Bringing a puppy into your family is an exciting and life-changing event. There’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing a roly-poly little furball bouncing around your yard or curled up asleep in your lap. However, purchasing or adopting a puppy also means you are dedicating the next 10 to 14 years of your life to giving that pup a happy and healthy life; for puppies, health and growth are linked directly to their diet.
Where does a new puppy parent begin? Take one step into any pet store, and you're bound to feel overwhelmed by aisle after aisle of puppy food. Not all puppies are created equal, and not all foods are appropriate for all puppies. Which one is right for your puppy? Our puppy feeding guide covers the types of food available for your new canine companion as well as when and how often to feed her.
What food should you feed your puppy?
It doesn’t seem like such a simple question could be so complicated, but with the expansion of the pet food market in the last decade, many puppy owners are unsure what food is best for their pup. Not only do you want to be sure to buy food that is formulated for puppies, but you specifically want one that will meet the nutritional needs of your puppy. That means that you need to give your pup age-appropriate food; puppies (especially large-breeds) should not be fed adult dog food until they have reached maturity for the sake of their health.
Puppy nutrition is all about promoting healthy, appropriate growth according to your puppy’s breed and size. The growth in organs, bones, and the brain happen rapidly in puppies --- after all, most puppies are officially adult dogs by 10 to 18 months, depending on breed. How well puppies receive the nutrition they need influences how healthy they will be in the future.
In particular, puppies need higher levels of calcium, fat, protein, and phosphorus than adult canines. That’s why it’s essential to feed your puppy a food that supplies her with the correct amount of nutrients. Too few nutrients create healthy deficiencies, while too many nutrients cause future health complications. For example, if a Great Dane or other large breed puppy ingests too much calcium through her diet, it could result in abnormal orthopedic growth which leads to future pain, discomfort, and expensive veterinary treatment. Knowing what food is right for your pup will help her to grow up the way she should.
Premium or bargain brand foods?
Puppy foods are supposed to meet the basic nutrient standards of growth (enriched fats, minerals, vitamins, and higher protein levels) set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Unfortunately, meeting the minimum requirement is the only standard pet food companies need to follow. While it is tempting to choose a cheaper food for your puppy --- we get it, puppies are expensive --- your pup’s nutrition is not the place to cut corners. In essence, the adage applies here: you get what you pay for. Cheaper dog foods tend to contain minimum nutritional requirements buried in lower-quality ingredients, including ones that are not in your pup’s best health interests.
Premium puppy foods are more expensive, but you are saving yourself veterinary bills and saving your puppy from pain and discomfort in the long run. Higher-quality foods have higher nutrient density, so you can give your puppy less food and still meet her nutritional needs. This approach also prevents abnormal weight gain in puppies, which affects their skeletal growth and can cause issues like obesity, hip dysplasia, and osteoporosis (degenerative bone disease) as adults. Your best approach to choosing a puppy food is to find a premium food that is right for your puppy’s breed and age. Paying for quality food will save you and your puppy in the long run.
Dry food or wet food?
The primary types of puppy food are dry and wet food (semi-moist falls into this latter category).
Dry Food (Kibble)
Dry food, or kibble, is the most affordable option for many pet parents. Kibble is made with preservatives to give it a long shelf-life; therefore, it lasts much longer than wet food, thus saving pet parents money in the short term.
This commercially produced dry food is what many pet parents feed their puppies, especially if the puppy’s breeder weaned the pup from her mother’s milk to kibble. You can either keep your puppy on the kibble, provided it is an appropriate choice for her breed, or slowly switch her to another brand. Make sure you don’t change foods too quickly or introduce anything brand new to your puppy’s diet as that will cause an upset stomach and a big clean-up around the house.
If you choose to feed kibble to your pup, avoid giving her food that has any of the following products in it:
- Meat meal
- Meat by-products
- Chicken/poultry meal
- Chicken/poultry by-products
- Animal by-product meal
These terms describe “mystery” meats that are used as fillers in commercial, processed dog kibble. Typically, the meats are non-rendered non-muscle meats and rendered and ground carcasses that don’t always contain the best nutritional value for your pup.
Kibble can increase the odds of your puppy becoming overweight because it is so calorie-rich. You will need to measure the amount you feed your pup daily to avoid giving her more than she needs.
Wet food (semi-moist food)
Wet and semi-moist foods are sold in pouches, single-serving packets, or cans. This type of food is generally more expensive than kibble. Your puppy will find wet food far more palatable and easier to chew and swallow.
