Life stages

Puppies

Small dogs develop into adults clearly faster than dogs from larger breeds: small dogs are fully grown at the age of 10 – 12 months, while larger dogs can still be considered puppies for a year and a half, even up to two years.

There are individual differences in growth and development. The text below covers the feeding principles of puppies on a general level; it is recommended to have a vet assess the suitability of a diet for your puppies when you book an appointment for their first vaccination visits.

After the first month, puppies are weaned from their mother’s milk gradually over a period of 2 – 3 weeks, while getting them used to puppy food.

When bringing the puppy home from the breeder (usually at an age of 8 – 10 weeks), the puppy has to be fed 3 – 4 times per day, until they are about six months old. It would be ideal for the puppy to be eating the same food as they had been eating at the breeder’s house. Moving to a new environment is always a big change and a cause of stress for a dog. If, for any reason, the breeder’s food is substituted with another food, this transition should take place gradually, over a period of several days, in order to avoid any digestive problems.

Puppies should be fed at the same times every day. Any other daily activities should also be routine-like, as this creates a sense of security for the puppy. After eating, it is time for resting, and once the puppy has rested, they will have enough strength to go for walks and to play again.

Puppy food must have plenty of energy, plenty of protein and a correct ratio of lime and phosphorus. Adult dog food does not contain enough nutrients for puppies, so it is important for puppies to have food meant specifically for puppies. Feeding puppies is easiest when you use ready-made foods, and by strictly adhering to the instructions on the packages. In case the puppy is fed home-cooked meals and/or raw food, all elements should be calculated carefully: is the puppy getting all the energy, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, trace elements and particularly minerals they need from their food. If the feeding is based on guesswork, the diet probably does not adhere to calculated nutritional needs. Fresh water has to be kept available at all times.

One of the most dangerous things is overfeeding dogs: growth acceleration can lead to growth-related problems, particularly in large breeds, and particularly with their front limbs. While giving extra lime was popular in the previous decades, it is no longer recommended, unless there is a particular and demonstrated need. Weight management and the adoption of feeding habits also begins at a very young age: if a puppy is not fed from the table, they will not be asking for it later.

Adult dogs

When it comes to adult dogs, the most important goal can be considered to be a sufficient intake of nutrients in relation to their activity levels, and also the prevention of excessive weight gain.

Dogs can be classified as adults in various ways. Achieving a particular height characteristic of a breed or a breed type indicates that the size of the support organs (bones, cartilage) is beginning to resemble the dimensions of those in an adult dog. At this stage, the strength, coordination, size and shape of the muscular system (muscles, tendons) can still change. Some very small or small breeds achieve the height typical for their breed at approximately 6 months of age. Correspondingly, in big or large breeds, dogs achieve the height typical for their breed at approximately 12 – 18 months of age. At this stage, the musculoskeletal system still needs practice in order to develop fully and to support the dog in the best possible way. Correct feeding supports the development of the bone structure. 

The protein, fat and mineral requirements of adult dogs are different from their requirements as a puppy. For adult dogs, as far as nutrition is concerned, the emphasis shifts more from growth support to maintaining the body’s energy/protein needs, as well as supporting energy consumption and restoration.

Developing muscles in young adult dogs still need coordination practice. That is why it is wise to keep exertion at a reasonable level. The size and durability of the muscles and tendons start to develop with exercise, so it is recommended to keep the intensity and duration of exercise sessions at a reasonable level, so that the dog’s musculoskeletal system is not over-exerted. At this stage, dogs need food meant for adult dogs.

Once the dog is 2-3 years of age, the amount of exercise and other activities can be increased. The dog owner must find out more information about the breed of dog that they own: at what stage are the dog’s limbs and back ready for long walks, or correspondingly, to activities requiring more jumping and climbing.

The number of feeding times per day can vary a lot for any healthy adult dog. The feeding rhythm of an adult dog is often determined by the daily rhythm of the family. However, one of the basic premises is that the dog’s stomach should not be full of food before going for a long walk, or before jumping/climbing. It is difficult to move around on a full stomach, and it could make the dog prone to gastric volvulus, for example.

The owner is able to check daily how well the dog’s nutritional requirements are met, depending on how solid the dog’s excrement is, how the dog’s intestines are functioning otherwise, and what their appetite is like. Eating the right amount of food with plenty of meat, your dog will remain in a suitable weight category. When food can be digested easily, your dog will recover well after exercise, sleep well, and see sweet dreams.

The owner must also remember the hierarchy related to feeding pets: the strongest member of the herd controls the food. This is also highly significant for successful dog training.

