Ask any dog owner what their least favorite part of buying dog food is, and they’ll most likely respond with something mentioning how there are just too many options. Should you buy grain-free? Protein-rich? Which type of protein should you buy (e.g. duck, beef, lamb, chicken, etc.)?
Making it even more confusing is the sheer amount of specialized recipes on the market. One of the more popular types of dog food that has seen a recent surge in the US market is life stage-based food. Life-stage nutrition isn’t a novel concept, and there’s certainly some solid evidence behind its reasoning (i.e. puppies require different nutritional profiles than senior dogs).
With that being said, is life-stage nutrition really required? Or is an all life stages dog food the better choice? Which type of diet will provide your pup with the most balanced, nutrient-dense food? Below we cover the answer to these questions (and also go over some details about optimal nutritional profiles).
Life-Stage Dog Foods
It’s not exactly a secret that puppies require a different nutritional profile than adult dogs. Puppies need more calories and other nutrients (e.g. minerals, vitamins, etc.) in order to grow into healthy adults. Likewise, dogs that are pregnant (or have just given birth) also require different levels of nutrition.
That part is obvious. The part that isn’t so obvious, though, is that AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) doesn’t just develop guidelines for specific ages, but they also work on nutritional profiles for “all life stages.” Dog food that’s rated as “all life stages” by AAFCO can be fed to any type of dog, no matter what age they are.
Generally speaking, there are three categories that most dog foods can be placed in; all life stages, adult/senior, or puppy/development. The specific guidelines and regulations that AAFCO sets forth for the dog food industry are very strict (in regards to adult dog nutritional profiles), and this is where things get a little fuzzy.
Some think that life-stage based dog foods are nothing more than a marketing gimmick, whereas others think that they actually do provide more benefits than all life stages food. However, it’s important to remember that AAFCO simply develops guidelines/requirements. Most high-quality dog food brands not only fulfill AAFCO requirements but far exceed them (which is exactly what makes them high quality).
All Life Stages Food
Dogs go through different life stages, this much is obvious, but do they require different nutritional profiles during each of these stages? The answer to this question isn’t as easy as it might appear at first glance, but ultimately that answer is yes.
However, any decent all life stages dog food (e.g. Canidae All Stages dog food formula) will contain not only the bare minimums as set forth by AAFCO, but it will contain an optimal level of nutrition for dogs of all ages.
Because all life stages dog foods aren’t age-specific, you need to be careful about how much you feed to younger dogs. These types of dog foods are usually packed with calories, which means that unless you properly portion them you could potentially overfeed younger dogs (or smaller breeds). Most brands will include specific instructions on how to size out portions, timing, scheduling, etc.
Large-Size Breeds Are Different
One important caveat that must be made in regards to all life stages dog food: large dog breeds must be treated with extra care. Because large-size dog breeds are more prone to developmental issues when they’re maturing from puppies into adults, they are usually fed breed-specific diets. If you want to feed your large breed an all life stages diet, you need to look for a specific brand/product that explicitly mentions that it’s been vetted for use on large-breed dogs by AAFCO.
When it comes to the debate between life-stage based feeding and all life stages dog foods, you really need to consider your dog’s medical history, age, breed, and size. Before starting any new diet plan, or making any major changes to your dog’s diet, you should first consult with your vet to go over what options are available.
All life stages dog food provides dogs of all ages with AAFCO-recommended nutritional profiles. The only thing you need to consider is which life stage your dog is in (as well as its breed), and adjust the portions as necessary.