Written by Dr. Jill Cline, Ph.D.
Caring for your new puppy includes providing a comfortable and loving home environment, regular training and exercise, and optimal nutrition to support healthy growth and development.
Selecting the Best Food for Your Puppy
Today, most owners prefer the reliability and convenience of feeding a commercial pet food. The food that you select for your puppy should support optimal growth and health and produce a lustrous coat, healthy skin condition, and proper body physique and muscle tone. High quality puppy foods also support normal gastrointestinal functioning and produce regular, firm, and well formed stools. Here are a few more tips:
• Read labels and select a puppy food that has been formulated to be complete and balanced for growth and development or for all life stages.
• Three types of commercial foods are available; dry, semi-moist and canned. The decision of which type of food to select can be made with an understanding of the benefits of each:
• Dry Foods: Dry dog foods are palatable to most dogs and are generally the most economical and convenient type of food to feed. They have the advantage of staying fresh for a long period of time and lend themselves well to free-choice feeding and for use in automatic feeders. The chewing that is needed with dry foods can also aid in reducing plaque formation on teeth. Dry puppy foods are available in a variety of flavors, textures and shapes, allowing owners to select a food that best meets their dog’s needs.
• Canned Foods: Canned foods are generally very appealing to dogs because of their texture and because they contain a relatively high level of fat and protein. Because canned foods may dry out or spoil if left in a food bowl, they should only be offered as meals rather than as free-choice feeding. Puppies may also tend to over-consume canned foods because of their high appeal. For this reason, many owners use canned dog foods to supplement dry food as an added treat or to encourage finicky puppies to eat.
• Soft-Moist Foods: Soft-moist foods are softer in texture than dry foods and are very appealing to many dogs. Soft-moist foods do not spoil as quickly as canned foods and so can be used in free-choice feeding or in automatic feeders, provided that the food is replaced daily. These foods come in convenient meal-sized packages and also are very suitable to use as rewards during training sessions.
Feeding Tips for your Puppy’s First Year
Puppies are completely weaned and ready to enter their new homes when they are between seven and nine weeks of age. Puppies this age are capable of obtaining all of the nutrition that they need from a commercial puppy food. They are also growing very rapidly. Feed your puppy to promote an optimal, but not maximal rate of growth, especially if he is a large or giant breed (see Box). Here are a few additional feeding guidelines for your puppy’s first year:
• If the food you choose for your puppy differs from the food he received during weaning, transition to the new food gradually over several days to prevent gastrointestinal upsets. Begin by mixing a small amount of the new diet with your puppy’s weaning diet and increase the proportion of the new food in the mixture each day.
• Puppies can be fed free-choice (i.e. having food available all day) or using portion-controlled meals. Because many dogs tend to over-consume when allowed free access to food, meal feeding is the preferred method for the majority of dogs.
• When using portion-controlled meal feeding, growing puppies should be fed at least three times daily until they reach five to six months of age. After six months of age, twice a day feeding is recommended. Feeding two meals per day supports gastrointestinal health and helps to prevent hunger-related behavior problems.
• Feed your puppy in the same place and at the same times, each day. Allow him 15 to 20 minutes to consume his meal and then remove the dish. This will establish regular eating habits and will also aid with your puppy’s house training.
• Fresh water should be available to your puppy in several areas of your home. Bowls should be cleaned and refilled daily.
• Puppy training can begin as soon as your puppy has settled into his new home. Training for basic manners at an early age can prevent unwanted behaviors later. Many communities offer puppy socialization classes that provide training information and an opportunity for your puppy to play with other puppies and to meet new people.
• Dog treats make great rewards to use during training, but care should be taken not to over-feed. It is helpful to measure out the amount of food treats that you will use for training each day and subtract this amount from your puppy’s daily portion of food.
• Large breed dogs mature more slowly than small breed dogs. Small dogs are considered to be adult at about one year of age, while large breeds continue to develop until they are 1 ½ to 2 years of age. Continue to feed a complete and balanced puppy food selected for the breed size and lifestyle of your puppy until he is an adult – when he reaches 80% of his adult body weight.
Feed Your Puppy for Optimal Growth, NOT Maximal Growth!
Although many people love the appearance of a plump puppy, feeding young dogs for that pudgy look is not good for their health and development. Excessive caloric intake during growth promotes a rapid growth rate and an overweight body condition. Research studies have shown that rapid growth rate is associated with the development of skeletal diseases such as canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and panosteitis. Overweight puppies are also more likely to be overweight as adult dogs.
So, while a plump puppy may be cute, a lean puppy is both healthier and happier. Controlling caloric intake during growth and feeding to promote a lean and well-muscled body type supports a moderate and not excessive rate of growth and helps to prevent developmental skeletal diseases and overweight conditions. Here are some additional tips:
• Select a puppy food that is formulated for your puppy’s adult size and lifestyle. Feed an amount that supports a lean and well-toned body condition throughout growth.
• Instructions on the puppy food label provide general guidelines for estimating an initial volume of food to offer. You can adjust this amount in response to your puppy’s weight and body condition.
• Monitor your puppy’s weight and growth carefully. Keep written records and consult your veterinarian for if you need help maintaining a proper rate of growth and body condition during your puppy’s first year.
Feeding Practices to Avoid
It is important to establish proper eating habits and to avoid improper and potentially hazardous feeding practices as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Here are a few things to avoid:
• Table scraps: If fed at all, table scraps should be strictly limited. While the table scraps that end up in your puppy’s bowl may be very palatable, they usually do not provide balanced nutrition. Likewise, feeding table scraps from the table can lead to behavior problems such as begging or stealing food from the table.
• Bones: Do not provide bones to your puppy that may splinter and injure a puppy’s throat or gastrointestinal tract. Select bones and toys that are specifically designed for chewing puppies and always supervise your puppy when she is chewing vigorously on a toy or bone.
• Supplemental Vitamin C: Some breeders and dog enthusiasts believe that providing supplemental Vitamin C to puppies during growth helps prevent skeletal disorders. However, there is no supportive evidence for this role of Vitamin C and a substantial amount of evidence refuting it. In addition, feeding excess amounts of Vitamin C may increase a dog’s risk of kidney or bladder stones. When a nutritionally complete and balanced food is fed, supplementing the diet with other ingredients or with a vitamin/mineral supplement is not necessary and may imbalance the diet.
• Dairy products: Dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese are excellent sources of calcium and protein, but excessive intake may cause diarrhea in puppies because of the high lactose content of dairy foods.
• Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that is toxic to dogs when consumed in large quantities. However, most cases of chocolate toxicity occur accidentally when a dog consumes very large amounts. If a dog’s intake of chocolate is strictly limited to an occasional small treat, there is no danger of theobromine toxicity. However, to prevent your puppy from over-indulging, keep all chocolate-containing foods out of reach in a secure place.