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How to Feed Your New Puppy For Optimal Nutrition and Wellness

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Adopting or buying a puppy is no fly-by-night decision. You hopefully spent a lot of time deciding on the best dog breed for your family, settled on your veterinary and/or pet insurance budget, and of course, agonized over the most magnificent moniker for your precious pup. But now that your fur baby is under your roof, it's time to think about giving that puppy a long and healthy life, and a big step towards getting them on an optimal nutrition plan. If you've never had a puppy before, you might not know where to start, and that's where we veterinarians come in. We've rounded up some puppy nutrition FAQs and answered them for you below.

What are a puppy's nutritional requirements?

You should feed puppies a balanced diet formulated for growth. Look for high-quality puppy food from a brand you trust. There is a great deal of conflicting information regarding proper diet and nutrition in dogs. We recommend carefully evaluating pet foods to determine whether the manufacturer meets the following requirements at a minimum:

  • Employs at least one full-time qualified animal nutritionist (Ph.D. or DVM-ACVN)
  • Diets are tested using AAFCO feeding trials
  • Controls supply line and has good quality control measures in place

For more information, check out Tufts University Veterinary Nutrition Center.

How much should I feed my puppy?

Foods formulated for growth should have a feeding guide on the back, directing the amount to feed based on current age and expected adult weight. We recommend following these guidelines and checking in with your vet if you feel your puppy isn’t eating enough.

AAFCO pet food feeding guide

Image Source: AAFCO

Do I feed my puppy dry food, wet food, or a combination?

Provided you are feeding a diet formulated for growth, feeding dry food, wet food, or a combination is a personal choice. In younger puppies, softening the food by soaking it in warm water for a few minutes is sometimes helpful.

Is free feeding my puppy okay, or is it better to stay on a schedule?

We recommend feeding your puppy on a schedule. Free feeding at a young age is usually fine, but as your pup grows, having free access to food can lead to overeating. We recommend splitting their food into 2-3 meals per day, as doing so helps to set a good routine and ensures healthy growth.

That being said, we also recommend portioning out a fair amount of their total food for the day for use in training and enrichment activities such as puzzle toys and foraging. These activities are important for mental stimulation and relationship building.

Should my puppy eat inside or outside the crate?

If you are planning on crate training your puppy, using their crate for mealtimes can be helpful. Crates are also useful when you have multiple pets that need to be fed. Crates allow for easy separation to avoid peer pressure while eating and prevents resource guarding from becoming a bigger issue. Just keep in mind that a visual barrier will be helpful if the crates are close together.

When should my puppy switch to adult food?

When puppies switch to adult dog food is somewhat dependent on their size and breed and the food you are feeding. Most puppies transition between 10-14 months. You will often find recommendations to switch puppies sooner - closer to six months. We do not recommend this, as puppies continue to grow until they are 12-18 months, and we need to meet their nutritional needs with a diet formulated for growth.

What do I do if I already suspect my puppy is gaining too much weight?

Please check in with your veterinarian as puppies go through growth spurts just like kids do. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your pup is getting too heavy or is just getting ready to sprout up!

What if I notice my puppy isn't thriving?

If you have any concerns about your puppy’s wellbeing, please check in with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Puppies’ immune systems are not fully developed, and they are prone to risky behaviors such as eating things they’re not supposed to. Early intervention is key to good outcomes, so never hesitate to reach out if you have concerns!

Are treats okay for my puppy?

Of course! Just keep in mind the total number of calories your puppy is taking in each day. It’s also good to consider that puppies are often very food motivated and may not need more than a piece of their normal kibble to reward for pottying outside or learning to sit. It’s better to use the lowest value treat that will work in a given situation. Save the excellent stuff for working on tough training issues. And make sure to limit treats to less than 10% of their food intake for the day. 

Is it ever okay to give my puppy human food?

It’s okay to share a small amount of safe human foods with your pup. As we mentioned before, moderation is important and try to use fruits and vegetables when possible.

For a list of foods to avoid, check out the ASPCA's list of foods to avoid.

Always remember that we are partners in your pet's health care, so please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns. Nutrition is essential to your dog's health, and we are always here to help!

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