Dietary advice for puppies

There’s an unmistakable excitement about bringing a new puppy home. No matter whether you are a seasoned dog owner, or this is your first dog, the joy is truly one-of-a-kind. But this happy time also kicks off a whole new adventure – figuring out and giving your new puppy what’s best for them, especially when it comes to diet.

In this blog, I am going to delve into some of the frequently asked questions that people often have about food for a puppy.

Do puppies need a special diet?

The answer is an emphatic yes!

Puppies have rapidly growing bodies. To support their growth, they have very high and specific nutritional requirements to ensure they grow into strong and healthy adult dogs with the necessary vitamin and mineral reserves.

To give an example, here is a comparison of the daily recommended nutrient intake for a 7kg puppy versus the daily requirements of that dog once it has fully matured. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the essential nutrients, but rather a selection to highlight the contrast:

Nutrients* Growth: 7kg puppy (Est. Adult Weight 20kg) Maintenance: 20kg Adult Dog
Crude protein (g) 49.99 31.03
Total fat 24.31 17.02
Calcium (mg) 3423.96 1229.46
Phosphorus (mg) 2853.3 945.74
Iron (mg) 25.11 9.46
Copper (mg) 3.08 1.89
Zinc (mg) 28.53 18.91
Magnesium (mg) 114.13 186.31
Selenium (mcg) 99.87 111.60
Iodine (mcg) 251.09 279.94
Vitamin D (IU) 155.2 170.4
Vitamin E (IU) 12.78 14.2
Vitamin B12 (ug) 9.99 10.88

*NRC recommended nutrient requirements for growth and maintenance

Looking at the numbers, you’ll see that puppy diets aren’t just adult diets with a little extra. They got their own unique needs.

What are the key nutrients in a puppy diet?

Like adult dogs, puppies need six basic nutrients in the right proportions to grow and develop healthily:

  1. Water: Water is the key to many processes in the body, helping everything ticking along nicely. It hydrates, helps control temperature, and ensure nutrients are transported throughout the body. It is important that your puppy always have access to a bowl of fresh, clean water.
  2. Protein: Puppies are growing every day, and protein is the key player here, serving as the main building blocks for muscle development and tissue repair. Beyond that, protein also supports the immune system, and it can be used as a source of energy.
  3. Carbohydrates: Puppies are bundles of energy, and carbs are their fuel. Healthy sources like sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats, and similar grains provide that slow-release energy your puppy needs to keep playing and exploring.
  4. Fats: Fats are essential for a number of body functions, such as absorbing certain vitamins, maintain a healthy skin and coat, and supporting cell growth. Studies indicate that fats, such as EPA and DHA from oily fish, support brain development, better vision, and improve trainability. Fats provide your puppy with more than double the calories of the same amount of carbohydrates or protein. So, be careful not to overfeed, as excess can lead to obesity-related problems.
  5. Vitamins: Vitamins are essential for optimal growth, development and overall health. They function much like they do in humans: Vitamin A aids vision, Vitamin B compounds supports nerve health, Vitamin D ensures strong bones, Vitamin E protects the skin, and Vitamin K aids in blood coagulation.
  6. Minerals: lastly, minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, copper, and iron, are crucial for a puppy’s development, specifically for bone and muscle growth, and for the healthy functioning of red blood cells.

The Importance of balanced puppy food

It is absolutely vital that the diet meets the nutritional guidelines for growth, as set by the AAFCO, FEDIAF, or NRC. I’ve covered this topic in more detail in another blog, which you can find here:

The National Research Council (NRC) – who it is and why you should care

In short, these organizations provide guidelines to ensure that your puppy’s diet meets the nutritional requirements for healthy growth and development. Both AAFCO and FEDIAF profiles are based on the National Research Council’s (NRC) findings. In turn, the NRC guide is based on years of scientific studies.

If your puppy does not receive the necessary nutrients for healthy growth into an adult dog, it can lead to severe health problems, for example:

  • A zinc deficiency can contribute to compromised immune function and skin abnormalities.
  • Inadequate protein intake can seriously disrupt growth, compromise the immune system, and increase vulnerability to various challenges such as infections, prolonged recovery from injury, and even more complex health problems.
  • Calcium and phosphorus balance is important for all puppies but especially for large breed dogs. An imbalance (either too little or too much) can cause severe skeletal problems.
  • Insufficient copper intake or low availability of copper, such as when copper oxides are used as sources, can lead to hair pigmentation loss.

