It wasn’t too long ago that feeding recommendations for the various life stages of a canine were simple: Feed a puppy more and a senior less. That was all what back then it supposedly took to fill the nutritional needs at various ages. But the world of dog food has changed. Looking at the shelves at the food stores today we are overwhelmed by a sheer endless number of different puppy specific variations of flavors and formulas.
As one owner of a pet food store puts it: “Over the past couple years we have been seeing the use of unique ingredients in more and more products. They include alternative meat protein sources and different sources of nutraceuticals, not just in puppy, but in food for all life stages.”
Whether formulated for small or large breeds, many of these puppy blends contain a rich variety of ingredients mirroring the trends in the adult food market. They contain unconventional protein sources, such as for example fish, rabbit, venison and others. They are grain free or made with low allergenic fibers, such as quinoa, barley or millet.
“There is definitely a movement toward higher quality, natural diets for puppies” reports a co-owner of a pet food manufacturing business. “More food makers are including DHA, prebiotics and probiotics and all puppy formulas now have vitamins and minerals added to make them a complete and balanced diet for puppies.”
A puppy’s growing body requires more and different nutrients than the one of an adult. Manufacturers are catering their formulas to meet those dietary needs. AAFCO requires that manufacturers put a so called nutritional adequacy statement on their labels clearly stating whether the food is for growth and lactation (same requirements)), for adult maintenance or all life stages.
Today’s blends available to puppy owners however go already beyond that. They contain specific ingredients, such as for example fatty acids for proper brain and eye formation and for healthy puppy development. Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition at Cornwell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, NY says: “Omega-3’s and -6’s are considered essential for puppies by the National Research Council. Essential Omega-6’s are linoleic acid and Omega-3’s are eicosapentaeonic acid or EPA and docosahexaeonic acid or DHA.”
Puppy diets also contain optimal balances of calcium and phosphorous for healthy bone development. They both help to build strong bones. They have not only to be in the right amounts, they also need to be at the correct ratio. This is particularly important for large breed puppies as they tend to go through a very fast growth phase and during that growth phase their bones need to be developing correctly.
Puppy formulas also come enriched with nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin. As one vet at a pet food manufacturer says: “We began adding sources of glucosamine and chondroitin to our large breed puppy food. We use it in the senior formula because we know that many seniors have arthritis problems and glucosamine and chondroitin are known to be beneficial to those dogs. We thought it would be beneficial to start the large breed puppies out on them too to prevent some of these skeletal issues.”
The question arises: Do all of these ingredients support puppy health? According to Dr. Richard C.Hill, VetMB, PhD, MRCVS, Waltham Associate Professor of small animal internal medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesvill, FL, “… they do. The most important thing to prolong a puppy’s life span and to reduce the incidence of disease is to restrict access to food so they remain in a lean body condition. Not skinny, but lean.” He refers to a life span study published in the journal Nutrition back in 2003. This study confirmed a link between body fat and the development of chronic health conditions. It also confirmed a link between the length of time a dog was overweight and that dog’s longevity and how early in the life the subject’s health conditions developed.
Each puppy based on activity level, metabolism and environmental factors may need more or less food to maintain the ideal body weight. Dr. Hill explains how to assess a puppy’s body condition: “The puppy should have a waist visible form the sides and above and an owner should be able to feel the ribs without having a layer of fat over them. A good way to describe this is: If you rub your hand over the top of your knuckles, that’s too thin, and then, when you rub your hand over the top of your closed fingers, that’s about what it should be. If you rub your hand over the ball of your hand on the other side, over the meat of your hand, that’s too fat. If your puppy is getting a little pudgy, cut back on the kibble.”
So here you have it in a nutshell. But, you may ask, with so many puppy formulas on the market my seemingly eternal question remains unanswered: Which one is the best for my pup? I agree, at times the sheer number of products can be overwhelming and confusing. As GM of our retail store I am confronted with that problem every day. How many choices do we offer? Wouldn’t we be better off only offering one choice, let’s say the one, which we determine as to be the best choice? That would not be the solution. First, who are we to come up with such a judgment? Second, even if we could make that judgment, who is to say that it would be the best choice for your very individual pup? That is why we offer so many. Sorry, at the end, the choice is yours. Only you can and will have to make that decision. We do however try to support your efforts by educating our customers, by providing as much information as we possibly can find and generate. With that information our customers can become educated consumers having the tools they need to make the right choice. Puppies are full of energy and playful enthusiasm. Let’s make sure they grow up under the right conditions, which include a diet which makes the most sense.