How to Feed a Puppy
Most new puppy owners have lots of questions about how to feed a puppy. How much should he eat? What brand of food should I buy? How often should I feed him? There is a lot to think about.
No sudden changes
My first advice is that you make no sudden changes to your new puppy’s diet. Most breeders will give you a pack of the food your puppy has been fed on, to take with you, and I suggest you keep him on this brand for at least a week until he has settled in to your home.
That way, if he gets an upset tummy you won’t be wondering if it is the food you are giving him or something else. There is an awful lot going on in his new little life right now and it seems only fair that at least his dinner is familiar.
Choosing a permanent feeding method
Once your puppy has settled in to his home and is well and happy, you can if you wish switch to a different brand of dog food. Or even an entirely different way of feeding. We will look at feeding a natural raw diet in a later article, but the vast majority of dog owners in the US feed their dogs on one of the many brands of proprietary dog food, and the most popular type of dog food today is kibble.
All about kibble
Kibble is a dried and pelleted dog food that comes packaged in sacks. The larger the sack, the cheaper it usually is, and kibble keeps well for quite a long time after opening as long as you do not get it damp.
Kibble varies widely in price and to a certain extent you get what you pay for. Cheaper brands may not work out as cheap as they seem, you may have to feed the dog a much larger quantity as weight for weight some of the cheaper varieties contain more ‘filler’ and less nutrients.
Buying in quantity may save you money but large sacks of kibble can be heavy and cumbersome to transport. It may be worth trying to find a local company that delivers your brand.
It is important to buy the right type of kibble for your puppy’s stage of growth, and for his breed. And for this you will need to read the description on the sack carefully. Tiny puppies need more protein and other nutrients required for growth. The exact quantities depend on how fast your puppy is growing which in turn depends on his breed and eventual adult size as well as his weight and age right now. Sounds a bit muddling? Just focus on the three steps you need to take.
Take three steps
Pick a brand
Find the product within the brand suitable for your breed (may just say small/med/large)
Find the right pack of that product for your puppy’s age
Don’t worry about whether your puppy will like the food or not. Puppies are not picky unless their owners’ encourage them to be.
If you are intending to switch brands do it over a period of 7 days
Days 1 & 2 Feed ¾ old brand ¼ new brand
Days 3 & 4 Feed ½ old brand ½ new brand
Days 5 & 6 Feed ¼ old brand ¾ new brand
Day 7 feed the new brand only.
How much to feed?
It isn’t always easy to know just how much to feed a puppy. The quantities on the packet are a guide. Each puppy will grow at his own rate and some pups of the same breed will grow faster than others.
The important thing is to make sure that your puppy does not grow too fast as this may contribute towards poor development of his joints. It is also important to make sure he is not too fat. It is no longer considered desirable or even acceptable for puppies to be little fat puddings. A slim puppy is a healthy puppy.
So, having purchased the right food for your dog’s breed, and the right pack for your dog’s age group, start by offering him the quantity suggested on the packet for his exact age, and if he gets too fat (he loses his waist and you cannot feel his ribs) decrease the quantity by a quarter.
If he starts to look a little too skinny then increase the quantity by a quarter for a while. This is not an exact science, you will need to be guided by your puppy’s appearance. Do not, whatever you do, be guided by his appetite, because this may have little bearing on his needs! Some dogs are just plain greedy and will eat themselves into an early grave if you allow it.
How often to feed?
A puppy cannot process his entire day’s ration of food in one sitting. If you feed the right amount of food divided between too few meals your puppy will almost certainly get diahorrea. Gorging himself on dried food at a single meal can be quite dangerous for a small puppy as kibble expands after consumption. For this reason it is also important to keep the sack of kibble where your puppy cannot possibly get to it.
Puppies under eight weeks old need five or six small meals a day. From eight weeks up until he is about three months old, you will need to divide your puppy’s daily ration of food into at least four separate meals with at least three hours between each meal. It won’t hurt him to have even more meals provided the total ration is no more than he needs.
Once he gets to around three months old, you will be able to reduce to three meals a day. Some puppies can cope with this before three months, and provided it does not upset his tummy it is ok to bring this date forward by a week or two.
At about six months you can reduce your puppy’s meals to twice daily, morning and evening. And at a year old some owners move on to a single daily feed. You can carry on with two meals a day if you wish.
When should I switch to adult food?
The brand you have chosen will have recommendations for the age at which you should move on to adult food, and it is fine to be guided by these. The reason for switching is basically the reduction in need for a high protein diet as the puppy’s growth rate slows down.
Much of your puppy’s rapid growth is nearing completion by six to nine months old. Growth after this time is slower and less demanding of nutrients.
What about variety?
Despite how we humans feel about variety, dogs do not seem to mind a lack of it, and will happily eat the same food day in and day out for years. It is quite easy to create a ‘fussy eater’ by offering a different variety each time your dog seems to ‘go off’ his food. You can end up creating a real problem for yourself this way as the dog becomes more and more finicky in his quest for the best food in the world!
Remember that it is not what your puppy eats today, or even in the next few days that is crucial, it is the overall balance of his diet from one week to the next. If you puppy is not very hungry for a few days, or is unwell and does not eat much at all for a day or too, provided that your vet has is happy with your pup’s progress you do not need to worry about his weight or nutrient levels. Just offer him a little more food once his appetite is back. He will soon make up for lost time.
Do you have a favourite brand of puppy food you would like to recommend to new puppy owners? If so feel free to share in the comments box