experience, Liz chose to go for the dog food. She also put support tubing on his paws when they were indoors as she found the support gloves she wore were really good and thought that the same might be true for dogs in that if you support and heat the joint, the pain reduces.
She found that after within a month, Hector was walking much better. He stopped lifting his paw to her, was eager to go out now and his temper had improved so she assumed the pain had gone. She still puts the tubing on his front paws at night as in the hope of preventing the return of arthritis. She has continued to feed him the same dog food and Hector continues to improve.