Life Stage Nutritional Needs for Pets

Glenn Polyn//May 1, 2019//

Life Stage Nutritional Needs for Pets

Glenn Polyn //May 1, 2019//

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There is a wide range of pet foods and supplements catering to dogs and cats as they age.

If a parent tried to serve baby food to their 18-year-old son or daughter during a family meal, they would no doubt be on the receiving end of a raised eyebrow, followed by a comment to the effect of, “Is this a joke? What are you really giving me to eat?”

That’s obviously because young children have different nutritional needs than fully grown human beings—not to mention the fact that once you’ve had solid foods, it’s not exactly appetizing to go back to eating mush.

The same goes for cats and dogs, among other animals. Kittens and puppies need high-calorie food that will help them gain weight as they grow, but adult cats and dogs can actually become overweight if they’re still fed a diet meant for baby animals. And pets of a mature age—at more of a risk for health problems—benefit from food that is specially designed to help keep them healthy and happy during their golden years. So, it’s helpful that pet food/supplement manufacturers and retailers offer up a variety of options for all of these different life stages.

According to the website for the Pet Food Institute (PFI), the first pet food specifically formulated for the unique nutritional needs of puppies was put forward in the early 1960s—a century after the first commercially prepared pet food was introduced by a man named James Spratt. This was a result of advances in the science of veterinary nutrition, as well as the increasing number of people who began to view their dogs and cats less as possessions or working animals and more as furry members of their family.

“The pet food industry recognizes that sound nutrition is an important part of a pet’s long and healthy life,” said Dana Brooks, president and CEO of PFI, regarding pet nutrition products for specific age groups. “Decades of research goes into each bowl of dog or cat food, and our understanding of pet nutrition continues to evolve as we learn even more, such as how we can support our senior four-legged family members.”

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that pet owners select a food labeled for their pet’s species, life stage and condition. The organization recognizes the following life stages for both dogs and cats: gestation/lactation (pregnancy/nursing), growth (kittens and puppies), maintenance and all life stages.

As per the AAFCO website: “Different quantities and ratios of nutrients as well as different feeding rates are ideal for different life stages. An active, growing puppy or kitten needs nutrients in different quantities and ratios than a mature pet. Calorie-rich foods designed for young animals may make a less active adult animal obese. On the other hand, a service, hunting or working dog, or a pregnant or nursing pet may not receive enough nutrition from a food designed for a sedentary adult house pet…. Products labeled for ‘all life stages’ should have different feeding directions for gestation/lactation, growth and maintenance. Feeding directions for a complete and balanced food must specify, for the animal’s life stage, at least the amount of the food (usually in cups or cans) to give per weight of the animal per unit of time.”

Food Products
One of many brands that offers pet nutrition products for specific life stages is Petcurean. The company’s newly repositioned Go! Solutions Carnivore collection includes recipes for puppies, adults and senior dogs, while its Now Fresh kibble recipes are formulated with nutrients that help dogs and cats grow and thrive at every life stage. Its Go! Hip + Joint Support Pork Meal Mixer could be beneficial for senior dogs suffering from joint problems.

“It is important for pet parents to feed their puppies and kittens food that is specially formulated for their high-metabolism needs,” said Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, nutrition manager at Petcurean. “Puppies and kittens require high-calorie foods with specific nutrients to promote healthy growth and brain development. Petcurean’s puppy and kitten recipes have balanced proteins and fats to enhance growth, DHA/EPA to nourish brain development, omega oils to enhance skin and coat health, antioxidants to increase immunity, as well as prebiotics and probiotics for healthy digestion.

“As your pet transitions to an adult, their growth slows and their energy tempers,” she continued. “Some become less active, which can lead to an increased likelihood of weight gain or obesity. To help senior pets maintain a healthy weight, many of our senior recipes have lower calories and protein, along with prebiotics and probiotics to support digestion, and omega oils to promote skin and coat health.”

Merrick Pet Care has a wide range of offerings for both dogs and cats young and old. Puppy recipes include Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free Puppy Real Chicken + Sweet Potato dry food, designed for small breed puppies; Merrick Classic Puppy Recipe; Merrick Grain Free Real Texas Beef + Sweet Potato Puppy and Merrick Grain Free Real Chicken + Sweet Potato Puppy recipes; and Castor & Pollux ORGANIX Grain Free Organic Puppy Recipe. Foods for older dogs are Merrick Lil’ Plates Grain Free Senior Real Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe, specially formulated for small breed senior dogs, and Merrick Grain Free Senior Recipe dry food.

For felines, the company’s kitten recipes include Merrick Purrfect Bistro Healthy Kitten Recipe, Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Kitten Recipe and Castor & Pollux ORGANIX Grain Free Organic Kitten Recipe. Merrick Purrfect Bistro Indoor Senior Recipe, meanwhile, is ideal for adult cats that are age 7 and above.

