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Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Are Life Stage Dog Foods Credible?

April 25, 2014 / (2) comments

Recently, a reader posted a comment in response to an old post about life stage feeding. In part it said:


Life stage feeding is nothing but clever marketing. A quality food formulated for "all life stages" (in other words — a food which adheres to the more stringent "growth" nutrient profile set forth by AAFCO) is sufficient in most cases.


For those of you who are unaware of the minutiae of pet food labeling, manufacturers have to meet a set of standards published by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to be allowed to print statements like the following on their labels:


Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.


Dog foods can be placed into one of three categories — adult maintenance, growth and reproduction, or all life stages.


Now, to get back to the aforementioned comment. The standards for growth and reproduction are not “more stringent” than are those for adult maintenance, inferring that the latter are somehow inferior. In fact, it could be said that the adult maintenance standards are more stringent in that for many nutrients, minimums and maximums are dictated while only minimums growth and reproduction foods only have to adhere to a set of minimums. All life stages foods have to meet both sets of parameters, which isn’t as hard as it might sound when you actually take a look at the table.


This is what it looks like, courtesy of the Merck Veterinary Manual.


(Click image for larger view)


At the beginning of the comment, the writer specifically brings up the topic of protein. In fact, I agree that with regards to this nutrient, feeding a growth and reproduction or all life stages food to a healthy, adult dog would be just fine. High-quality adult maintenance, growth and reproduction, and all life stages foods will all have more than the 22% minimum protein put forth by AAFCO for growth and reproduction.


AAFCO standards are simply a floor beneath which pet foods cannot fall if they are to carry a “complete and balanced” statement on their labels. Highly regarded manufacturers go much further, fine-tuning their diets to optimize nutrition for specific populations.


For example, the AAFCO minimum for a food’s calcium to phosphorous ratio is 1:1 with a maximum of 2:1 added for adult maintenance and all life stages foods. Research has shown that to help avoid developmental orthopedic diseases like hip dysplasia, the ideal ratio is 1:1 to 1.3:1 for large breed puppies. Large breed puppy foods are formulated to meet this more restrictive ratio, even though AAFCO has nothing to say on the matter at all.


This is one instance when life stage feeding is far more than “clever marketing.”


Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock


Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • Large Breed Puppies
    04/25/2014 10:23pm

    "Large breed puppy foods are formulated to meet this more restrictive ratio"

    I surmise from this sentence that for optimal health, one should feed according to not only life stages, but the type of dog.

    Nutrition is a very complicated subject!

  • Life Stages
    05/03/2014 12:11am

    If you are using a super premium quality food I don't think you have anything to worry about with using an all life stages food. They are so packed with nutrition that it would be hard for the dog to be nutrient deficient, and thoroughly tested by their manufacturers. When it comes to large breed and small breed stuff people in the industry have even told me openly that it is just marketing.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.