Pet Nutrition FAQs

Most nutrition queries are answered in our factsheets and nutrition facts section. However, some specific and common queries are addressed in our FAQs.

When Were Pet Food Lifestages Introduced?

Manufacturers began to introduce ‘life-stage’ diets in 1975, starting with a puppy diet. Five years later ‘life-stage’ products for other pets at other stages in life become widely available . 

What Are Breed Specific Diets?

There is a wide range of pet food on the market to meet all needs and preferences; this includes diets that have been formulated to meet the individual needs of specific breeds.

The characteristics of a dog or cat can vary between the breeds, from long hair to short hair, a tendency to leanness or to put on weight, or a tendency to a sensitive stomach. Breed specific diets have been produced to meet any specific needs that result from these characteristics. To find the right diet for your pet, speak to your local vet or pet care professional.

What's The Difference Between 'Complete' And 'Complementary Pet Foods'?

Complete: nutritionally complete, providing all the nutrients in the amounts and proportions the pet needs.

Complementary: These foods are designed to be a part of the diet; however they do not meet the known nutritional requirements when fed alone so they must be fed along with an additional food type such as mixer biscuits in the case of the dog, or hay, in the case of rabbits. All complementary foods are labelled as such with appropriate feeding guidelines.

What Is Life Stage Nutrition?

Life stage nutrition is the practice of feeding pets specific foods designed to meet their needs at a specific age or during a specific physiologic state such as pregnancy. By feeding to meet the needs of pets at varying life stages, owners can be sure they are providing their pet with optimum nutrition.

Pet food manufacturers first started formulating life stage pet foods in the early to mid 1970s, when a puppy diet was formulated. Life stage diets became more widely available on the market from the 1980s onwards. Today life stage diets are not only available for cats and dogs but also iguanas and bearded dragons! Feeding the optimum nutrients for a specific life stage is aimed at supporting healthy longevity of all pets.


What are the nutritional needs of dogs and cats at the varying life stages and how does the food address this?

Puppies and Kittens

  • Puppies and kittens go through a nursing and growing period. They become adult at roughly 1 year of age. (This depends on the breed and species – giant breed dogs can take up to 18 months or longer to mature whereas kittens can be fully grown by 9 months.)
  • Puppies and kittens get most of what they need during the nursing period from the bitch or queen, providing her nutrition is also adequate.


  • For growing puppies and kittens, food should be higher in calories and protein, and puppies for example need roughly twice as much energy as an adult dog of equivalent size.
  • Although many nutrients are needed in higher quantities, some nutrients may need to be carefully controlled. For instance, large breed puppies are susceptible to bone problems if too many calories and/or too much calcium is given during this growth phase, so owners should always be aware of the risk of adding supplements to a carefully formulated puppy food.
  • Other nutrients such as the fatty acid DHA, which helps develop the brain and eye, and L carnitine which supports muscle and bone growth, have recently received more attention in growth nutrition.
  • Food for growing animals should also be highly digestible, but energy dense, to avoid digestive upset and prevent the need for large meals. Pregnancy:
  • A bitch is pregnant for roughly 9 weeks but does not need any more food than usual until the 6 week stage. Her energy intake should then be increased by around 30% until the puppies are born. This can be easily achieved by using a puppy food which is higher in energy, but balanced, in protein and calcium to supply nutrients for growth.
  • In comparison, a pregnant cat needs more calories from mating onwards and these increases steadily until birth. A kitten food is suitable during pregnancy. Lactation:
  • While producing milk about 2-4 times more calories are needed compared to a non lactating dog. This means that the bitch needs to be fed a suitable food that is higher in protein, energy and calcium to support milk production, at frequent intervals through the day. Again a puppy food would be appropriate for this.
  • A queen’s nutritional requirements actually peak 5-6 weeks after the kittens are born. Unless they are fed properly, queens will not be producing enough milk, so cat owners should consult their vet for additional advice on how best to feed pregnant cats or cats with kittens. A kitten food would usually be the most appropriate at this stage.


  • Water is a very important nutrient during milk production and should be supplied at all times. Adult cats and dogs:
  • Optimum nutrition during adulthood is aimed at promoting quality of life and in maintaining health.
  • Obesity is the major nutrition related problem facing the adult cat and dog population today, and this is particularly a problem after neutering, but there are diets available designed specifically to help reduce the risk of weight gain in adult animals. Senior cats and dogs:
  • By about 7 years and older, dogs and cats start to experience a decline in the function of certain organs, including the immune system. The kidneys, heart and digestive tract may also show reduced functioning or increased sensitivity. Older animals may be less active and their sense of smell or taste can also be affected.
  • There are foods available for older dogs and cats which have an adjusted nutritional composition. Nutrients such as antioxidants, which support immune function, may be used and special attention is paid to making the food palatable, highly digestible and easy to chew.

Particular attention should be paid to appetite and body weight, as this may reduce as a dog gets very old. Always consult a vet if worried about changes in a dog’s weight.

Do You Think There Is Any Reason For People Choosing A Particular Brand Of Food?

We conducted some market research in to what influences pet food buying decisions. Our research highlighted that 96% of owners say enjoyment by their pet is the key determinant when choosing pet food. The format of the food is next up (89%) followed by suitability (e.g. for older pets). Product benefits (e.g. calcium for healthy teeth and bones), variety and brand are other key determinants. The data shows that brand loyalty is high, with the majority of pet owners having one or two favourite brands that they return to. 

How Many Dogs In The UK Have Diabetes?

We would suggest that you contact one of the following veterinary bodies:

BSAVA - British Small Animal Veterinary Association - Tel: 01452 726700
Email: [email protected]

BVA - British Veterinary Association - Tel: 020 7636 6541 Email: [email protected]

RCVS - Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons - Tel: 020 7222 2001 Email: [email protected]k

How Do I Formulate A Home Made Diet?

Whilst it is not impossible to provide a nutritionally balanced homemade diet for your pets, it does require a good level of research with advice and guidance from the relevant experts - a vet or animal nutritionist. Your local vets will have recommended the NRC Guidelines, as this is a key authorative document detailing the nutritional needs of cats and dogs at the varying life stages. It has been produced by eminent veterinary nutritionists. FEDIAF, the European Pet Food Association produce a more succinct form for pet food manufacturers to follow to ensure that diets supply all the nutrients pets needs. Any homemade diet you provide will need to be tailored to your pets individual needs and should take into consideration factors such as life stage and lifestyle, for instance how old your pets are? Are your pets active? As it is a tailored approach, you will need to find a vet or animal nutritionist who can help you with this. You may need to broaden your search of vets to find someone with a particular expertise in this area.