Dr. Tim’s Thoughts on Specific Life Stage Diets

Do older dogs and cats have nutritional needs that differ from younger dogs and cats, as a general rule? I don’t believe so. Many dog food companies and veterinarians will tell you that a dog is a senior once he or she turns seven years old, and at that point they’d be better off with a senior diet – but it’s not that cut and dried. Every dog and cat is different. For instance, I ran two dogs that were ten years old in the 2009 Iditarod and they finished strong. Were they on a senior diet? No – they simply ate as nature intends for a highly active canine to eat. Is the “Senior Diet” marketing, pure and simple? Heck yes!

My belief is that specific life stage and senior pet diets are pure hype. The best way to feed a dog, regardless of their age, is a diet that consists of a minimum of 26% protein and 16% fat. A dog’s metabolism is naturally geared to respond to these percentages, so accordingly I recommend an “All Life Stages Diet” as opposed to a diet that addresses a perception rather than a reality.

Of course you’re going to notice your companion slowing down as he or she ages, and we’re all a little sad when we acknowledge that Buster just can’t get on the bed anymore without a boost. But does that natural aging process warrant a diet change? No! Those fat and protein requirements remain the same, and barring any liver or kidney issues or diabetes, as diagnosed by your veterinarian, there is no need to buy into a specific life stage diet.

And while it seems like a convenience and a time saver to feed your dog a senior diet that contains glucosamine and chondroitin and all the other built in supplements, the fact of the matter is that the amount of those supplements in the feed is not adequate to address any issue; it is cost prohibitive and simply “window dressing” for the vast majority of pet food manufacturers. If your veterinarian recommends a supplement, give a supplement; it’s the only way to ensure your pet is getting a useful dose.

The same goes for cats; the higher the overall protein and fat the better, which logically lowers the carbohydrates in their diet. And again, if there is a medical issue that develops with the cat, then it may be medically prudent to adjust the amounts of protein and fat in the diet; but as a rule, the more digestible a protein is, the better a dog or cat can handle it – medical issue or not.

The specific life stage diets are pure marketing by pet food manufacturers, who grasp onto a human trend and apply it to dog and cat nutrition. Are there some human trends in diets that can relate to dogs and cats? Maybe, but you shouldn’t anthropomorphize the dog and cat diet based on our own. A dog is not a small person, and the cat is not a small dog. Feed your pets the way they are meant to be fed, and you will have a healthy animal no matter what their age.