Most new puppy owners have many 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.
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No sudden changes
My first advice is to 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 to take with you, and I suggest you keep him on this brand for at least a week until he has settled into your home.
That way, if he gets an upset tummy, you won’t wonder if it is the food you give him or something else. An awful lot is 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 into 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 most dog owners in the UK 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 load, the cheaper it 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 a weight for weight. Some of the cheaper varieties contain more ‘filler’ and fewer nutrients.
Buying in quantity may save you money, but large sacks of kibble can be heavy and cumbersome to transport. Finding a local company that delivers your brand may be worth trying.
Buying the correct type of kibble for your puppy’s growth stage and for his breed is essential. And for this, you must read the description of 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. 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 suitable 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 intend to switch brands, do it over 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 how much to feed a puppy. The quantities on the packet are a guide. Each puppy will grow at its 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 to poor development of his joints. It is also essential to make sure he is not too fat. It is no longer considered desirable or 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 suitable 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 too skinny, increase the quantity by a quarter for a while. This is not an exact science; you must be guided by your puppy’s appearance. Do not be guided by his appetite, whatever you do, because this may have little bearing on his needs! Some dogs are 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 food ration in one sitting. If you feed the right amount of food divided between too few meals, your puppy will almost certainly get diarrhea. Gorging himself on dried food at a single meal can be dangerous for a small puppy as kibble expands after consumption. For this reason, keeping the sack of kibble where your puppy cannot possibly get to it is also essential.
Puppies under eight weeks old need five or six small meals a day. From eight weeks until he is about three months old, you must divide your puppy’s daily food ration 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.
You can reduce to three meals a day once he gets to around three months old. Some puppies can cope with this before three months, and provided it does not upset their tummy, it is okay to bring this date forward by a week or two.
You can reduce your puppy’s meals to twice daily, morning and evening, at about six months. 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 OK to be guided by these. The reason for switching is the reduced need for a high-protein diet as the puppy’s growth rate slows.
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 do you think about variety?
Despite how humans feel about variety, dogs do not seem to mind a lack of it and will happily eat the same food daily for years. Creating a ‘fussy eater’ by offering a different variety each time your dog seems to ‘go off’ his food is pretty straightforward. You can end up making a real problem for yourself this way as the dog becomes increasingly 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 your puppy is not hungry for a few days or is unwell and does not eat much for a day or two, provided that your vet 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 favorite brand of puppy food you would like to recommend to new puppy owners? If so, feel free to share in the comments box.
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy ‘How to Socialize Your Puppy’ and ‘Puppy Exercise: How Much is Too Much.’