Canned or pouched foods tend to be messier and involve more clean-up, but depending on your puppy’s health requirements, it may be the better choice for your dog. Proteins and fat are more prevalent in wet foods as well as higher water content.
As with dry food, make sure the wet food you choose has quality ingredients and does not rely solely on processed fillers or by-products. If you aren’t sure what diet is best for your puppy, talk with your veterinarian to discuss your puppy’s options.
How much should you feed your puppy?
Once you’ve determined what food you want to feed your pup, you need to determine how much to feed her. This process is important to ensure that the puppy gets the nutrients she needs to become a happy and healthy adult dog.
Feeding based on weight
The first consideration for how much to feed your puppy lies with figuring out their predicted adult weight. If you know your dog’s breed standards, you can find out how much she will probably weigh as an adult. You can also ask your veterinarian for their input on this matter, especially if your dog is a mixed breed or unknown breed.
Use the estimated adult weight for your puppy to find the amount you should feed her per day. Here is a general guideline to follow; discuss the specifics of your puppy’s diet with your veterinarian:
Estimated Adult Weight Cups per Day
5 lb. ½ - ⅝
10lb. ¾ - 1
20lb. 1 ¼ - 1 ¾
40lb. 2 ¼ - 3
60lb. 3 - 4
80lb. 3 ⅔ - 5
100lb. 4 ¼ - 6
How often should you feed your puppy?
All new puppy parents wonder how often they should feed their puppy. The answer to that question lies with your puppy’s age. Here is a sample feeding schedule for your puppy in each of the stages of her puppyhood.
Sample puppy feeding schedule per stage
First 3 months
Puppies grow rapidly during this early time in their lives and are relatively good at self-regulating their food intake at this stage. Put food out at frequent intervals, starting with four times a day.
Months 4 - 6
At about 4 months old, your puppy can fall back to three feedings a day. This period is when puppies are prone to becoming overweight if they are overfed, so monitor your dog’s weight during these months. If she seems to be gaining too much weight, switch to two-a-day feedings and contact your veterinarian for further advice.
Many pet parents find that feeding early morning, noon, and late afternoon is the schedule that best works with this age group. Try not to feed your puppy after 5 P.M., so she has time to digest her food and eliminate outside before bed.
Months 6 - 12
During this stage of puppyhood, your pup can move to twice-a-day feedings. Whether you stick with puppy food or switch to adult food at this point is entirely based on your dog’s breed. Small breeds often finish their growth at this point and can transition to adult food. Large breeds take longer to reach maturity and will continue to grow. They will need controlled calcium intake and should eat either a large breed puppy food or an “all life stages” food. Continue to monitor your puppy’s weight.
Months 12 - 18
Twice daily feedings are the standard as your puppy officially leaves puppyhood behind and becomes an adult.
Feeding guidelines vary based on breed size. Here is a quick rundown of what to follow if you have a small or large breed puppy.
Feeding guidelines for small breed puppies
Small breed puppies, like the Chihuahua or the Bichon Frise, typically weigh between 4 - 20 pounds. These puppies grow quickly and reach adulthood around 9 - 10 months.
- Remember to use your puppy’s parents or breed standard weight as a guide.
- Keep a close eye on the food portions you give your puppy. Smaller breeds’ metabolisms slow down earlier than large breeds, thus setting them up for weight gain and health problems.
- Don’t overfeed treats to your small breed dog. Too many treats add up in calories, and they don’t provide enough nutrients to substitute for actual puppy food.
Feeding guidelines for large breed puppies
Large breed puppies, such as the Great Dane or the German Shepherd, often weigh 70 pounds or more by adulthood. They grow more slowly than small breed dogs and may take up to 24 months to achieve full growth.
- As with small breed dogs, use your puppy’s parents or breed standard weight as a guide.
- Make sure you feed your large breed puppy food that is appropriate for her. Too many calories and too much calcium will inhibit her bone development and set her up for future medical problems.
- Monitor your puppy’s weight regularly to be sure she is growing according to her breed standards.
Everyone on board
Your puppy’s diet and feeding habits require every member of your family to work together and be on the same page. Commitment to your puppy’s health is everyone’s responsibility. All it takes is one person to slip your puppy extra treats or scraps from the dinner table to set her on the path to weight gain.
Does your pup need pet insurance?
A poor diet can put your puppy on the road to an adulthood fraught with serious medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Even puppies fed the best of diets can develop illnesses in the future. That’s why enrolling your puppy in pet insurance while she is young is the best time to do so before she develops pre-existing conditions. Puppy pet insurance premiums are low and affordable. Get a quote for your puppy today, so you can spend your tomorrows watching her grow into a healthy adult dog.
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