Puppies have a lot of growing up to do in a short space of time: in just 12 months (up to 24 months for larger breeds) they'll become fully fledged adults. Their bodies have to develop incredibly quickly, so it's hardly surprising that they need the highest quality nutrition to get there - and plenty of it too. A healthy, energetic puppy can burn through up to twice as many calories as an adult dog!
Puppies are full of curiosity about the world around them, but they need lots of energy to explore it. Manufactured puppy foods are designed to provide a completely balanced combination of the nutrients your puppy requires. Puppy foods contain concentrated nourishment for growth without adding bulk, to avoid overwhelming a puppy’s immature digestive system. High-quality puppy formulas contain abundant, highly digestible protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, and higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin D to help build strong bones and teeth. So unless advised to do so by your vet, there is no need to give your puppy any supplements if you are feeding them a complete manufactured puppy food.
Puppies also have smaller mouths than adult dogs, so the smaller, bite-sized kibbles in most manufactured puppy foods make it easier to chew them and release all the essential nutrients.
Needless to say, a mother's milk makes the ideal first food as it's naturally rich in all the required nutrients and components needed for a healthy immune system. Although puppies get ready for weaning between six and eight weeks old, most will start to take an interest in solid foods at three to four weeks - usually by romping through their mother's bowl and licking the food from their paws!
This is the best time to start offering a puppy food formula. If you choose a dry food, it should be moistened and mashed into a gruel. As your puppy gets older you can add less water and make the food progressively drier. Don't be tempted to wean too early. Switching exclusively to solids too soon can put stress on a puppy’s immature digestion.
How much to feed
Puppies have small stomachs but large appetites, so feed them small amounts on a frequent basis depending on their age, size and veterinary advice. Start with a tablespoon about five times a day whilst the puppy is still feeding from mum.
- From starting to offer food to weaning (usually two months) - 4-6 meals a day.
- From two to three months - 4 meals a day.
- From four to six months - 2-3 meals a day.
- Over six months - 2 meals a day (depending on breed).
Don't be tempted to overfeed your puppy to speed up the growth process. The volume could be too much for their developing digestion, leading to digestive upsets and impairing growth, or could accelerate growth unhealthily resulting in unwanted weight gain and painful skeletal problems in the future. If you are not sure how much or how often to feed your breed of puppy, consult your veterinary practice.
How much to feed depends on the age, size and breed of your puppy, as well as body condition or any medical conditions. Always read the feeding instructions printed on product packaging carefully. Ranges are given, combining breed sizes (typical weights as adults) with age bands. Your puppy is likely to fall within one of these bands. Remember, individual puppies, even of the same age and breed, differ in their energy requirements depending on how much they have developed, how well they digest their food, and their own particular metabolism and activity rates. Feeding guides are only there as a starting point. To be more precise and help your puppy achieve optimal growth, you should regularly evaluate your puppy’s body condition and modify the amount you feed accordingly.
Try not to feed your puppy immediately before or after exercise and allow an hour to pass between feeding and activity to avoid the risk of a condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus. Large and giant breeds are particularly susceptible to this bloating of the stomach and twisting of the gut, which is a medical emergency.
Puppies naturally enjoy crunching their food, which also helps keep their teeth strong and healthy. Consistency in diet is also important, so unless there is an obvious problem, or you are advised by your vet to change, it's best to stick with the same brand of food.
Where to feed your puppy
Your puppy should be fed in a quiet place away from interruptions and from the hustle and bustle of the house. Choose a surface that can be easily cleaned, such as a tiled floor or a feeding mat. Always serve the food in a clean bowl; ceramic or metal bowls are preferable. Prevent children from trying to play with the puppy or interrupt his or her meal. If you have other dogs in the household, feed them separately to avoid bullying and fighting.
How to feed
Try to serve wet food at room temperature, as it smells more attractive and is easier to digest. This could take some time if the food is kept in the fridge; or you can microwave wet food for a short time until it’s warm (never hot) to the touch. Avoid leaving out wet food out as it can quickly go stale. Dry food can be left out during the day and won’t spoil. Most dogs like to crunch on their dry food, but if yours prefers it moistened, or there is a medical reason to avoid hard food, leave the food in a bowl of water for up to 30 minutes before serving. If you do moisten dry food, consider feeding a regular dental treat to help remove the plaque that some dry foods work to combat as your puppy gets older, but remember that regular brushing of your dog’s teeth is the best way to prevent dental disease.
As your pup grows bigger…
As puppies grow bigger, so does their appetite. They need more energy to support fast bursts of growth and build up muscle mass. Depending on breed, a six-month-old puppy can require up to twice the daily calorie intake of a two-month-old. Always try to follow manufacturer instructions, monitor your puppy’s body condition and if you are not sure how much to feed consult your vet.
What not to feed
Whilst feeding table scraps and titbits is generally not advisable, it's often difficult to say no! If you do decide to give in from time to time, be aware there are some foods you need to stay clear of. Never feed raw meat, and reduce the risk of food poisoning by thoroughly cooking any fresh meat (without adding salt) to kill bacteria. Watch out for small pieces of bone, especially brittle chicken and fish bones, as they can damage teeth and cause obstructions in the gut. The same applies to larger bones: although traditionally fed to dogs, they are also associated with obstructions to the gut and feeding them is not recommended. Meat and table scraps should never account for more than 10% of your dog's total diet, otherwise you risk upsetting the value of a balanced pet food. Finally, never feed your dog human chocolate, onions or grapes/raisins as these can be highly toxic to dogs.
Making the change to adult food
Even though many breeds look fully grown at between six and eight months (depending on the breed: later for large/giant breeds), they're still puppies on the inside. Their bones are becoming stronger and their bodies are continuing to fill out. Don’t be tempted to switch to an adult food too early. For most dogs it’s not until your puppy is 12-18 months old (depending on breed: older for large/giant dogs) that they will no longer need the extra calories and nutrients in puppy food, and be ready to make the transition to an adult formula. If you’re not sure what age to switch for your puppy, consult your vet or click here to discover your dog's health age. The transition should be achieved gradually, over seven to ten days as described above to avoid stomach upsets.
Your puppy's digestion can easily be upset if you change their food abruptly, whether between wet and dry, or between brands. For new arrivals, it’s usually better to stick with the food recommended by the breeder or rescue centre at first, unless there is an obvious problem. It is advisable to arrange for a vet to check your new arrival over as soon as possible, and to discuss diet at this consultation. Depending on veterinary advice if, a few weeks later, you do want to change your puppy’s diet, you should do so gradually. A slow transition process (over 7-10 days) will help your puppy digest the nutrients in the new food, by naturally adjusting the enzymes and beneficial bacteria in his or her digestive tract.
- Put a little of the new food in with the current food and mix it all together, or offer both foods separately.
- Over the course of 7-10 days, gradually increase the amount of new food added, whilst reducing the amount of the previous food until a complete change is achieved.
If you switch from a wet to a dry food, your puppy will chew it more actively, may take longer to eat and will certainly require more water. If switching from dry to wet, expect them to drink a little less and, if they are used to crunching dry food, consider mixing in a few biscuits for texture. It’s worth remembering that a portion of dry food will look smaller than a portion of wet food and, as dry foods are in general more energy-dense than wet foods, your dog may need to eat proportionally more wet food to gain the same calories.
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