Your pup has to have a healthy diet to keep them fit and well. Puppies are growing and developing at an alarming rate and they need a very specific combination of nutrients to support their growth and development. You can’t feed a puppy with the same food that you are using for adult dogs or with the cheapest food that you pick up from the store. You need food that is specially designed to meet the needs of a growing pup. The quantity that you feed a pup also needs to be carefully controlled.
Choosing the Best Dog Food for Puppies
Pups should not be fed with adult dog food. They need a product that has been specially formulated for them. Your vet or breeder will be able to advise you on the best dog food for puppies as it varies by size and breed.
As a general rule, puppy food has a higher proportion of protein than adult dog food. They need this for rapid growth and development. Pups need their diet to be made up of around 30 % protein. Special puppy food is also enriched with carefully selected vitamins and minerals which are needed for rapid growth and development. Pups also need fats and carbohydrates to give them enough energy for all that leaping around! In fact, puppies need twice the energy intake of adult dogs.
Always read the label of the food you are planning to give your pup. You are looking for terms such as “Complete and balanced nutrition” and you should see the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) mentioned somewhere on the label. They are the official body that oversees and regulates pet food in the USA. They publish minimum standards for ingredients of puppy foods so you can be sure that you are providing your pup with everything that they need. Of course, many commercial pet food companies go beyond the minimum standards.
It is likely that you will have a budget to stick to but bear in mind that you tend to get what you pay for when it comes to puppy food so try to buy the most expensive that you can afford. The cheaper brands contain lower-quality ingredients which may not be so easy for a pup to digest.
You may want to buy a breed-specific commercial dog food. For large dog breeds, the best dog food for puppies may be a ‘Large-breed formula’ which helps larger puppies grow at a gradual rate. If some of these breeds grow too rapidly, their bones and joints don’t have enough time to become strong enough to support them. Similarly, for small dog breeds, the best dog food for puppies may be a commercial food formulated as small, bite-size kibbles that have enough nutrition packed in them to meet the very high metabolic needs of a very small pup.
The choice of dried kibble, semi-moist or moist food is up to you. However, don’t make any sudden changes to your pup’s diet as this can cause stomach upsets.
Starting Your Pup on Solid Food
Newborn pups need nothing more than their mother’s milk for the first few weeks of their life. Your priority is to keep the nursing Mom well-nourished and cared for and to monitor that all the pups are getting their fair share of breast milk!
Between three and four weeks after birth, the weaning process can start but it must be gradual. It can take at least seven weeks for the pups to be completely weaned off their mother’s milk. The first step is to separate the Mom from the litter for an hour or so. Build this up to a few hours. Whilst the Mom is not with them, you can introduce the pups to a feeding pan. This process gradually reduces their dependence on feeding from the Mom whenever they want.
The best first food for pups is a high-quality puppy food. Make your choice carefully because they will be eating this food throughout their growth period. Moisten it with warm water or canine milk and mix it up so that it is like a thick soup consistency. Some pups have no idea what to do with solid food at first! They may stand in it and play with it but not eat it! You can help by getting a little food on your finger and holding it out for the pup to lick. Fresh water should also be available with the food. Clear away any food that has not been eaten.
At two to three months of age, puppies need small but regular meals. You should feed them four times a day. At three to six months, you can reduce this to three meals a day. By the time they are a year old, they only need two meals a day. Larger breeds need two meals a day until they are 24 months old.
Find out more about Puppy Milk Replacers here.
Working Out How Much to Feed Your Pup
Obviously, you need your pup to have plenty of food but over-eating is a real concern. If your pup eats more than they need, they can become obese and this comes with a wide range of health problems. Obese dogs are at a higher risk of:
- Heart disease including congestive heart failure
- Cruciate ligament ruptures
- Intervertebral disk disease
- Cushing’s disease
- Skin disorders
There are three things that you must do to prevent your dog from becoming obese. Firstly, provide them with exercise that is appropriate for their age and breed. Your vet can advise on this. Secondly, be very careful about feeding them treats and scraps from your own food. Most experts advise that treats and table scraps should make up less than 10% of a pup’s daily calorie intake. Also, watch what you are feeding them as some human food is not suitable for dogs. Finally, give them the right quantity of a high-quality puppy food.
There is no simple way to calculate how much puppy food you should be giving your dog because so many factors come into play. The age of your pup, what food you are using, the number of meals that they are eating a day, their breed, their metabolic rate and the amount of exercise they are getting are just a few! It’s no wonder that new dog owners can get very worried and confused about this issue.
Luckily, there are two sources of advice. Start by talking to your vet and follow their feeding advice carefully. If you have any concerns, go back to them and ask some more questions. Also, read the feeding guide on the label of your chosen food. These guides have been carefully worked out by animal nutritionists. They are usually presented in the form of a table that gives the number of standard (8 oz) measuring cups of food that you should feed your pup per day (a 24-hour period). The number of calories that your pup needs a day may also be given. The table may be separated into information for Toy, Small, Medium and Large breeds. Remember that pups are growing very rapidly and can require two or three times the amount of food that an adult dog needs.
You need to combine this information with your own knowledge about your pup to come up with a sensible quantity. Also, you need to keep the situation continually under review and change it where necessary. Your pup’s body condition will indicate whether they are getting too little or too much food. There is a recognized scoring system that you can use but you should always check with your vet. Using the scoring system, your dog can be classed as under ideal weight, ideal weight or over ideal weight. Every two to four weeks, have a good look at your pup. If they are an ideal weight, when you look at them from above, they will look as if they have a figure in an ‘hour glass’ shape. The abdomen segment of their body should be narrower than their chest and their hips. When you look at them from the side, they should be ‘tucked up’ up which means that their chest will be closer to the ground than the abdomen (belly). You should be able to feel their ribs easily with only light pressure but they should not be visible from a distance. For more options, check out our detailed review of dog food for weight loss.
Vets have special weighing scales for dogs and will record your pup’s weight at every visit. Talk to your vet about any concerns you have about your pup’s diet. By following their advice carefully, you are giving your pup the best possible start in life.