Are you feeding an age-appropriate diet?

MON 30 JAN 2017

Ever wondered if your pet is getting the right food for their age? With so many different diets designed for different ages and activity levels, it can be hard to know whether you are feeding the optimal diet for your pet's age, breed, and activity level.

Gone are the days when pet food was sold with a 'one size fits all' mindset. With advances in nutritional research and technology, pet food is now able to be specifically formulated for the individual lifestage of your pet.

The first lifestage-specific pet food for puppies first hit the market in the USA in the 1960s, and research into this field of nutritional science has only grown since then.

Nowadays we have nutrient profiles calculated for growing pets (puppies or kittens), adults, mature, and senior pets, as well as animals with different physical activity levels, such as active pets or pregnant females. There are even pet foods available that are scientifically formulated to not just supplement, but actually treat medical conditions, ranging from obesity and arthritis, to renal and liver failure.

A common query most people wonder is 'am I feeding the right food to my pet?' The easiest way to start is by looking at your pet's age, and determining what 'lifestage' they are in.



1. Young, Growing Animals

Ultimately, puppies and kittens require enough food and nutrients to grow at an optimal rate for bone development and body condition maintenance. Too little nutrition can lead to malnourishment, and too much (feeding for maximal growth rather than optimal growth) can lead to skeletal abnormalities and obesity later in life.

This means you should focus less on what your breed standard expectations are, and focus more on your kitten or puppy's body condition score (BCS). It is recommended for puppies under 6 months that you check their body condition score and weight weekly. Ask your vet for advice when assessing your pet's body condition score.

In terms of nutrients, protein, fat and energy requirements are much higher for growing young pets. Likewise calcium and phosphorus are also required in larger amounts for puppies and kittens.

Luckily , you don't need to worry about any of the science behind your pet's nutrition. Most pet foods specified for 'puppy' or 'kitten' are already balanced with the right ingredients for you.

    TIP: To make sure your diet is balanced complete balanced diet for your pet's lifestage, always check that the food is listed as approved from AAFCO (this is listed on the packaging). AAFCO is the leading authority on pet nutrition and dictates how much of each nutrient is required by every lifestage for cats and dogs.

So how long does my pet need to stay on puppy or kitten food?

Typically, pets reach their full growth around the following ages:

  • Normal Cats: 7-12 months
  • Large Breed cats (such as Maine Coon): 12-15 months
  • Small breed dogs: 7-12 months
  • Medium breed dogs: 10-12 months
  • Large breed dogs: 15-18 months
  • Giant breed dogs: 18-24 months

But keep in mind that these are only guidelines. The best way to know whether your pet needs to transition to a less calorie-dense adult food is by assessing its body condition.


2. Adult Pets

Once your puppy or kitten has reached their full growth, you will need to start feeding a diet labelled for 'adults'. Pet in this adult phase of life are typically fully grown, but not yet middle aged. Apart from dental disease and obesity, this age is typically considered a healthy period in a dog or cat's life.

Healthy adult diets designed for this phase in life are typically comprised of less calories, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and fat than their previously fed puppy or kitten counterpart.

Hopefully, these years will go by without too much need for a major diet change! You might like to feed a dental food for teeth maintenance, or you may like to give a breed-specific diet to focus on your pet's exact needs.


3. Mature Adult

Studies show that nutritional requirements are very similar between adult and 'mature' adult, however the reason for a change in diet are based on risk factor management. We know that certain diseases start to develop around this age, so by altering the diet, for example by decreasing caloric intake by 20-30% while still maintaining essential nutritional needs, we can help to slow the aging process and reduce the risk of cancer, renal disease, arthritis and immune-mediated disease.

What age should you consider swapping from adult over to a mature diet?

Again, this depends on your individual pet. Overweight pets, and even dogs with bad teeth, will age a lot quicker than healthy fit pets. Likewise, large breeds become senior much quicker than small breeds.Cats in particular are extremely variable, and their 'mature' stage of life can emerge anywhere between 7 to 12 years of age.

Typically, the age at which a pet is considered 'mature adult' is as follows:

  • Cats: 7 years old
  • Small breed dogs: 8 years old
  • Medium breed dogs: 7 years old
  • Large and breed dogs: 5-6 years old


4. Senior or Geriatric Pets

Just like us, our pets reach a final senior or geriatric phase in life and encounter age-related issues. Thanks to vast improvements in pet healthcare and nutrition, pets are living longer than ever before.

These twilight years tend to bring the most problems with arthritis, certain types of cancer, immune mediated disease, thyroid issues, and renal disease.

For your pet's golden years, a few super premium brands have designed a special 'age-defying' or 'aging' food which is again specialised for this extra-senior specific age range. These foods contain nutrients adjusted further to support kidney function, joint care, immunity, and some even adjust their kibble to become softer to encourage geriatric pets to eat more.

Typically, the age at which a pet is considered 'senior' or 'geriatric' is as follows:

  • Cats: 11-12 years old
  • Small breed dogs: 11-12 years old
  • Medium breed dogs: 10 years old
  • Large and breed dogs: 8 years old

What about 'All Life Stages' Diets?

Many holistic or natural brands are starting to create diets formulated for all lifestages. What is an all lifestages pet food? You might be surprised to hear that, actually, these diets are completely in line with feeding guidelines outlined by AAFCO - an internationally recognised authority on pet nutrition. But if different lifestages have such different nutrient requirements, you might wonder, how can one food possibly be suitable for every one?

In general, an 'all lifestages' food is balanced for growth and reproduction (puppies, kittens, and pregnant animals), and in general is most suitable for these animals. But it is deemed fine to give to adult or senior pets too, so long as feeding guidelines are followed.

To be suitable for growth and reproduction, all life stages food must be higher in calories, protein and fat, and have a specific balance of calcium and phosphorus. The only major risk with giving a food like this to an adult is weight gain. This risk is even more for senior pets, who tend to have a slower metabolism, and may not need such high levels of these nutrients.

So, when is an All Lifestages Food recommended? Ultimately, an 'all lifestages' food might be perfect for multi-pet households where you would prefer to feed the same food to a number of animals of different ages. It might also be a good option for people who have a puppy that is reaching the age of adulthood, and would prefer not to change over to a different food. However, for households with only adult dogs - or more importantly, only senior adult dogs - it is generally recommended to go for a food designed specifically with their needs in mind.



All in all, the food you choose to feed your pet should depend on their individual development. By always keeping a close eye on their weight, and making sure you feed them an age and breed appropriate food, you can help give your pet the best chance at a long and happy life.