In a house with a new puppy, life is full of cuddles, romping around, kisses, and sweet puppy breath. Puppies bring so much joy and happiness to our lives. Getting nutrition right, right from the start, is a vital component to raising a puppy that will become a healthy, energetic, happy adult dog. That’s why we consulted with Dr. Justin Shmalberg, DVM, the veterinary nutritionist at NomNomNow to get the scoop on proper puppy nutrition.
Importance of Proper Puppy Nutrition
Providing your puppy with nutrients in the appropriate quantity and mix ensures that your puppy develops in the healthiest possible way. Just as with human babies, puppies change inside and out at a very fast pace during puppyhood. What you feed your puppy can support, or hinder, her physical and mental development.
“Brain, organ, and bone development occurs rapidly in puppies and sets up the foundation for normal function and health throughout a dog’s life.”
“Too little nutrients can cause deficiencies, but if a puppy gets too much of certain nutrients, that can cause lifelong complications.” says Shmalberg.
DHA is an example of how the inclusion of specific nutrients can have a lasting, positive effect. DHA is long-chain fatty acids often found in fish oil. It helps support healthy brain development, which can improve learning and memory in dogs.
Calcium is an example of the importance of feeding the right amount of a particular nutrient. Calcium is an essential vitamin for bone development but too much can be a bad thing. If given in excess to large breed dogs, it can lead to abnormal bone growth and a lifetime of pain for your pet.
Feeding a Puppy Based on Weight
This is one of the areas that causes concern for puppy parents. Feeding guidelines are almost always presented by weight. As your puppy is constantly growing and changing, does that mean you have to constantly increase the amount of food they eat? Not so, says Dr. Shmalberg.
“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,” he says. “Even though they’re getting bigger, they use fewer calories for growth as they age, which takes a lot of energy.”
Dr. Shmalberg and NomNomNow recommend using two factors to determine how much to feed your puppy: body condition and estimated adult weight. In looking at body condition, the basic idea is that you adjust the amount of food up or down based on whether your puppy appears under or overweight. The graphic below is a great tool to use in assessing body condition.
To determine estimated adult weight, the best predictor is the size of the same sex parent, which is not available for most adopted dogs. NomNomNow put together a chart of estimated weights for common breeds that may help. If you are not sure, ask your vet to give you an estimate based on your dog’s current age and possible breed mix. The estimated adult weight can be used to estimate the number of calories your puppy will need on a daily basis. You can reference the comprehensive chart of estimated adult weights and advised calories for puppies put together by NomNomNow. You can find it at the end of this article.
Feeding Schedules for Puppies
Puppies grow at an incredibly quick pace in early life. Growth slows down later in puppyhood and finally stops altogether as the puppy reaches adulthood. The dynamic nature of the growth rates makes it tricky to know how often you should feed your puppy. With the help of NomNomNow, we can share some specific feeding schedules based on your puppy’s age.
The First 3 Months
Puppies up to 3 months old are pretty good about regulating food intake on their own. They are used to going to mom or bottle for milk as needed and as they transition to solid foods, they keep the same routine. When they are hungry, they eat. When they are full, they stop. It’s fine to leave a bowl of food out for your puppy at this early stage. If you prefer to get your puppy accustomed to a feeding routine, feed at least 4 times daily during this early, quick growth time.
4-6 Months Old
Puppy will turn into little piggies at this stage in their life. It is important to monitor your puppy’s body condition from 4-6 months to avoid having him get overweight. Your puppy will need to eat 3 times daily around 4 months of age. By the time he is 6 months old, feeding will be down to 2 times per day. Puppies eat about twice as much as adult dogs of the same weight at this stage.
6-12 Months Old
Between 6-12 months, the most common feeding schedule is 2 times per day. This feeding scheduled continues throughout adulthood. In general, smaller dogs will finish their growth cycle earlier than larger breeds. A Pomeranian may be fully grown around 6 months of age while a Labrador will continue growing after 12 months. Giant breeds, like Great Danes, generally grow until they are 2 years old or so. It is especially important that large breed dogs get controlled amounts of calcium. This is what differentiates large breed puppy foods from small or standard formulas.
12-18 Months Old
Except for giant breed exceptions, most dogs are adults by the time they reach 18 months old. This is when you will continue feeding 2 times per day but will switch to an adult food at this time. Puppies are notoriously energetic. As they reach adulthood, they may take fewer laps around the yard in favor of longer naps. Keep an eye on your dog’s body condition at this time and prepare to adjust food portions based on your dog’s activity level.
“If you’re feeding an ‘all life stages’ food, there’s no need to change it—just make sure you’re paying attention to portion control,” says Shmalberg.
Calorie Content of Kibble versus Fresh Food
The caloric density of food varies widely. Ingredient quality, how the food is processed or cooked, and the amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein all impact the number of calories in a bowl of dog food. In general, fresh foods that are are gently cooked using high quality ingredients will have more nutrients per calorie than a bowl of kibble that has been processed from lower quality ingredients. What does this mean for your puppy?
Generally speaking, fresh dog food is much more digestible than processed kibble, or even processed wet food. When your puppy eats fresh dog food, she can get more energy and nutrients from a smaller portion or caloric count of food.
“Some foods may be more digestible than others and have calories which are more accessible because they’re broken down better during digestion,” explains Shmalberg. “Both fresh and kibble foods vary widely in ingredients and in fiber content,” he says, “but cooked foods are likely more digestible.”
A Fresh Food Diet for Every Stage of Your Pup’s Life
Dog families who make the switch from conventional dry and wet dog foods to a fresh diet tend to report many positive differences in their puppies. These include a shinier coat that produces less shed, smaller and firmer stools, excitement at meal times with a healthy appetite, and a perceived boost in general well being. This is likely due to the puppy’s body being able to better absorb and use the nutrients contained in fresh, kitchen-cooked food.
NomNomNow expertly designs and portions your puppy’s food, carefully controlling nutrients and calories through every phase of her puppyhood and life. By regularly updating your puppy’s profile on the NomNomNow website, you can be assured that every meal your puppy eats will be just the right mix to bring her into a healthy and happy adulthood. Start today and receive 50% off your first order.