The Ultimate Guide to Feeding Your Puppy
Bringing a puppy home comes with all kinds of responsibilities, with one of the more complex matters being what to feed the little newcomer. A nutritionally complete diet plays a huge role in raising a happy, vibrant puppy.
Since this topic has many nuances and everyone seems to have strong opinions about what’s best, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of research.
To ease your mind and make this process easier, we put together this ultimate guide to feeding your puppy. By following the steps in this resource, you can start your pup off on a lifelong journey of health and vitality.
What to Do When You Bring Your Pup Home
In the beginning, puppies gain all their nourishment from nursing. The mother’s milk provides everything they need to develop in those first few weeks. At around 3-4 weeks, the mother begins the weaning process. This is when puppies are slowly introduced to other foods. By 8 weeks of age, puppies should be fully weaned and eating solid food.
Your breeder will likely provide you with a sample of the food they were giving your pup, or at least recommend what to purchase. It’s best to use the same food as the breeder at first, or else your pup might experience digestion issues. Moving to a new home is already a massive change, so using the familiar food helps soften that transition period.
If you decide to use a different food, you can slowly switch your puppy over to the new kind.
Here’s an example schedule for the transition:
Since every puppy reacts differently, some will require a more gradual transition. The above schedule provides a good guideline to work from, but monitor how your specific pup responds.
What to Feed
Feeling overwhelmed walking down the dog food aisle? You’re not alone. In today’s booming pet market, there’s an ever-growing number of options. In truth, there’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all kibble.
Fortunately, there are some basic principles to steer you in the right direction …
First and foremost, you’ll want to start by looking for food specifically made for puppies. As growing pups, they require a different nutritional profile to their adult counterparts. Developing puppies need a higher percentage of protein. They also need slightly more fat per calorie than adult dogs.
Having said that, not all puppy foods will work for every puppy. You also have to think about the breed and size of your unique pup. For example, a kibble formulated for a giant breed like a Great Dane will not be an optimal diet for a Jack Russell Terrier. Different breeds have different needs, so consider that when making your purchase.
In addition to the above components, you’ll also want to pick food that has been thoroughly tested. If you see a kibble that meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), that’s a good sign. In order to print that seal of approval, a food must pass at least the basic requirements for nutritional adequacy.
There are advantages to both wet and dry food, with neither one being the “right” option for every dog. One approach you might opt for is to combine canned food with kibble. Whichever way you go, make sure to follow the same gradual approach for transitioning your puppy to a new food.
Beyond that, consider chatting with a vet about the best kibble for your particular pup. They’ll be able to offer suggestions tailored to your doggie’s needs.
How Much to Feed
Once you’ve selected a brand of puppy food, there will be directions on the bag about how much to feed at a time. Generally, you can just follow those directions. You may have to adjust depending on your pup’s needs. This is another question you can pose to a vet if you have any doubts.
Growing puppies often appear ravenously hungry. As hard as it is when you’re faced with those big puppy eyes, resist giving in to the temptation to feed extra portions.
Enthusiastic as your pup may be to keep eating, it’s best to feed little and often. Eating too much at once can cause major digestive upset, as well as intense energy peaks and crashes.
Overfeeding causes weight gain, something especially detrimental to young dogs. Carrying excess weight is a strain on a dog’s growing joints. Obesity can lead to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other health problems.
How to Check Your Pup’s Weight
Weighing your pup frequently will help determine if you’re on the right track. One handy way to do this at home is to pick up your dog and stand on your scale with him. Afterward, you can stand on the scale by yourself and subtract your weight to find the difference.
Of course, not all dogs will be small and portable enough to do this! You may have to wait until you can use your vet office’s scale.
You can also visually examine your pup’s condition. While you don’t want to see the ribs, you should be able to feel them. If there’s more than a thin layer of tissue between your fingers and the bones, you are likely overfeeding. When looking down at your dog, you should also be able to see a noticeable waist.
When to Feed
After you’ve determined how much you’ll feed your puppy, the next step is to decide on a feeding schedule. As mentioned, it’s ideal to feed little and often.
When you first bring your puppy home, a good rule of thumb is to provide four meals spaced throughout the day. Stick to that schedule until your pup is somewhere around four months old. At that point, you can decrease to three meals per day.
Depending on the breed, most puppies should wait until at least six months of age before eating only two meals per day. As always, tweak these guidelines according to your life and your pup.
Here are some other scheduling points to keep in mind …
Whatever schedule you decide on, maintain as much consistency as possible. As with other areas of puppy management, having a set routine instills a sense of stability. Dogs are more comfortable and compliant when they know what to expect.
Where to Feed
When it comes to feeding your pup, location matters. This is particularly important if you use meal times as part of your training program. You’ll want a place that’s quiet so you and your pal will not be disturbed.
For your sake, pick a spot that’s easy to clean. It might amaze you how far (and high!) food can fly. Nearby walls could very well be covered by the end of a meal. Avoid carpeted areas, if possible.
Choose a part of the house that’s either always empty or can be closed off from other household members. If other pets or children are running around, your pup may be too stressed to eat. Even confident puppies should eat in calm areas, as they could easily be distracted into leaving their food.
When to Switch to Adult Food
Puppies should transition to adult food once they reach around 90% of their predicted mature body weight. At that point in their development, their caloric and nutritional needs change. If you were to keep feeding puppy kibble, your dog would be susceptible to weight gain and other health problems.
For most dogs, they should make the switch when they are approximately one-year-old. Remember to transition to the new food gradually, as described earlier.
If you have a small breed, such as a Chihuahua, they will likely reach physical maturity closer to nine months than one year. On the other end of the spectrum, a Bernese Mountain Dog may continue developing until two years of age.
These intricacies are why it’s wise to talk to your vet before making the switch.
Putting it All Together
Regardless of what kind of puppy you have, figuring out their optimal feeding plan can seem daunting at first. Every pup has their own needs and preferences, so feel free to tailor your plan accordingly.
Remember to check in with a veterinarian if you have any unanswered questions about your unique puppy. Taking the time to build a healthy foundation for your pup now will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of well-being.