Puppy Feeding: 5 Easy Ways to Ensure Your Puppy Is Eating Right
Am I Feeding My Puppy Enough?
“I don’t want my puppy to starve! This just doesn’t look like enough food!”
“My other dog doesn’t eat like this – what’s wrong with my puppy?”
New puppy owners have so many questions and concerns about puppy feeding. Potty training, crate training, introducing the puppy to other family members or pets are challenges we face with this tiny little ball of fluff. But, of all the concerns, correctly feeding our puppy is at the top of the list!
How much to feed your dog will depend on many factors, including size, weight, age, breed, and activity level.
Puppy Feeding: Five Easy Ways to Ensure Your Puppy is Eating Right
1. Make sure everyone is on the same page.
Your entire household must be committed to your dog’s feeding regimen. If there’s a soft touch for a handout in your family, your dog will likely learn begging behaviors, thus undoing the good you are trying to do. Keeping your dog healthy and fit takes a conscious effort from everyone on your team.
2. Puppies thrive on routine – create a feeding schedule.
When we feed our puppy at the same time daily, we help their digestive systems regulate, which makes their potty habits easy to predict and accommodate.
3. Avoid feeding your puppy cooked bones!
Cooked bones are not part of a healthy dog diet! Cooked bones of any kind can easily splinter into shards which can cause choking, damage to the intestines leading to a blockage, and damage to the mouth or throat.
Bones have little, if any, nutritional value. So it’s not worth the risk! Instead, give your pup safe chew toys and simulated bones appropriate to their size and breed for chewing satisfaction outside of mealtime. One option might be a Benebone. Find that and other chewing alternatives here.
4. Keep track of puppy’s weight!
Between vet visits, jump on the scale, then pick up your puppy. The difference between your weight alone and with puppy is a good approximation of puppy’s weight.
5. Don’t reward begging!
Eliminate the pressure of those pleading looks or whines by giving your pup a favorite stuffed Kong or chew toy before sitting down for your meal. This way, you get ahead of the begging behavior.
Other Good Ideas
Check the bowl!
If your puppy is resistant to eating, check the bowl! Some pups are afraid of the noise from stainless steel or ceramic bowls. Also, if the sides are too straight, puppy’s whiskers might get irritated. Other dogs prefer to eat off a mat on the floor or use a slow feeder bowl to prevent gulping their food.
Keep the feeding schedule with amounts, time, and food handy!
If you aren’t there to oversee a meal or two, puppy will get what she needs when she needs it!
Leave the puppy with his mother until 8 or even 10 weeks!
Letting mom wean your puppy as he is ready is the best start! He’ll get enough maternal antibodies from mother’s milk, and proper weaning alleviates problems that might develop later.
NEVER reach into puppy’s bowl while she eats!
You wouldn’t like it if someone took something off your plate, and neither does your pup! In addition, reaching into your puppy’s bowl can trigger puppy’s concern about protecting the bowl and cause resource guarding behaviors. Instead, let your puppy eat alone, undisturbed by adults, children, and other pets!
How Much to Feed A Puppy
How much to feed your dog depends on many factors, including size, weight, age, breed, and activity level.
Check in with your vet.
Your breeder can suggest based on their experience, but all medical/nutritional decisions should involve your veterinarian’s input.
Use the label on the dog food bag as one of your guides.
Each food has a different caloric makeup, and manufacturers can suggest the proper amount based on your dog’s weight. Keep in mind that some manufacturers may want you to buy more of their product, so their recommended levels may be on the high end of the scale.
Just because your puppy seems to want more, and begs for treats or table foods, don’t give in! Obesity is a significant problem for too many dogs, and it often starts with those sweet puppy eyes that make us believe they are starving.
A study on the relationship between nutrition and bone growth found that both overfeeding and underfeeding large breed puppies can cause severe joint and bone problems earlier than dogs fed the proper amount of a nutritionally-balanced diet. (Journal of Nutrition, 1991)
Check with your vet if you notice that your puppy’s interest in eating decreases.
It doesn’t necessarily mean there is cause for concern, but it is best to discuss a sudden drop in appetite with your veterinarian.
Body condition is another indicator that your puppy is eating correctly.
Those puppy rolls may mean puppy needs fewer calories to avoid becoming overweight. Ribs showing may mean puppy is underweight and needs better nutrition. Your first call should always be to your vet’s office!
As your puppy grows and her daily energy levels rise, you will need to adjust the amount of food she receives. Have that discussion with your vet at her regular checkups.
What's the Best Food for Puppies?
