Of all the elements that go into providing quality ownership to a new puppy, knowing what to feed them is probably the most important. A puppy can not achieve maximum health without a good and balanced diet, and it is your responsibility to know what that means for your specific pup. While there are general guidelines for what and how much to feed a puppy at different intervals of their youth, a puppy’s optimal diet will also vary based on size, breed, and individual taste, allergies, etc. This quick guide will outline what, when, and how to feed a puppy so that you and your family are well prepared to offer your new pup the best possible care.
The First Weeks
The first weeks of a puppy’s life are some of the most crucial in terms of developing good health. It is essential to get the pup the nutrients he needs when he needs them. In the first four weeks of life, puppies need their mother’s milk. Milk is the only substance that provides the nutrients a pup of this age requires, while also being digestible by his young system. Generally, puppies are weaned between weeks four and six.
By week six, a pup can generally be completely transitioned to a high-quality puppy food. In some cases, pups that are under twelve weeks old may still need dry puppy food to be moistened before being able to eat it. From weeks six to twelve, feed your pup whichever puppy food you have chosen (more on choosing a food later), four times a day. Puppies not only eat much more per pound of body weight than full-grown dogs, but they also metabolize food faster and therefore need to be fed more often. Sometime around three months, a pup can begin eating three meals a day. Around six months is generally a good time to make the final switch to two daily meals.
While what to feed a puppy is extremely important, knowing how much to feed him is just as vital to his well-being. Whichever puppy food you buy will have feeding guidelines on the bag, but ultimately it is your responsibility to pay attention to your pup’s condition and adjust portions accordingly. Depending on the type of food being fed, the weight of the pup, the amount of exercise he gets, and his unique metabolism, you will need to adjust the amount you are feeding him. In general, you should be able to feel – not see – a puppy’s ribs, and he should have a visibly defined waist when looking down at his body from above.
In addition, while it’s normal for a young puppy to be hungry often and to beg for food occasionally, you can safely bet that he needs more food if the begging is constant or if he scratches and paws at his bowl after every meal. In short, feed your puppy until he is satiated but don’t make him sick or allow him to develop canine obesity.
A Note About Large Breed Portions
When feeding a large breed puppy, such as a German Shepherd or Great Dane, there are some additional factors to consider. Aside from choosing a puppy food that is specifically for large breed dogs, which we will get to later, portioning is particularly important for these pups. Large breeds are much more susceptible to joint and bone problems, such as canine hip dysplasia, later down the road. Diet and lifestyle for puppies have been proven to be extremely important factors in the likelihood of these issues to occur. Veterinarians recommend keeping your large pup’s weight on the lower side, while of course not stressing him out by underfeeding. If you are able to maintain a leaner figure for your large breed pup and follow other diet and activity guidelines, you can greatly reduce the risk of hip dysplasia and other problems later on.
What to Feed Fido
Now that we have established a sense of how much to feed our puppy and when to make feeding transitions, it is time to dive into the task of choosing a puppy food. When you pick up your new puppy from the shelter or breeder, he will have likely already been started on a puppy food. It is always a good idea to ask what kind of food they are being fed, and to go to the store and buy at least a small bag of this food. Ultimately, you will make your own decision on what to feed your pup, but when switching foods it is recommended to phase out the old food gradually so you do not upset his stomach. Making an immediate switch from one food to another can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.
First Things First: Dry Food or Wet?
When first perusing the aisles at your local pet store, you might become overwhelmed by the number of options available for feeding your new puppy. You will notice that puppy food options include both dry bags of kibble, and canned “wet” foods. Generally, canned foods are more expensive, contain higher meat content than kibble, and are found to be more tasty by puppies and dogs alike. This does not necessarily mean they are “better”, though. Aside from being extremely expensive to maintain, an all-meat diet is unlikely to satisfy all of your puppy’s nutritional needs. While most kibbles contain some kind of meat as the first ingredient, they also usually have a grain or starch and other plant-based ingredients to provide your pup with a complete nutrient profile. Additionally, many veterinarians recommend feeding a diet mainly consisting of dry food because it is better for a dog’s teeth. It has been found that the rubbing action of dry food on a dog’s teeth and gums helps to clean his mouth and keep his teeth healthy.
In general, canned foods are best used as a supplement to your pup’s staple diet of kibble, or as a special treat. In some cases, if your pup is not particularly interested in his kibble, some wet food can be mixed in to encourage him.
