Nutrition Through Your Pet’s Life Stages


By Dini McGregor, DVM, Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital

Nutrition can be a powerful tool to maintain health and prevent and manage disease. No single diet is appropriate for all pets, however, and we pet owners can be overwhelmed by advertisements, health claims and the number of choices available. Feeding pets according to their age, body style, activity level and health status is important – good nutrition is a key factor in optimizing health throughout our pets’ life stages. Here are some basic guidelines:

Puppies and kittens need a diet high in protein and carbohydrates to provide energy for the rapid growth that takes place in an animal’s life. A puppy, for example, becomes an adult in approximately one year. It is important, therefore, to feed your pet a diet that will ensure enough nutrition to help him achieve proper growth and maintain healthy skin, coat and intestines. A number of good growth-formula diets are available to provide this. Realize, however, that there are many breeds of dogs, and a 3-pound Chihuahua will have very different growth requirements and nutritional needs than a 150-pound Great Dane. Talk with your veterinarian to design a nutrition program for your young, growing pet.

Typically, adult formulations of foods are fed to dogs and cats starting at about age 1. There are many excellent diets available, and numerous opinions about which are the best and why. Again, the individual pet and lifestyle should be taken into account. A hunting Labrador requires many more calories than a lazy house dachshund! Older animals have their own set of feeding requirements.

Some older pets benefit from “senior diets,” while others can be maintained on a good, balanced adult diet. Historically, senior diets have consisted of lower protein and lower sodium and phosphorus. This is not necessarily true anymore. Animals that have diagnosed kidney disease, for instance, may need more restricted protein and phosphorus. Otherwise, older animals without significant renal or liver disease should probably avoid reduced protein diets.

Many diseases start to develop as an animal advances in age. Nutrition plays a vital role in the management of many diseases. For example, diabetes, renal (kidney) disease, liver disease, cancers, allergies and metabolic diseases are all specifically treated largely by diet. These diets are “prescribed” by your veterinarian. Work with your veterinarian and use nutrition as another weapon in the arsenal of treatments.

Pointers on monitoring how your pet is doing on his/her diet:

It is important to really look at your pet to determine how s/he is doing on the diet you are feeding. Does s/he have a shiny hair coat? Is s/he scratching a lot? Does s/he smell bad ... even shortly after bathing? What does his/her skin look like? Is s/he fat or underweight? Does s/he have a good energy level? How do his/her teeth look? How's your pet's breath? These are all questions you should ask yourself and, if needed, your veterinarian.

Call 360.568.3113 for small-animal appointments and nutritional counseling. 24/7 emergency care available.