Why there is no such thing as an “all stages” pet food

Have you ever wondered why dog and cat foods are labeled “growth” for puppies and kittens and “mature” for older dogs and cats?  There are very important reasons

  • Do we eat the same foods as a teenager and as a sixty year old? 
  • Do we eat the same way when pregnant and after turning fifty? 

Pets also need food that is formulated appropriately for their specific stage in life – to receive adequate, but not excessive, amounts of important nutrients.  Puppies, kittens and lactating mothers need more protein, vitamins, and minerals than adults to ensure proper growth.  Foods for adults and for senior pets should be formulated differently to meet the changing needs of dogs and cats as they age.

Why is “all stages” written on the label?

The pet food industry is regulated by AAFCO – the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a “voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.”  AAFCO defines an all stages diet this way:  “The pet food has to be suitable for puppies, kittens or pregnant/lactating adults.”  http://www.petfood.aafco.org/ 

Here are some examples of how AAFCO standards for an "all stages" diet (to meet a puppy’s needs) match up to an adult dog’s daily nutritional needs:

  • Protein (% minimum) is 22% higher than recommended daily allowances
  • Crude Fat (% min) is 60% higher than recommended daily allowances
  • Sodium (% min) is 400% higher than recommended daily allowances

Daily recommendations for a senior dog are even lower, and the findings are similar in cats.  Overweight condition is the number one contributor to arthritis pain and mobility problems in dogs and cats.  Excess sodium is related to hypertension (elevated blood pressure) and heart disease.

Also from the AAFCO web site:

  • AAFCO has no statutory authority to regulate pet products.
  • AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. 
  • AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company's responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.

It is the state feed control official's responsibility in regulating pet food to ensure that the laws and rules established for the protection of companion animals and their custodians are complied with so that only unadulterated, correctly and uniformly labeled pet food products are distributed in the marketplace and a structure for orderly commerce.  

It is up to the company to comply.  Some companies do an excellent job - by using science, doing food trials, employing veterinary nutritionists and other specialists, and formulating foods appropriate for the labeled use.  These companies spend money on food trials and nutritional testing that is not required to put their products on the market. 

These companies share their information with veterinarians so we can educate clients appropriately.  Two companies I trust – two companies from which I purchase foods for my own pets – are:

Some companies do not provide veterinarians with information, even when we ask for it.  Sometimes they do not even have information to provide – no food trials, no nutritional formulas.  They emphasize words that sell products:  “natural” “organic” and “grain free” are some examples of words which are unregulated and unimportant to your pet’s nutritional health.

These buzz words are for your sake – the consumer – because they appeal to you.  The “all stages” foods are marketed to pet owners who look for the convenience of one food for more than one pet.  But it just is not possible to meet their individual requirements at different stages of life with one formula.

These marketing techniques do not benefit our pets nutritionally.  Some of the premium diets sold at boutique pet stores can cause your pet problems.  Most are calorie dense, “filler free” foods without the fiber and carbohydrate our pets need to stay healthy.

Dogs and cats become ever more obese and pet owners find it ever harder to afford their care.  Don't spend money on the wrong things.  Who can help you sort this out?  Your veterinarian, who studied nutrition, physiology, medicine and disease – who spent eight years in college specializing in animal health and wellness, is equipped to help you prioritize your funds devoted to pet care.  We can help when they are sick- and we are the best source of information on how to keep them healthy.

Please don’t fall for marketing schemes and ask the advice of perhaps well-meaning, but untrained employees in the pet food and pet store industry!  They just don’t know.