Your little Lab has become a sleek adolescent. Are you starting to wonder if it's time to switch the teenage pooch to an adult food? While typically a pup should switch to adult dog food between 12 and 18 months of age, there are some things to consider.
Growth and Size
Puppies eat puppy food. Almost everyone knows that. The real question, though, is "why." Quite simply, puppies have differing nutritional needs than adult dogs. Large-breed puppies in particular, such as your Labrador, have different nutritional needs than smaller breeds. Large-breed puppies require specific balances of minerals to ensure that their joints develop properly and in the right time frame. As such, the decision to switch your Labrador to an adult food is not one to be taken lightly. Speak with your vet concerning your Labrador's growth and keep your big, goofy, teenage Lab on a large-breed puppy food until the vet says his growth plates are beginning to close.
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Large-breed foods are specially formulated for dogs like Labs. These foods often contain bone- and joint-fortifying supplements like MSM or glucosamine. Since Labradors are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, the extra joint support in large-breed foods can help keep your growing dog on the right track, developmentwise. Labradors are prone to excess weight gain; many large-breed dog foods have fewer calories, which allows your seemingly bottomless stomach of a dog can be satisfied at the end of a meal instead of endlessly seeking more to eat.
Labradors, with their double coats, are heavy shedders. Keeping a close eye on the brand of food you feed, and on the food's ingredients list, can help keep your Labrador's coat healthy, shiny and shedding less. Look for a food, preferably grain-free, with meat listed as the first ingredient. Make sure it's not a meat byproduct or a meal. For example, the first few ingredients in a top-of-the-line food may read, "Turkey, chicken, eggs, quinoa."
How to Switch
When you decide it's time to switch your puppy to adult food, make the switch gradually. Start to wean your Lab off the puppy food and onto the adult food bit by bit, no more than half a cup at a time. On the first day of the switch, you might feed a cup and a half of puppy food and a half-cup of adult food. On day seven, you might feed 1-and-a-half cups of adult food and half a cup of puppy food. If your puppy starts to have digestive difficulties, such as loose stool, take the switch a little slower.
Since 2001, Kea Grace has published in "Dog Fancy," "Clean Run," "Front and Finish" and an international Czechoslovakian agility enthusiast magazine. Grace is the head trainer for Gimme Grace Dog Training and holds her CPDT-KA and CTDI certifications. She is a member of the APDT and is a recognized CLASS instructor. She's seeking German certification from the Goethe Institut.