Pet Nutrition Needs Vary Depending on your Pet

Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs as they transition from birth into adolescents, adults and finally geriatrics.  It is important with pet nutrition to feed diets that are designed for these different age groups, which represent different physiological states of the animal.  The period from birth through adolescence represents the growth phase of life; where as the adult and geriatric stages of life represent maintenance phases of life.  Also, it should be understood that cats are not small dogs and that the nutritional requirements of cats are different from dogs.

Pet nutrition for growing animals

Pet Nutrition and your Pet

Corgi Puppy

Diets formulated for growing animals have a higher concentration of nutrients to compensate not only for maintaining the animal, but also providing the building blocks for growth of muscle, bones and other body tissues.  The reason for the high concentration of nutrients is two fold.  First, there is the inherent additional demand for nutritional resources for growth. Secondly, the smaller capacity of the stomach of smaller animals limits the amount of food they can ingest at any one feeding.  Therefore pet nutrition of young animals needs to be of a relatively high caloric content and nutrient concentration.  Small and medium breeds of dogs do relatively well on most average growth diets available today.

Pet nutrition of large and giant breeds (weighing > 65 pounds when fully mature) of dog varies from that of small or medium breeds.  Growth diets formulated for large or giant breeds of dogs are designed to help prevent two potential problems common in these breeds of dogs, obesity and development bone diseases.   Large and giant breeds of dog appear to benefit from diets that have a higher concentration of nutrients and fewer calories.  The protein level is not thought to be an important factor in developmental bone disease.   Instead, calcium intake is felt to be an important factor and should be limited to 1% of the dry matter of the diet.

Pet nutrition for adult animalsPet Nutrition Needs Vary Depending on your Pet

Diets formulated for adult animals are designed to provide the pet nutrition needs of the average dog or cat.  However, since adult animals can vary greatly in several ways, the average amount of food necessary and specific type of food can vary greatly.  Guidelines on the pet food label should be used as a starting point, but should be adjusted based on the animal’s breed, age and activity level.  If the pet is losing weight, increase the amount of food 25%; whereas if the pet is gaining weight, decrease the amount of food 25%.  Monitoring the weight every 2 weeks and making necessary adjustments is a practical means of determining the right amount of food to feed your pet.

Adult dogs that are pregnant generally have a 10-20% increase in nutritional requirements that last 20 days of pregnancy while pregnant cats have a 10-20% increased nutritional demand steadily throughout the 63-day pregnancy period.  Dogs that are lactating have a dramatic increase in nutritional requirements that can increase by a factor of 2-8 times over normal adult needs depending on how many offspring are nursing.  Pets that are active in play or are working dogs can have increased energy needs that are 2-8 times greater than a pet that is not active.  Pets that live outdoors in cold temperatures have increased energy demands to keep warm and maintain normal body temperatures, while dogs in hot temperatures pant a lot to keep cool, which also requires additional calories to maintain body condition.

Pet nutrition for senior or geriatric animals

Pet nutrition of senior or geriatric dogs is not thought to be much different than adult animals.  Senior or geriatric diets generally involve diet changes that address common diseases such as kidney disease and obesity seen in older animals.  As a general rule, animals are considered senior or geriatric in the last half or last quarter of their life, respectively.  Smaller breeds of dogs have longer life spans than large or giant breeds of dog.  Cats are considered senior and geriatric at 10 and 15 years of age, respectively.  Since older animals are typically diagnosed with some disease, diet recommendations are often based on managing the specific disease in that individual.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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  1. avatar Petside says:

    I have been feeding my dog the “puppy” version of the dog food recommended by the kennel. She is now almost a year old and I am wondering if now is a good time to switch her to a different food such as an adult dog food. Any suggestions?

    1. yes, this is the perfect time to switch to an adult food. i usually recommend switching at between 10 and 12 months of age, depending on the breed of dog. if your dog has been doing well on the puppy food, i would continue with the same brand of food for her adult food. buy the adult food and mix it with the puppy food, gradually decreasing the amount of puppy food and increasing the amount of adult food, over a week. watch her weight once she is on the adult food as the puppy food is higher in calories and her weight may change on adult food. she should have a “waistline” when you look down at her from above, but you should not be able to see any ribs.