Feeding Puppies: Everything You Need to Know

dog eating from a silver bowlThe crate is nestled in the corner. Leashes and collars are purchased. And shiny new bowls are ready to be filled … but with what? And how much? And how often? If you’ve ever wondered how to feed a puppy, you’re in luck, because we’re here to help.


Feeding Your Puppy: How Much Food Should Your Dog Get?

How much food to feed a puppy depends first and foremost on his age. Very young puppies need to eat approximately 3 to 4 times per day. That goes down to 3 times per day at around 3 to 6 months of age, and 2 times per day at around 6 to 12 months. After about a year, most puppies can transition to adult food 2 times per day.


Puppy Feeding Chart
Dog Age Meals Needed
8-12 Weeks Small Portions 3-4x/day
3-6 Months Puppy Food 3x/day
6-12 Months Puppy Food 2x/day
1 Year +* Adult Food 2x/day

*Toy and smaller breeds may be able to transition to adult food a little earlier (some as early as 7 to 9 months), while some giant breeds don’t reach adulthood until around 18-24 months. Ask your veterinarian for specific guidance here, and if you have any doubts as to when your puppy has officially become a full-grown dog, keep him on puppy food a little longer. When it comes to feeding puppies, it’s better to give a few extra nutrients than not enough.



How Do You Feed a Puppy During the First Year?

Naturally, there are a lot of changes going on in a puppy’s first year. Puppies grow at a rapid pace, and keeping up with their nutrition can be a moving target. A few transitions are to be expected, as you both learn what works, and you discover how to feed a puppy in a way that’s best for him.


Starting Solids

At 8 weeks, puppies are typically ready to start eating solid food. Transitioning them should be a slow process. Small portions are best, and it might help to wet the food with a bit of water to start, slowly dialing back on the moisture over several weeks until they’re used to straight kibble.


Regular Feeding

Sometime around 6 to 12 months is a good time to establish regular eating times, and move to 2 feedings per day. Try creating a routine by leaving the bowl down for a set amount of time (5 to 15 minutes, depending on how fast your dog eats), so your dog gets used to a regular mealtime. Bonus: Regular feeding time also means regular bowel movements, and easier pick up for you.


Switching to Adult Dog Food

Sometime around the one-year mark (depending on your dog’s size), your puppy will be ready to switch to adult food. Take it slow, and start with a mix of 75% puppy food to 25% adult food. Do this for a few days, then gradually increase the percentage of adult food until you’ve reached 100% adult food. The whole process should take about a week.



Which Food Should You Choose when Feeding a Puppy?

When it’s time to select a puppy food, it can be daunting to consider all the options on the store shelf. Most major dog food companies work with pet food nutritionists, however, and adhere to strict guidelines for creating complete and balanced nutrition – so as long as you’re selecting the proper food for your dog’s life stage, chances are high that you won’t go wrong.


What’s the Difference Between Puppy Food and Adult Food?

Puppies need a lot of calories, extra protein and more fat to help sustain growth, so puppy food is balanced accordingly. Typically, puppy food also includes some of the nutrients found in mother’s milk, like the Omega Fatty Acid DHA. To ensure you’re selecting a puppy food, make sure it is labeled specifically for puppies or says “for all life stages” somewhere on the package.


What Are the Pros and Cons to Wet, Dry and Raw Dog Food?

Wet Food typically comes in cans or tubs, and has a higher moisture content (hence, the name). It can help make your dog feel full more quickly (great for breeds prone to packing on pounds), and ensure your pup stays hydrated. Some dogs may also find it more palatable and easier to chew, but it’s a little messier than dry food, often a bit more expensive, and shouldn’t be left out for longer than an hour or two.


Dry Food comes in kibble form. It’s convenient, travels well and is easy to store. It also tends to be a bit more economical than wet food, stays fresh longer, and even has dental benefits, as the crunchy morsels can help clean teeth as dogs chew.


Raw Food is a trend you may have heard about, but a do-it-yourself diet should be approached with caution. Raw meat can contain harmful bacteria, and creating a suitably balanced diet for your growing dog or puppy is difficult if you don’t have the knowledge to do so properly. Some raw diets may be nutritionally deficient, depending on the dog, and certain ingredients, if used improperly, can cause bowel and gastrointestinal distress.


The Bowl Truth

At the end of the day, the best food for your puppy is the one that sends him skittering to his bowl, fits in with your budget and your family’s needs, and has your veterinarian’s seal of approval.



How Much Food to Feed a Puppy

Once you’ve selected a proper food, you can determine how much to feed by following the instructions on the bag. Typically when feeding a puppy, you’ll offer a certain amount based on the weight of your dog, so make sure to chart his growth, keep an eye on his weight and adjust accordingly. The following should also be kept in mind:


  • Puppies adjusting to a new home or switching food may need some time to get on track.
  • Some small breeds are prone to gaining weight and may need lower calorie diets
  • Some large breed puppies need slow, sustained growth to aid in proper development, and shouldn’t have diets too high in fat or protein


Once your dog has become an adult and shed his puppy fat, you can generally tell if you’re on the right track by looking at his physique. In a healthy dog, you should be able to feel his ribs (though they should not be pronounced), and observe a slight “tuck” where his tummy begins When you look at him from above, you should also see a bit of a waistline.


Check this chart for a visual representation. If your dog is looking too round or thin, adjust your feeding accordingly.



The Last Course: Tidbits to Remember

You’re well on your way to feeding your pup a perfectly healthy diet. Just don’t overdo it on treats, pay attention to your pup’s cues and always keep the following in mind:


  • Stick to dog food and skip the table scraps; some human food can make your dog sick.
  • Keep fresh water out along with any food, and clean both food and water bowls regularly.
  • Don’t start a medical diet or supplements without a prescription or recommendation.
  • Always consult a veterinarian with any questions you may have.


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