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how to feed puppies

Congratulations on your new (fluffy) family member!

I’m sure you are anxious to start your puppy off on the right foot and provide them with a happy and healthy life.

The core of raising a healthy/happy puppy starts by feeding the right food, with the right proportions, at the right time.

Initially, feeding your puppy may seem pretty straightforward, but there’s more to mealtime than many new pet parents realize.

What Should I Feed My Puppy?

First and foremost, puppies should only be fed puppy food: a diet specifically formulated for their unique nutritional needs.

Puppies are building bone, developing muscles, and growing organs at an exceptionally fast rate.

Their bodies are burning a ton of energy (i.e. calories) every day.

On average, a puppy requires twice as many daily calories as an adult dog of the same weight.

Along with a high-calorie requirement, puppies also have unique nutritional needs.

For example, puppies require a specific amount of calcium in their diet, otherwise, they can develop metabolic bone disease or orthopedic conditions like early-onset arthritis.

This is why it is important to provide your puppy with specialized food that is both calorie-dense and nutrient-rich to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition from their food.

How do puppies’ nutritional needs differ from adult dogs?

Adult dogs have very different nutritional requirements since their bodies aren’t growing or changing.

They simply need the nutrients necessary to sustain themselves,

Because their nutritional needs are so different, adult dog food is not sufficient for a growing puppy.

Feeding a puppy adult dog food will deprive them of the essential nutrients necessary for them to grow and develop properly.

Doing so could lead to serious health problems later on in life.

How do I know if my puppy’s kibble meets their nutritional needs?

You can identify food as “puppy food” If the bag states: “Puppy Formula”, “All Stages Of Life” or “ALS”

In order for dog food to be marketed as “complete and balanced”, it must meet the nutritional standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

These nutritional adequacy standards are defined by nutrient profiles based upon a dog’s stage of life —

  • [A] All Life Stages
  • [M] Adult Maintenance
  • [G] Growth (or Reproduction)
  • [S] Supplemental Feeding Only

Any dog food that claims to meet AAFCO nutritional requirements for “[G] Growth” or “[A] All Life Stages” should be OK to feed puppies.

Food that meets AAFCO nutritional standards for puppies will have a clear statement on the packaging that reads…

“[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for All Life Stages (or Growth)

It’s important to keep in mind that not all puppy formulas are created equal. Some puppy formulated diets are breed or size-specific.

If you feed a diet that is designed for a specific breed or size of a dog, it should match your breed or the size of your dog.

NEVER feed your small breed puppy a large breed puppy food or vice versa.

Too little nutrients can cause deficiencies, but if a puppy gets too much of certain nutrients, that can also cause lifelong complications.

You should always feed a food that is formulated for your puppy’s breed or size.

Can I feed my puppy raw food?

Feeding your puppy raw food can be very beneficial if done properly.

However, please DO NOT try and make their food yourself.

Like I said before, puppies have a very specific set of nutritional requirements.

These needs are very different than the 80/10/5/5 ratio most DIY recipes promote.

Trying to DIY your puppy’s food is simply a recipe for disaster (no pun intended).

If you do want to feed your puppy raw, find a reputable premade raw company that makes AAFCO approved diets for all life stages (or an NRC balanced diet for growth).

This will ensure that your puppy is getting everything it needs to grow and develop properly.

Should I change my puppy’s food?

When your puppy comes home (at 8+ weeks) they should already be well-established on a regular diet by their breeder or rescue.

Leave them on that food (at least for the time being).

The last thing we want to do is change their food right away.

Keep in mind, your puppy was just uprooted from their entire family, and the only life they have ever known.

They are scared, overwhelmed, and stressed out (even if they don’t outwardly show it).

The only constant in their life during this adjustment period is going to be their food.

Do not take that away.

If you want to change your puppy’s food, my personal recommendation is to start the transition 8 weeks after the day you bring them home. This should give your new puppy enough time to acclimate to your home and allow for a stress-free transition from one food to another food. I also recommend that you follow a 7-Day Transition Schedule

“But, they won’t eat it! They don’t like it.”

Moving a puppy from one home to another is extremely stressful for them.

It is normal for your puppy to lose their appetite during this transitional period.

You should NOT change their food in an effort to help them eat.

In most cases, changing their food will actually make them more stressed and could make them even more reluctant to eat.

If your puppy refuses food, you should closely monitor them to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on, but remember this kind of behavior is normal and should be expected.

Don’t constantly shove food in their face or force them to eat it.

Remember, they aren’t going to starve to death.

