A puppy requires a high-quality, protein-rich diet to help him to grow into a healthy adult. His size, exact age and breed each affect what and how much he you should feed him each day. Feed your little guy enough food to encourage proper growth, not obesity.
Types of Food
What you feed your little pup depends on his age. A puppy under 4 weeks old needs his mother's milk or to be fed a milk replacement formula. If mom's not available to nurse him, feed him about 30ml of formula per 3.5 ounces of weight per day for the first week and 20ml of formula per 3.5 ounces of weight each day for the next three weeks. Divide this amount into eight to 12 servings each day, feeding approximately two to three hours apart, from a bottle.
After 4 weeks of age, wean your puppy onto solid canned or dry foods; moisten dry foods with low-sodium broth or formula for the first week or two of weaning. Initially, you can feed puppies solid foods for a few days until you get a general idea of how much food satisfies your pup during each meal. You can usually successfully free-feed small dog breeds dry food without worrying about them overeating, according to The Everything German Shepherd Book: A Complete Guide to Raising, Training, and Caring for Your German Shepherd. However, larger breeds need portion control past the first few weeks on solid foods.
Growing pups need more calories than full grown dogs to account for their increased energy needs. According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, puppies need twice as many calories per pound of weight as do their adult counterparts of the same breed. For example, a 30-pound adult dog needs approximately 30 calories per pound of weight per day; therefore a puppy whose breed will reach around 30 pounds in adulthood needs 60 calories per pound of weight per day. When in doubt, follow the manufacturer's recommendations listed on your puppy's food, based on his current weight. Note that you should be able to feel a dog's ribs under his coat if he's not overweight. If the ribs aren't palpable when you gently rub your hand down his side, cut back on his diet slightly.
Like all dogs, puppies need food that contains the proper balance of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, vitamins and minerals to maintain their health. Look for foods that list a whole meat protein as the primary ingredient: Ingredients are listed by weight in decreasing order.
Purchase foods for your growing pup that meet the nutritional profiles or feeding trials established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which satisfy your dog's basic nutritional needs. Puppies require more protein and fat than adult dogs do and should eat food labeled "for growth," according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These foods contain at least 22 percent protein and 8 percent fat, whereas adult dog food contain a minimum of 18 percent protein and 5 percent fat, following the nutritional guidelines set up by AAFCO. The foods also contain increased amounts of vitamins and minerals to encourage proper growth in the little pup.
While little furbabies under 4 weeks old need feeding every two to three hours, once they're on solid food you can reduce the amount of daily feedings to four times a day. Once your pup reaches 4 months old, reduce these feedings to two to three per day. You can continue a twice- or three-times-daily feeding routine into adulthood. Divide your pup's recommended daily portion of calories into these smaller feedings to prevent your little one from becoming overweight. If you mix two types of food together, such as wet and dry, add their calories together to meet your dog's daily calorie requirements.
Set up a consistent feeding schedule to get your pup set on a routine and to help with housebreaking. A dog who eats at the same times each day eliminates at the same times too, preventing any accidents, recommends the Humane Society of the United States.
Most pups should get puppy-specific food for the first year of life, in the proper amounts recommended for your little guy's size. Overfeeding any breed, small or tall, can lead to health issues with rapid bone development, in some cases causing bowed front legs, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Large or giant breeds, naturally prone to joint issues, should get puppy food for just their first six months to prevent rapid growth. Rapid development in large and giant breeds can lead to bone growth problems. Foods designed for these large breeds contain less protein and fats to encourage slower development. Feed your pup these types of foods if he is of a larger breed or is a breed mix.
While relatively uncommon in puppies, bloat is a life-threatening condition that affects deep-chested breeds, including most large breeds and certain small breeds like dachshunds. To prevent issues as a young pup or in the future, get your little guy on a consistent feeding schedule after he reaches 6 months of age. Feed him at least two meals a day to discourage the ravenous frenzy that could occur if such a dog were to get a single meal per day. Rapid eating or drinking, feeding your pup in elevated bowls, or exercising immediately before or after eating can contribute to the chances of developing bloat, according to WebMD.
Gastric dilation and volvulus, commonly referred to as bloat, results from the buildup of air and fluid in the stomach. It can cause swelling and complete rotation of the stomach itself inside the body, cutting off air- and blood flow to the vital organs. Seek the help of a veterinarian if you notice your puppy attempting to vomit unsuccessfully after eating, if he has a swollen stomach or if he seems lethargic. Restrict your dog's water consumption immediately after he eats and avoid strenuous exercise for your little guy an hour before or after meals.
An indicator that you are feeding your pup the right amount of food is his weight. Puppies grow rapidly during their first six months of development and should consistently gain weight during this time. If your pup loses weight and you can see his ribs, a health issue could be to blame; you need to visit the vet to check for signs of an illness. On the other hand, if your pup has a round shape with no defined waist when you're looking at him from above, and you can't feel his ribs through his fur, he's obese. This is also a reason to consult your vet, who can give you some recommendations for feeding the little guy so that he is eating the proper amount for his size and activity level.
Monitor your puppy for any changes in his appetite, whether an increase or decrease. These changes could indicate medical issues such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Cushing's disease or Addison's disease, among others. A visit to your vet will determine if there is anything amiss with your pup's health.
- National Research Council of the National Academies: Your Dog's Nutritional Needs
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: General Dog Care
- VetInfo: Puppy Feeding Guidelines
- The Humane Society of the United States: Housetraining Puppies
- 2ndchance.info: Bottle Feeding Orphaned Puppies
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: General Dog Care
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Selecting Nutritious Pet Foods
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Pet Food: The Lowdown on Labels
- Vetstreet: Feeding Your Puppy: What You Need to Know
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.