The Ancestral Diet
When you think about it, 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 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 – hunting dogs on country estates for example – it would once again have eaten exactly the same meals as the rest of its family. It would simply have eaten more when it was young and growing, less when it was older and more inactive.
The Modern View
Today, large commercial dog food companies produce and market Life Stage products for puppies and senior dogs – and some, for stages in between. Those aimed at the owners of younger dogs for example promote the inclusion of Omega-3 Fatty Acid DHA, and 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 specialized products!
As in other matters relating to our food, we at We Cook for Dogs! have used as guidance human nutrition expert and critically acclaimed author Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Malden C. Nesheim, Ph.D, animal nutrition expert at America’s acclaimed Cornell University and former President of the American Institute of Nutrition.
In their best selling book, “Feed Your Pet Right – The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat“, and 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 (The Association of American Feed Control Officials)* profiles for all life stages also meet the needs of puppies and kittens. That is the point of such complete-and-balanced products.”
The authors continue, with regard to the inclusion of antioxidants for senior dogs:
“…we cannot help but be sceptical about the claims for benefits of antioxidants in pet foods.”
It would appear that the authors – and they are far from alone – consider Life Stage diets as a fairly artificial concept!
Not that 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.
But these Life Stage changes should in our view be dealt with by changing the quantity of food given, rather than by specific dietary changes.
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.
The above notwithstanding, our meals are customized to the requirements of individual dogs, and can therefore be considered suitable for All Life Stages.
* (The non-profit organization that sets the standards for both animal feeds and pet food in the United States).