“When helping a pet parent select the optimal diet for their dog or cat, we start by identifying their pet’s life stage and any special needs; that’s why it’s important to offer a full range of high-quality, natural nutrition tailored for pets at specific life stages,” said Jilliann Smith, director of communications at Merrick Pet Care. “When welcoming a new puppy or kitten into the family, it’s important to start them out with a diet that is rich in high-quality proteins, has moderate fat levels and low levels of carbohydrates to help them grow…. As four-legged family members become older, they need recipes with fewer calories and less fat, but still offering a good source of high-quality protein to support muscles and joints in senior dogs and cats.”

There is also Fromm Family Foods, which currently offers two lines of life stage and lifestyle-specific diets: Fromm Classic for dogs and Fromm Gold for dogs and cats. The former is available in Puppy, Adult and Mature Adult formulas, while the latter comes in Puppy, Large Breed Puppy, Small Breed Adult, Adult, Large Breed Adult, Weight Management and Senior formulations, as well as Kitten, Adult and Mature Cat diets.

“Fromm Gold recipes are nutritionally complete and formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO for each specific life stage,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director at Fromm Family Foods. “At various times during a pet’s life, their nutritional requirements will vary. For example, our puppy recipes are formulated to be more nutrient-dense, while our Large Breed Puppy recipes take into consideration their longer and more pronounced growth curve. Senior recipes take into account the slower metabolic rate of a less active dog. These recipes offer an option to pet parents looking for a premium product for each stage of their pet’s life.”

Farmina Pet Foods’ N&D product lines offer a selection of nutritional solutions for dogs and cats in both wet and dry formulas. For dogs, there are a number of Puppy Starter and Puppy options, as well as Adult and Senior formulas. For cats, there are various Kitten and Adult options. These nutritional solutions are divided into five product lines: N&D Prime, N&D Pumpkin, N&D Ancestral Grain, N&D Ocean and N&D Quinoa.

“In general during each life stage, the nutritional needs of cats and dogs will change,” said Loris Rinaldi, vice president of Farmina Pet Foods USA. “A product’s metabolized energy and makeup, which includes the protein, fat, crude fiber and micronutrient values (for example, the product’s phosphorus-to-calcium ratio), need to be nutritionally balanced, as they are in our diets, to fulfill the metabolic requirements a pet has during the different life stages.

“In addition to carefully selecting ingredients and nutritionally balancing our diets, which have been formulated and clinically tested through cruelty-free research by the Farmina Vet Research team, we provide a selection of different bite sizes,” he continued. “Different bite-size options are designed for different breeds/sizes and life stages of cats and dogs in both our wet and dry nutritional solutions.”

Annamaet Petfoods offers up Re-juvenate for seniors, with ingredients that promote healthy cognitive function and have anti-aging/anti-inflammatory properties; Ohana for puppies, which promotes brain maturation and development; and its Original Puppy formulation, which is meant for baby dogs of all sizes.

“Here at Annamaet Petfoods, we have worked hard for over 30 years to provide pet parents with optimum diets to maximize the health of their beloved pets,” said Robert Downey, president and CEO at Annamaet. “Our products are based on our passion for pets, backed by real science. With the growing trend towards the humanization of pets worldwide, pet parents have a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept of feeding the same formula from the cradle to the grave.”

Then there is TruDog, which specializes in raw food diets for dogs of all life stages.

“Our focus is on more convenient ways to fee raw, from puppy all the way through a dog’s lifecycle,” said Anthony Santarsiero, president of TruPet. “We know as dogs continue through life, eating habits change, which is why our solutions are designed to be flexible throughout their entire life.”

Santarsiero added: “Our Feed Me freeze-dried raw foods are compatible with all life stages, as are our Rawgo! dehydrated foods. Both are formulated to serve all life stages and come with specific instruction depending on what stage the dog is at. Our stance is that while dogs’ needs differ through their life, the core food they eat isn’t nearly as important as supplementing for age-specific reasons.”

Tomlyn provides such supplements as Joint & Hip Chews for Senior Dogs and High Calorie Nutritional Gel for Kittens.

“In Tomlyn’s Joint & Hip product formulated for Senior Dogs, added grape seed extract, along with vitamins E and C, provides extra antioxidants; all three work together to decrease oxidative damage and support normal cellular health in joints,” said Brittany Green, product manager. “Nutri-Cal for Kittens and Felovite for Senior Cats provide a source of energy, vitamins and minerals, as well as higher levels of protein, calcium and phosphorus to support rapid growth in kittens or aging bodies in seniors. Also, the ingredients rich in Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids and taurine support heart and eye health—crucial for both growing kittens and senior cats.”

