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Each dog’s diet must be tailored based on its unique physiological status, including breed, age, and health issues. Puppies require a diet formulated for normal growth and nutritional health until they are 1 to 2 years old, depending on their breed.
Keep reading to learn what to look for when choosing puppy food for your pet and how to build healthy habits early on.
Dogs Require a Complete and Balanced Diet
While we may enjoy an occasional burger or ice cream, these types of foods should not make up the majority of our diets. Similarly, dogs require a complete and balanced diet.
Dogs require certain amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals for normal growth. But an individual dog’s nutritional requirements vary depending on his life stage, lifestyle, spay or neuter status, diseases, and food allergies or intolerances.
For example, a more active, working dog may require more calories in his diet than an older, more sedentary dog. Spayed or neutered dogs require fewer calories than non-spayed healthy adult dogs.
Dogs with certain illnesses may benefit from specialized diets. For instance, an adult dog with kidney disease often benefit from a kidney-specific diet, which generally contains less protein and sodium.
In general, puppies have a higher energy requirement than adult dogs because they are rapidly growing. Puppies also have different needs regarding protein, vitamins, and minerals.
In particular, a puppy has different requirements than an adult dog regarding calcium and phosphorus while its bones are developing.
Choosing a Puppy Food and How Long to Feed a Puppy
Puppies should be fed a puppy foods, or a growth diet, which you can confirm by evaluating the “Nutritional Adequacy Statement” on the pet food label.
Dogs should be fed puppy food until they are about 90% of their anticipated full size before switching to adult dog food.
Small and Medium Breeds
For small and medium breeds, this is usually until your dog is about 1 year old. For large breed puppies, owners can expect to feed a growth diet until their dog is about 1.5 to 2 years of age.
I recommend research-based puppy food brands such as Hill’s Science Diet, Purina, and Royal Canin. These brands are committed to investing in scientific research to provide the best nutritional support possible for a complete and balanced diet.
Large and Giant Breeds
For giant breed puppies or large breed puppies, selecting puppy foods specifically formulated for these giant breeds is vital in supporting healthy skeletal development.
Large and giant breeds are at greater risk of developing orthopedic issues. Large breed dogs tend to require a diet with less calcium and fewer calories.
How Much to Feed Your Puppy?
A dog’s energy requirement depends on several factors.
The general equation used to calculate a dog’s daily caloric intake requirement is as follows:
RER (aka resting energy requirement) = 70 x (body weight in kg)^3/4
However, a puppy’s energy requirement can be 2 to 3 times this RER. Furthermore, each dog must be evaluated individually and his diet should be tailored appropriately for his nutritional needs.
Therefore, I recommend consulting your veterinarian about what type of puppy food to use and how much to feed when determining your puppy’s diet.
A puppy typically sees its veterinarian every 3 to 4 weeks until they are 12 weeks or older for its puppy vaccine series. You may discuss your dog’s nutrition and how much food it should have at each of these visits and adjust his feeding plan, especially since puppies grow quickly.
How Frequently Should You Feed Your Puppy?
Puppies’ daily caloric intake requirement should be divided into smaller, more frequent meals. In general, puppies six months or younger should be fed three times per day. Depending on the breed, puppies 6 to 12 months old may be fed twice a day for optimal growth.
An exception to this general recommendation is small or toy breed puppies. Due to their small size, small or toy breed puppies should be fed more frequently, due to their higher risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
I do not recommend free-feeding, which grants constant access to food. Free-feeding relies on a dog to self-regulate his intake. Free-fed pets tend to overeat, which commonly leads them to gain too much weight.
Unfortunately, more than 50% of adult dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. This is problematic because excess body fat and obesity increases the risk of other health issues such as orthopedic disease.
Types of Puppy Diets to Avoid
Raw Food Diets
Raw food diets have become increasingly popular in the pet food industry. However, whether they are freeze-dried, frozen, or rawhide treats, raw food diets can cause food-borne illness in your puppy and in your family.
This is because raw puppy food diets are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella. These types of infectious agents are zoonotic, meaning they can also infect humans.
Grain-Free or Legume-Rich Diets
Another potentially dangerous diet trend to be aware of is grain-free or legume-rich diets. Some owners want to feed a grain-free diet because they are concerned about a possible food allergy. But most puppies with a food allergy are allergic to a protein rather than to a grain.
More importantly, research shows that grain-free or legume-rich diets are linked to heart disease in dogs. While we do not fully yet understand the pathogenesis behind this, I caution owners to avoid grain-free diets until more research is available to prove it provides proper nutrition.
Home Cooked Diets
Some owners are interested in feeding a home-cooked diet to their dogs. While your veterinarian may approve a temporary home-cooked diet, it is extremely difficult to create a diet that offers complete and balanced nutrition from home-cooked options.
Therefore, I do not recommend feeding a home-cooked diet long-term, especially in the developmental phase of puppies that need proper nutrition.
Building Good Nutrition Habits for Your Puppy
If we make a dogs part of our families when they are young puppies, we have the opportunity to start building good habits early on.
In general, consistency is critical when it comes to your proper puppy nutrition. An abrupt diet change often induces gastrointestinal upset or an upset stomach, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or decreased appetite. This is why human table scraps should be avoided as it can also cause pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas.
More Tips for Feeding Your puppy:
• Dogs should have constant access to clean, fresh water
• Treats and training treats should only be fed in moderation and should comprise no more than 10% of
your dog’s daily caloric intake
• Familiarize yourself with common foods that are toxic to dogs
• Avoid chew toys or treats that are too hard as they can fracture your puppy’s teeth