How a Dog's Diet Changes As They Age

As your dog grows and ages, their nutritional needs will evolve with them. Understanding each stage of your dog's life and the impact of the food they consume will help you to make the best nutritional choices for your dog.

dog eating food from a bowl
credit: alex_ugalek/iStock/GettyImages

Understanding your dog’s needs

It is recommended by animal nutritionists that you should feed your dog according to their stage in life. The nutritional needs of your dogs will also depend on other essential factors, such as the breed of your dog, its size and its stage of health. Dogs need particular items in order to survive. Proteins, fatty acids, water, minerals, carbohydrates, and vitamins are all essential and depending on the age of your dog, these will vary in level of need. A dog food labeled as 'all-purpose' may provide inadequate amounts of nutrients depending on your dog's life stage, so they are not recommended without proper research and knowledge of your dog's needs.

Dietary needs of a puppy

Puppies need to eat a lot! For the first few weeks of a puppy's life, their mother's milk provides an adequate amount of nutrition that your puppy requires for survival and growth. Once weaned from their mother, puppies need to be fed a few times each day to keep up with its rapid growth rate. After being weaned, puppies also are no longer able to digest the lactose in milk. Therefore, once they are weaned, feeding them milk should be avoided to prevent upset stomachs and diarrhea. Between 6-8 weeks of age, an average puppy will need to be fed 4-6 times daily. Puppies usually require twice the amount of calories as an adult dog and their bodies need adequate proteins and fats for growth. By 6 months of age, a puppy's nutritional needs will change again and the feedings can be cut down to 2-3 times daily. This is because they have reached 75% of their adult weight.

Puppy foods have been formulated specifically to aid in proper growth, so they have been fortified with more calcium than average dog food. If you have a large-breed puppy (one that will grow to 50 pounds or more in adulthood), feeding them a puppy food specific to large-breed puppies will be best for them to absorb an adequate amount of protein and calcium for their bone growth. Large breed dogs are at risk for hip dysplasia and other abnormalities and joint disorders, so finding a food specific to your puppies size is recommended. Your veterinarian may also suggest a dog food for your dog's teenage years in order to help transition to adult food. The average puppy can be transitioned to regular adult dog food by the age of 12 months.

Two labrador puppy funny eat in a yellow bowl on a floor
credit: eugenekeebler/iStock/GettyImages

Puppies do eat a lot, but to not encourage overeating, avoid leaving food sitting out and measure the amount of food you give them each meal based on the nutritional label of your dog food or via a veterinarian's recommendation. You also want to be sure that your puppy isn't growing too quickly to reduce the stress weight can have on their bones and organs.

Dietary needs of an adult dog

When switching your puppy to adult dog food, it is best to slowly transition your puppy to avoid upsetting your dog's digestive system. Mixing adult dog food into your puppy's foods over a period of several days will help with this process.

Adult dogs' nutritional levels depend on more than just age. You will have to take into account your dog's activity level and size when determining which type of food to go with. Larger and more active dogs will need more calories in their diets. It may take more than just feeding your dog more of its normal food-more fat and protein will be essential to keep your dog at peak performance.

Balancing your dog's diet is also essential to keep your dog from becoming overweight and underweight. Underweight dogs will begin to show signs of emaciation, with bones from the ribs and pelvis appearing visible. Overweight dogs are as equally easy to recognize and diet restrictions will need to put into place to reduce weight. A lower-calorie diet may be needed, so to avoid overeating, limited access to food besides mealtime will be necessary. Dog owners should avoid leaving food sitting out all day for dogs to eat and also limit the amount of table food and treats their dog receives.

Unless recommended by a veterinarian, it is unnecessary to add vitamin and mineral supplements to your dog's diet. You may end up doing more harm than good to your dog's digestive system, so seek a professional's advice before giving your dog any form of a supplement.

Close-Up Of Dog Eating Food In Bowl At Home
credit: Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

Dietary needs of pregnant dogs

It is important to note that pregnant female dogs also have specific nutritional needs. During a female dog's fourth week of pregnancy is when her weight gain will begin. This is the time you will want to start feeding her more frequent small meals, eating approximately 1/3 more food than she normally eats. She will gain approximately 20-50% of her normal weight and the amount you increase her food will grow throughout her pregnancy. Giving your pregnant mama dog more protein in her diet will help form strong, healthy tissue in the puppies. Your veterinarian may also recommend vitamin and mineral supplements during the pregnancy stage. Daily exercise is important to keep your pregnant mama healthy and fit during her pregnancy.

Mother dogs that are lactating and feeding their puppies will most likely need to consume even more food than when she was pregnant. This will help provide her puppies with adequate nutrients until they are weaned off their mother's milk. A diet rich in fat and protein will help with her health and milk production.

Dietary needs of senior dogs

With time comes many changes in your dog's needs. Your senior dog will probably experience the most change to their body. With age comes the potential for a variety of diseases and your dog's nutrition can be helpful in maintaining optimum health. However, every dog is built differently and no one diet plan is the same for each dog. Your dog's breed, genetics and overall health will depend on what food you provide for them. No one particular senior dog formulated food will work for every senior dog. In general, a dog who is over 7 years of age will benefit from food formulated to their needs.

Older dogs tend to become overweight more easily due to slowing metabolism, so it is best to adapt your senior to a diet lower in calories and higher in protein. Adding more fiber and making sure your dog has adequate amounts of water available will help to keep your dog full and hydrated. Senior dog formulated food may also help your dog with diseases they face with aging, such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.

Dog eating food from its bowl indoors.
credit: Photoboyko/iStock/GettyImages

As always, it is best to seek the advice of your veterinarian if you have any nutritional questions regarding your dog's diet. Your veterinarian will be able to put you on the right path to keep your dog happy and healthy throughout each stage of his/her life.

As always, it is best to seek the advice of your veterinarian if you have any nutritional questions regarding your dog's diet. Your veterinarian will be able to put you on the right path to keep your dog happy and healthy throughout each stage of his/her life.