You Get What You Pay For
As you continue your search for the right puppy food, you will notice vast price differences between brands. You don’t have to look further than the ingredient list to understand why some puppy foods are so much cheaper than others. Starting with the ‘base’ ingredient – usually a meat product of some kind – we can see the vast gap in quality between premium puppy foods and the cheap stuff.
While the bargain foods usually contain some sort of ‘meal’ such as chicken meal or fish meal, higher-priced options should contain just ‘chicken’, ‘fish’, or perhaps something like ‘deboned fish’. The difference here is that the bargain brands tend to use ground-up carcasses of animals already stripped of their meat for human consumption, while the higher-quality foods use the meat itself. The difference in nutritional content of these two ingredient types is about as vast as the difference in price between the foods that contain them.
Next on the ingredient list is usually a grain or starch. In general, dogs’ digestive systems have a tough time processing corn, wheat, and soy. In general, you will find – you guessed it – corn, wheat, and soy in cheap puppy food. Most veterinarians will recommend avoiding these grains whenever possible. Great alternatives are potatoes, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and barley. A pup’s specific taste and metabolism will determine which of these ingredients provides him with optimal health, and trial and error is a necessary tool for finding him the right food.
Although you pay more upfront when buying a premium puppy food, you could actually be saving yourself money down the road. There is no time in your dog’s life when it will be more essential to get him the nutrients he needs than during puppyhood. If he is deprived of essential nutrients during this time, it is much more likely that he will develop health problems down the road – resulting in expensive vet visits. Whenever possible, feed your puppy the highest-quality food you can afford. Always pay attention to key signs of health such as weight, energy, and the health of his coat and use these as indicators for whether he is receiving the nutrients he needs.
Size Matters: Breed-formulated foods
As mentioned before, different breeds have different nutritional needs as puppies. There are foods that are specifically formulated for small, medium, and large-breed pups. Aside from the size of each piece of kibble, these foods aim to provide these different types of furry friends with the specific nutrients that they tend to need. While it is a good thing to consider buying a breed-specific food no matter the size of your pup, it is highly recommended by veterinarians to make this consideration if you have a large-breed dog.
Large breeds like Labrador retrievers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes are much more likely to develop skeletal and joint problems. While the risk for these conditions is primarily determined by genetics, the developmental stage of life also plays a key role. Large-breed puppy foods are formulated for controlled growth and may contain less calcium and phosphorus (minerals that have been shown to lead to skeletal problems when given in excess) than other foods. In addition, these foods often contain more fiber, which acts to add bulk without calories.
In one study, dogs on a lower-calorie diet were shown to develop signs of canine arthritis at an average of twelve years, as opposed to six for the dogs not fed large-breed food. When choosing a large-breed food, you should still consider buying a premium quality brand, as all the relative health benefits of high-quality food apply to large-breed puppies.
Puppy Feeding Tidbits
Now that we have a strong outline of what to feed a puppy and when to transition their food, we can go over some of the more intimate details of puppy nutrition.
Organic Puppy Food
You are probably familiar with the proven health benefits of organic foods for humans, but did you know that some companies offer organic options for dogs and puppies as well? By eliminating the use of pesticides in the growing of the ingredients of organic puppy food, these foods tend to contain higher nutrient levels. While they are offered at a premium price, they may be well worth it for the added health benefits.
Time Will Tell
Once you have consulted a veterinarian and chosen a food for your puppy, stick with it for a while. It will take several weeks to determine if your pup is maintaining good health from his food. If you notice signs of allergic reaction, however, a more immediate change may be necessary.
Supplements & Vitamins
Never give your dog a vitamin or supplement unless it is recommended by your veterinarian. Many of these products can do more harm than good if misused. For example, giving a large-breed puppy calcium supplements could counteract the benefits of his specially formulated food.
Oftentimes, puppies receive more treats than their full-grown counterparts because they are undergoing more rigorous training. Remember to factor in treats when thinking about what and how much you are feeding your pup. Many veterinarians recommend using one meal worth of kibble as treats for the day rather than feeding it as a meal, and reserving treats for special rewards.
If you have recently brought home a new furry companion, just remember to follow these guidelines above. By preparing yourself and knowing the basics of puppy feeding, you will be able to give your pup a healthy and nutritious diet.