Remember, puppies have unique nutritional needs that differ from adult dogs. By feeding all the necessary nutrients during their growing stage, you give your puppy the best chance for a healthy and happy life.

How often should I feed my puppy?

Unlike adult dogs who usually eat twice a day, puppies need more frequent feedings to maintain constant energy levels, aid digestion and reduce the risk of bloating.

The number of feedings a day depends on your pup’s age. These are rough guidelines.

  • At 2-3 months old, your pup should get 4 meals a day.
  • Between 3 and 6 months, reduce to 3 meals a day.
  • At 6-12 months (or up to 24 months for giant breeds), it’s down to 2 meals a day.

A little bit of puppy fat is healthy, right?

Absolutely not!

When we think of puppies, it’s hard not to think of a slightly chubby roly-poly bundle of joy, but keeping your puppy in an ideal body condition from puppyhood is essential. Obesity is a huge health threat to any dog, and it’s linked with a long list of risks such as:

  • Cancer
  • Joint problems
  • Anaesthetic complications
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Decreased lifespan

You should be able to feel a minimal layer of fat over their ribs, see a waistline when viewed from above, and observe an abdominal tuck.

Be especially careful with treats. They should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily intake. If you’re not keeping track, you can very quickly double their daily calories with a few high-calorie treats! Opt for healthy options like green beans, carrots, apples, and cucumber.

What is the ideal growth rate for a puppy?

The ideal growth rate for a puppy is a balance—not too fast and not too slow.

If a puppy grows too quickly, it can lead to various issues such as skeletal deformities, obesity, and a shortened life expectancy. On the other hand, a growth rate that is excessively slow may hinder the puppy’s development.

To ensure the optimal growth rate, weight your growing puppy weekly and records body weight and food intake (including snacks and treats). Your veterinarian can teach you how to body condition score (BCS) your puppy. You can also learn more by following this link:

WSAVA Body Condition Score

Another very helpful resource to help your puppy grow at an ideal rate is is the WALTHAM™ Puppy Growth Charts. These charts provide valuable insights and guidance throughout the growth journey, helping you keep your puppy on the right track.

WALTHAM™ Puppy Growth Charts.

When should I swap my puppy to an adult diet?

Once your puppy has reached 90% of their expected adult weight, it’s time to switch from a growth diet to an adult diet. Small and medium breeds should transition at about 12 months of age, while large and giant breeds may need up to 2 years.

It is important that you gradually transition your puppy onto their new diet to avoid diarrhoea and establish tolerance. This is because the dog’s digestive system can be sensitive to quick dietary changes. Aim for about 7-10 days.

Begin with 90-80% of the old diet and 10-20% of the new diet. If this is well tolerated for a few days, increase to 30-40% new diet for another few days. Again, if well tolerated, increase to 50-60% new diet for a few days and so forth, until 100% new diet is being fed.

Do you formulate puppy diets?

Absolutely! We offer a comprehensive puppy consultation service aimed at providing proactive guidance to owners who want to ensure their dog receive the best nutrition right from the start.

When formulating puppy diets we take into account every aspect of your puppy’s well-being, including their current weight, food preferences, breed predispositions, lifestyle and more. The consultation is a working relationship with me until your dog reaches about 12 to 18 months, depending on their size.

During the consultation period I will ask you for regular weigh-ins and body assessments, so that we can make diet revisions as your puppy grows from current age to adulthood. These measures will help keep your growing puppy on the best track.

If you’re interested in our puppy consultation, you can learn more by visiting this link:

Our Puppy Consultation

A healthy puppy is a happy dog

It’s essential that you put as much importance on your dog’s diet as you do their training and inclusion into your family. Providing your puppy with essential nutrients and a healthy balanced diet is the best way to set them on the path towards growth and happiness.

The journey with your puppy is an exciting one – let’s make it as healthy as possible, too!