The ancestral diet
Think about this. Once a puppy has been weaned in the wild, it will for the rest of its life eat exactly the same food as its parents and the other members of its pack. The only difference is that it will eat more when it’s a puppy. It will eat more because it is growing rapidly and needs the extra protein, calories and nutrients to support that growth.
Similarly, prior to the relatively recent phenomenon of mass marketed, commercially produced dog food, if a dog lived with its parents and its siblings in the same environment throughout its life, it would once again have eaten exactly the same meals as the rest of its family. (Hunting dogs on country estates for example). It would simply have eaten more when it was young and growing. Less when it was older and more inactive. So is dog life stages nutrition relevant today?
The modern view
Today, commercial dog food companies produce and market life stage products for puppies and senior dogs. And some even produce products for stages in between. Those aimed at the owners of younger dogs for example promote the inclusion of omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Those aimed at the owners of senior dogs promote the inclusion of added antioxidants. Needless to say, many tend to charge a premium for these so-called ‘prescription diets’!
Of course if their products truly were complete and balanced as advertised, they would include those things anyway. But let’s save that matter for the moment and press on with dog life stages nutrition.
As in other matters relating to the way we feed our companion animals, I tend to use as guidance human nutrition expert and critically acclaimed author Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H. And Malden C. Nesheim, Ph.D. He’s an animal nutrition expert at America’s acclaimed Cornell University and former President of the American Institute of Nutrition. I quote from their best selling book, “Feed Your Pet Right – The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat“.
In relation to special products for puppies and kittens, the authors say: “. . .we remain unconvinced that special formulas are needed to support the growth of kittens and puppies. They may be great for marketing purposes, but foods that meet the AAFCO profiles for all life stages also meet the needs of puppies and kittens. That is the point of such complete-and-balanced products.”
With regard to the inclusion of antioxidants for senior dogs, the authors continue: “. . .we cannot help but be sceptical about the claims for benefits of antioxidants in pet foods.” It would appear that the authors consider life stage diets as a fairly artificial concept. And they are far from alone in this view!
By the way, AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) is the non-profit organization that sets the standards for both animal feeds and pet food in the United States. It also sets them for the rest of the world including the UK. It’s a quasi ‘official’ organization made up largely of representatives of, you guessed it, commercial pet food manufacturers!
It’s not that dog life stages don’t exist. They do. All animals, including humans, experience various life stages. Accordingly, those life stages require specific nutritional adjustments. Adjustments in this case specific to individual dogs according to their lifestyle among other factors. Especially to manage unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain.
I myself produce products for various dog life stages. I produce an Adult Dog Diet Plan and a Senior Dog Diet Plan. I’ve also introduced a diet plan for puppies. But these products, these diet plans, make genuine dietary adjustments. And they all work on the precept that a dog is fed a healthy diet in the first place. And that is most certainly not the case with commercial dog food!
All dogs need a calorie intake commensurate with their lifestyle. Growing puppies need to eat more frequently and in greater quantities than at virtually any time in their lives. Adult dogs, once again depending on their lifestyle and level of activity, need sufficient calories to maintain their bodies and to meet their energy requirements. Senior dogs, because of the likelihood of their lower activity level, need fewer calories but still sufficient protein to maintain muscle mass. My plans take all these things into account.