Aging dogs

Dogs over 8 years of age are usually considered to be aging dogs. In larger breeds, the aging process can begin slightly earlier; and in some individuals, the aging process can begin earlier due to illnesses or other reasons.  When dogs start to age, their performance levels decline slightly, due to a decline in their oxygen-carrying capacity, for example. However, at this stage, it is important to monitor the amount of exercise, as well as the amount of food that the dog gets.

There are physiological changes that are related to aging, such as a mild decrease in activity levels. This should be taken into consideration when planning the amount of food to be given to the dog. In addition, some individuals can have special needs related to certain illnesses/breeds, the significance of which will be highlighted as the dog becomes older.

Sometimes, increasing the amount of feeding times per day can have a positive effect on intestinal functionality. In this case, the amount of food given in one serving does not make the dog’s stomach feel too full. Some seniors need regular feeding intervals to be happy. On the other hand, others prefer interesting outings, and the regularity of feeding intervals is not as essential. 

At times, the condition of joints needs special attention in aging dogs. Joint functionality can be improved with suitable nutritional supplements, fatty acids, and supportive therapy. Mild exercise and a good muscular condition help dogs even with joint problems remain mobile for a long time.  

As the dog ages, it is often a great idea to slightly increase the amount of fibre in their food, and start feeding slightly lighter options. At the same time, it must be ensured that the dog has a sufficient protein intake. Feeding levels should be kept even, so that there would be no weight fluctuations, which are harmful to the dog’s health.

As the dog ages, they tend to get prone to tartar build-ups. Chewing on dry food pellets is a great tool for slowing this process down. It is also recommended to give the dog other bones or treats to chew, which would help slow down the build-up of tartar.

Happy retirement!

Overweight dogs

It is estimated that every fourth dog in Finland is overweight. The reason behind this is simply that the ratio between energy intake and energy consumption is skewed. The owner has full responsibility for feeding and exercising their dog. While some dogs are more prone to becoming overweight than others (e.g. Labrador retrievers, beagles), right feeding choices and exercise will help these breeds stay in their ideal weight, too.

In practice, weight management is made more difficult by the close relationship dogs and humans have with food: food is used for rewarding, for demonstrating the hierarchy within the herd, food makes the group feel closer – food is just fun, many people think, and indeed, it takes a lot of self-discipline to not give a piece of your own bread to someone waggling their tail at you and looking straight in your eyes.

Unrestricted feeding and over-abundance can sometimes be allowed, but when these things occur constantly, they lead to excessive weight gain and the accumulation of fat around the internal organs. That is why it is important to have a feeding plan: what is fed to the dog, when and how much.

Why is excessive weight a problem? Overweight pets do not feel good. Being overweight makes them more prone to musculoskeletal illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, as well as placing unnecessary stress on the liver and the kidneys. Excessive adipose tissue particularly strains the musculoskeletal system (carrying an extra load), and cardiovascular and respiratory system (adipose tissue also requires its own circulation and oxygenation). Research has found evidence that excessive adipose tissue in itself causes “a slight state of inflammation” in the body. On average, obesity reduces the life expectancy of a dog by two years.

That is why it is important to make a plan: first, the dog’s ideal weight is determined. Instead of the breed-specific recommended weight ranges, you can get a more precise result by evaluating the dog’s fitness level.

If complete foods are used for feeding the dog, the guiding principles regarding the amount of food can be found on the package. When giving the dog dry food, it is better to use a measuring device instead of relying on rough estimates (e.g. a cup or something similar). E.g. 2 cups of food 2 times per day. If the amount of food seems too small (the dog loses weight, or loses weight too quickly), the amount of food can be increased – and vice versa. 

One of the major causes for overweight in dogs are treats. Cheeses and sausages in particular contain a lot of energy, and it is easy to increase the daily energy intake many times, with just a few treats. In case the dog is used for hunting, for example, or for other activities that consume a lot of energy, the increased energy consumption must be taken into consideration when feeding, of course.

It is recommended to weight the dog every now and then, and to keep track of the weight. In case the dog is on an active weight loss regime, the dog needs to be weighed every 1 – 2 weeks. Weight loss should be moderate, approximately 0.5 – 1.0 % of the dog’s total weight per week. In case the dog is used to being trained and rewarded with food, the energy content of the treats should be taken into consideration when feeding the dog, and strive for lighter options. It is also possible to make getting treats more challenging, by using various activation toys, or by creating various tasks for the dog, which are rewarded with a light treat. 

Verkkopalvelut: Mediasignal