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Dog Nutrition: From Puppy to Senior

Dogs are omnivores, just like people, and they can eat and digest a wide variety of foods.

  • Puppies are considered puppies between birth to 1 year old. After they're weaned, puppies need specially formulated puppy food for their growth and development requirements. It's also vital that they get the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA to ensure "normal neural, retinal, and auditory development," Burns says. Large-breed puppies don't need calcium supplementation, but all puppies do need puppy food during their first year in order to meet all their dietary requirements, she adds.
  • Adult dogs are between 1 and 7 years of age (for giant breed dogs that figure is about 1 to 5 years old). Food providing adequate nutrition for an adult dog requires a protein content of about 15% to 30%, and fat levels between 10% to 20%. If your dog is inactive or obese, consult with your veterinarian, who may recommend a specially formulated weight-control dog food.
  • Senior dogs are prone to various problems and many vets recommend picking a diet designed for this life stage. A small dog is considered to be a senior at age 10, medium and large dogs are seniors at age 8, and giant breeds become seniors at age 6. Foods made for normal-weight senior dogs contain slightly less protein and fat than the adult-formulated foods they ate when they were younger. The potential for some diseases rises in senior pets, Burns tells WebMD. Foods for senior pets should reflect appropriate amounts of certain nutritional factors like calcium, phosphorus, and sodium.

Whether you're feeding a cat or dog, puppy or kitten, Burns recommends against leaving pet food out for at-will consumption. Leaving a bowl of food out all day allows pets to eat more food than they may need, which could lead to an overweight pet. With the help of your vet or a veterinarian nutritionist, figure out how much food your pet needs, then "divide that amount into twice or three times a day feeding," Burns suggests.

Talk to Your Veterinarian About Your Pet's Diet

It's not hard to find online pet nutrition guidelines for dogs and cats from respected sources like the ASPCA, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

These experts all offer the same key recommendation: For sound nutritional advice for your cat or dog, always talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can offer suggestions geared to your pet's life stage, help with special diets for allergic, overweight, or ill pets -- and maybe even debunk a few pet nutrition myths.

"Pets will have different requirements throughout their life and health stages," says Raina Dey, public relations director with the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. "We encourage pet owners to talk to their veterinarians about which foods [and] diets are best for their individual pets."