Once they get hungry enough, and when the stress starts to wear off, they will start eating again — just make sure food is available to them when they are ready.

Time and patience is often the best treatment for these stress-related issues.

feeding puppies full dog bowl with kibble

How Much Should I Feed My Puppy?

It depends on the puppy. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the nutritional needs of puppies.

Luckily, there has been a lot of research on this topic and there are a few surefire ways to set your puppy up for success.

First, there is a common misconception that you need to feed your puppy more as they get bigger.

This is simply not true.

“To promote normal growth, most puppies need to be fed the same number of calories, and food, from about 4 months of age to 12 months of age.

Even though they’re getting bigger, they use fewer calories for growth as they age.”

Dr. Justin Shmalberg DVM (nutritonist)

Calculating Your Puppy’s Daily Calorie Intake

To calculate how much to feed your puppy, you should first consult your breeder and vet to determine an appropriate daily calorie (k/cal) intake for your individual dog.

You should never rely on blanket recommendations like “1 cup” for all brands of dog food.

Each brand of dog food has unique nutritional properties that can differ drastically from one bag to another.

Moreover, you should NOT rely solely on the generic feeding charts on the back of the packaging.

Some companies use old and outdated information that over-calculates how much to feed.

Instead, you should focus on your puppy’s body condition and k/cal consumption per day.

Your puppy should be fed to maintain a healthy body condition.

“Watch the dog, not the dish.”

The ideal portion size for your puppy will depend on their metabolism, activity level, and body type.

Once your vet/breeder gives you a starting point for daily caloric intake, you’ll likely need to do some fine-tuning to narrow down the right amount of food for your dog.

Once you’ve found an appropriate portion size for your puppy’s unique needs, stay consistent. It is extremely important to keep your puppy on the same feeding regiment from 4 months through 12 months to ensure they are getting adequate and stable nutrients during puppyhood.

puppy feeding and eating food

How Often Should I Feed My Puppy?

2 months – 3 months

A puppy’s first few months are all about rapid growth.

To support the rapid growth, your puppy will need to eat on a fairly regular basis. Restricting their diets at this age can cause energy spikes, crashes, and irregular growth.

I prefer to feed small amounts of fresh food frequently. Ideally, they should be getting 4 meals a day to maintain a steady/healthy growth.

4 months – 6 months

Starting around four months, puppies can begin eating 3 meals a day (ideally breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

Feeding puppies frequently makes it easier for them to digest their food and helps keep their energy levels consistent throughout the day.

I personally recommend puppy owners use that “extra meal” as an opportunity to train your puppy each day. Use the food as treats to teach your new puppy basic obedience skills like sit, stay, come, and lay down.

The most important thing for you to do during this stage is to carefully monitor your puppy’s body condition.

Dogs at this age can easily (and rapidly) become overweight if they are being overfed.

6 months -12 months

At 6 months old you can continue to feed 3 meals a day or transition to feeding two meals per day. At this point, your dog’s body has matured enough to where their metabolism can support two larger feedings.

Feeding only twice a day tends to be more convenient for the owner and also makes for easier portion control.

If you do decide to feed your dog twice a day, make sure that breakfast and dinner are never more than 12 hours apart.

When Should I Stop Feeding My Dog Puppy Food?

This milestone occurs at different times depending on the breed of dog.

For Corgis, this usually happens around one year of age.

So, what comes next? “What should I feed my dog now?”

First and foremost, do not keep your dog on the puppy food.

As you now know, puppy food is extremely calorie and nutrient-dense.

This can lead to severe overfeeding, obesity, and can cause other health problems further down the road for your adult dog.

When transitioning from puppy to adult dog food, I recommend sticking with the same brand and/or protein if you are able to.

This will make the transition overall easier for your dog. Keep in mind, you should never switch foods cold turkey.

Always SLOWLY transition your dog from one food to the next.

If you are feeding a food for “All Life Stages”, there is no need to switch foods if you don’t need/want to. You will, however, need to do some additional fine-tuning to find the ideal portion size for your now adult dog.

Final Thoughts

The journey from puppy to adulthood is fun, exciting, but also critical to your dog’s future development.

One of the key factors in your new puppy’s development is their food and how you feed them.

Puppies should ALWAYS be fed puppy food that is AAFCO (or NRC) approved.

Once your puppy is 4 months old, consistency is key.

Stick to what has been working and provide them with stable and reliable nutrition to support their growth.

After they have reached adulthood, slowly transition your pup off of their puppy formula to something more appropriate.

Never leave your adult dog on a puppy formula!