When it comes to puppy nutrition, the best food to feed a puppy is puppy food because it’s designed specifically for your puppy’s nutritional needs.
Top dog food manufacturers use the latest canine nutrition research to help them develop dog food formulas specifically designed to meet the nutritional requirements for each stage of a dog’s life and the different breeds. And, they are constantly upgrading their recipes to keep up with or stay ahead of their competitors. This means that feeding your puppy premium food puts you on the cutting edge of canine nutrition.
But isn’t the food we eat better nutritionally than that processed food?
At times, our diets are not the most healthy diets for humans, much less growing puppies! And human nutritional needs are very different from canine dietary requirements.
You might think, “Surely a few table scraps won’t hurt, will they?” But a French fry here, a little bit of pizza crust there, and perhaps some chicken skin will quickly lead to your puppy needing a larger share of the sofa!
Our table scraps don’t provide a balanced diet for any puppy – and can create a dog who becomes a picky eater, refusing to eat the best food for her and holding out for the “good stuff” off dad’s plate. Resist!
A study by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that a homemade diet can lead to seizures and severe nutrient deficiencies. So it is critical for owners who elect to feed a homemade diet to work with a veterinary nutritionist who can help you develop the proper diet for your puppy. This is especially important when it comes to young, growing puppies.
Protect those joints and bones! Premium puppy foods are nutritionally balanced to encourage the growth of healthy bones and joints, which is vital to our active dogs. A higher incidence of bone disease and joint problems are associated with the feeding of owner compiled, meat-rich diets. (The Veterinary Record)
Human food contains ingredients we love and spices we crave that can give your puppy an upset stomach or worse. A puppy throwing up or having diarrhea in the middle of the night because we gave them something indigestible is not an outcome any of us want!
Some human foods are even toxic – such as onions, garlic, and chives, along with others like grapes and raisins – and can actually kill your pup. And always check the Animal Poison Control’s list of “People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets” before offering human food to your puppy as a treat.
How Many Times to Feed A Puppy A Day
What is your puppy’s current schedule? Check with your breeder when you bring puppy home to find out the feeding schedule they use for your puppy. Then, discuss that recommendation with your vet at your first visit and adjust if needed.
Age is a significant determining factor; most puppies are fed three times a day.
Young puppies who have an empty stomach for too long might throw up a yellow foamy bile. This is not harmful, but you might add in an extra snack or adjust mealtime to ensure your pup’s stomach is not empty for so long. Hunger and tummy problems can affect mood (including unwanted behaviors like biting), ability to focus on training, and ability to sleep.
Around the 6 month mark, we often recommend reducing feedings to twice a day by gradually diminishing the lunch meal and dividing that amount between morning and evening feedings.
You may want to transition by taking half of the midday meal and splitting it between the morning and evening meal for a few days before eliminating the midday meal. All puppies are different, so you may have to adjust the transition amounts if your puppy has a hard time with the switch.
What Is A Good Puppy Feeding Schedule?
Feed when you eat. Instead of having your puppy sitting by the table begging, teach him that he eats his meal in a designated spot while you eat yours. Until puppy is potty trained, the best place to feed is in the puppy pen. Be sure to take the puppy out to potty when he has finished eating!
Feed early enough in the evening so she can digest before bedtime, which helps alleviate potty accidents in the crate during the night.
Some very small pups need a snack of kibble at bedtime to get through the night without an empty stomach that can cause throwing up bile. You and your dog will figure all that out!
When Can Puppies Eat Dry Food?
Some puppies come to us from their breeder eating a combination of wet and dry puppy food. Others are already on dry kibble or wet food only.
The deciding factors should be whatever you and your puppy prefer and what will provide your growing puppy with the best complete and balanced nutrition.
If you choose a combination of wet and dry food, be sure the total caloric value isn’t higher or lower than their daily energy requirement. Use the calories reported on each package to calculate how much of each your puppy will need.
When to Stop Feeding Puppy Food
“When do I switch from puppy food to adult food? My puppy looks full grown!”
Breed and size are essential factors in this decision. Large breeds take longer for their growth plates and bones to reach maturity, and may need puppy food even up to two years!
For most dogs, the transition to adult dog food begins between one and two years of age.
Talk with your veterinarian to determine the right time to make the switch to a complete and balanced adult dog food and for tips on making the change easy on your pup.
Big dogs, small dogs, and those in between – all have nutritional needs to be healthy, happy, and have the energy to join your family’s lifestyle! Make your veterinarian your partner in your puppy’s nutritional health!
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.