There are obviously many other brands with foods or supplements that are appropriate for all ages, but can be particularly beneficial for certain life stages. Take, for example, Earth Animal.

Although the company does not promote itself as age-specific, many of its herbal remedies are intended to treat certain conditions that are much more prevalent among specific age groups. Puppies or kittens may benefit from Earth Animal’s Calm Down, which could help soothe separation anxiety. In a similar vein is Emotional Balance, a one-month treatment that may help with chronic anxiety. Other products that the company would recommend for puppies and kittens are Stop Eating Stool, No More Runs, No More Worms, Clean Mouth, Gums & Breath and Healthy Digestion. It suggests Daily Health Nuggets and Healthy Digestion for adults between the ages of 1 and 7, while seniors 7 years of age and older could benefit from Vital Eye, the Nature’s Comfort line, Aches & Pains, Healthy Weight and Urinary & Kidney Relief.

“Age itself, from our point of view, is not just a chronological event,” said Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal. “It’s really an individual issue, and as such, is sensitive to diet, lifestyle, vitamin/mineral insufficiency, exercise; it’s very complicated. We have a holistic veterinary practice in affiliation with Earth Animal, the Healing Center for Animals, and over the past 30 years, we have seen animals visibly old at age 3 and young at 10 years of age. So for that reason, we went more generic with our products. We didn’t want to not give other animals who are suffering from different conditions the opportunity to heal.”

There is also InClover, which has a line of pet supplements, some of which are beneficial for specific age ranges. Products recommended for young dogs or cats include Grin, a soft chew that helps prevent plaque buildup and freshens breath; Jump, for daily joint support; Optagest, which is meant to support normal digestion; and Smile, dental health soft chews. Senior dogs may benefit from Connectin, a joint supplement that promotes comfort and mobility, while Flow could help senior cats maintain a healthy urinary tract.

“All of InClover’s supplements are formulated to work with the natural physiology of an animal,” said Allie Sparrow, the company’s director of business growth. “InClover’s line of pet supplements is backed by science to function as healthy maintenance for young animals or to address already occurring signs of the normal aging process in older pets. Whether someone has a young, active pet that they want to keep healthier longer, or an older pet that needs more intensive health support, we’ve got clinically tested products that work.”

Trends and Forecasts
“We’re seeing increased demand from consumers for solutions-based diets to support their pet’s health at every stage of their life,” said Petcurean’s Adolphe. “This also supports why we see growing interest in not just life stage solutions, but nutrition options as well; from high-protein to limited-ingredient to grain-free diets—no one size fits all pets… As consumers become more and more aware of what they’re putting into their own bodies, this translates to their pets as well. We expect the future of pet food to continue to focus on high-quality options that offer superior nutrition to sustain and nurture pets to help them thrive.”

“The majority of recipes for the puppy life stage contain chicken, so there’s not a lot of variety in proteins being offered for this age group,” said Merrick’s Smith. “Many new puppy parents shopping in the pet specialty channel are becoming increasingly interested in recipes that feature proteins other than chicken.

“Millennials, which have become the largest group of pet parents, want to feed their pets just like they feed themselves,” Smith continued. “Since they grew up eating organic and understand organic more than any other generation, they are driving growth of organic foods for themselves as well as their four-legged family members.”

“We continue to see a growing demand for premium nutrition products in neighborhood pet retailers,” said Fromm’s Nieman. “As pets become more important members of the family unit and pet parents continue to seek out knowledge and engage with other owners, experts and resources regarding their pets’ health and nutrition, I believe we’ll continue to see a drive for innovation and premium nutrition for the foreseeable future.”

Farmina’s Rinaldi noted: “We believe the future of pet nutrition is to provide a personalized solution through a nutritional consultation to ensure every pet is eating an appropriate diet. Life stage is just one of the many variables such as activity level, metabolism type, breed, etc. that are needed to find the best nutritional solution for each individual cat and dog.”

“Pets are living longer, so we are seeing an increase in new geriatric maladies,” said Annamaet’s Downey. “You are starting to see science-based nutraceuticals appearing in pet foods, following the trend in human nutrition. This is also leading to companies beginning to look at good science and not just rely on marketing… The new major players in the market, Millennials, have a major hand in this as well. They ask questions about ingredients and the science behind products.”

“We’ve seen continued interest in raw food for puppies and young dogs as well as end of life,” stated Santarsiero of TruDog. “Customers are wanting to do better early on and are also looking to help older dogs live their best lives.”

“As pet parents become better educated on their animal’s needs, they look for products to best suit their pet’s particular species, breed, age or other conditions,” Tomlyn’s Green concluded.

“With better education, pets are living longer, requiring greater attention to long-term care. Catering to aging pets and providing essential nutritional supplements is a fast-growing trend that I fully expect to continue and grow for many years to come.”


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