In This Article...
- The importance of proper puppy nutrition
- How much to feed your puppy based on weight
- How often to feed your puppy
- Wet Food vs Dry Food for Puppies
- Kibble vs. Fresh Puppy Food
- Feeding Large Breed vs Small Breed Puppies
- When Should You Switch to an Adult Food?
- Puppy Feeding Chart
The big day is here and you’re bringing your puppy home. You’ve probably got a million questions about how to raise your puppy so he’ll be happy and healthy for years to come.
One of the biggest questions on your mind is sure to be how much to feed that little bouncing ball of energy. This is never an easy question, even with an adult dog. It’s even trickier when you’re trying to determine rations for a growing puppy!
But don’t be too worried. Every new puppy owner goes through this exact same confusion.
You’ve probably already discovered that the dog food aisle at your local pet store or online is stocked with countless foods. Just looking at all of them can raise your stress levels. We know that many new owners are concerned about adjusting their puppy’s calories as they grow – and we all know that puppies grow fast! Before you become overwhelmed, we can tell you what you need to know about feeding your puppy. In this article we’ll discuss:
- The importance of proper puppy nutrition.
- How much to feed your puppy based on weight.
- How often to feed your puppy.
- Wet puppy food vs. dry puppy food.
- Kibble vs. fresh puppy food.
- Feeding large vs. small breed puppies.
- When you should make the switch to feeding adult dog food.
And we’ll give you a puppy food calculator and a puppy feeding chart at the end of this article.
Make sure your puppy is safely tucked in and not doing anything naughty for the next few minutes while we go over everything you need to know about feeding him.
The importance of proper puppy nutrition
When it comes to feeding, dogs are not all the same and neither are puppies. These tables and data provide important information for canine nutritionists and pet food companies to help them in formulating foods for dogs of different ages, including puppies. However, it’s not always convenient to look up these tables when you have a hungry puppy barking for his dinner! So, let’s demystify your puppy’s nutritional needs.
Puppies grow incredibly fast, especially in the first four to five months. Most people bring home a puppy between eight and 12 weeks. Your puppy has spent the first two to three weeks of his life nursing, sleeping, and staying warm. After three weeks he was taking in lots of calories and growing like a weed. When you bring him home, he will continue to need lots of calories until his growth begins to slow down around five to six months of age. After that time most puppies of all breeds and sizes hit a growth plateau. They will continue to grow but at a slower rate.
The food formulated for puppies is different from the food an adult dog needs. This is true no matter what kind of puppy you have; or what size he is. Puppies have nutritional requirements that are different from the nutritional needs of an adult dog. Puppy foods are made to lay the foundation for your puppy’s health for the rest of his life. During the first weeks and months of life, your puppy is not just growing outwardly. His brain, bones, and organs are all developing, too, so it’s vital that he get the right nutrition. If he has too much or too little of certain nutrients, he can have serious problems later in life.
For example, many puppy foods now add the long-chain fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to their foods. DHA is a natural omega-3 fatty acid that’s essential in the development of the brain and nervous system of young mammals such as dogs. It’s a major building block of the brain and a critical element in the development of vision and the central nervous system. It commonly comes from fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and other seafood. It can also come from eggs and organ meat. DHA is also believed to improve learning and memory in dogs. One study suggested that DHA in the diet helps puppies be more trainable.
Compared to adult dogs, puppies also need more protein and more fat. They also need different levels of many minerals. (Table 1) That’s why feeding your puppy a good puppy food or a food that is made for all life stages is recommended. Theses foods have the nutrients that your puppy needs while he is growing and developing.
How much to feed your puppy based on weight
Many people worry about how much they should feed their puppy. They hear that puppies shouldn’t be fat or chubby but they don’t want their puppy to be skinny either. That’s perfectly understandable. So, how do you know how much to feed your puppy? Especially since he’s growing so fast and changing all the time?
If you have an adult dog then you probably know that how much you feed your dog is based on things like their current weight, their activity level, and their body condition. You can also include things like their overall health, whether they are spayed/neutered, and their age. There are lots of calorie counters online that will give you the number of calories that your adult dog needs when you plug in these parameters.
Determining how much food to feed your puppy isn’t that much different. You don’t need to change the amount of food you give your puppy every day, for example. As we said earlier, your puppy is growing fast for about the first four to five months. After that, his growth will slow down. You can expect to feed your puppy about the same amount of food and calories from the time he’s four or five months old until he’s a year old (give or take a month). Your puppy is still growing but he’s using fewer calories for growth and more calories for play at this time.
This means that if your puppy is eating 1,000 calories when he’s four months old, he’s likely to be eating about 1,000 calories as a young adult dog when he’s 12 months old. He may not be eating precisely the same amount, but it will probably be very close. This will vary a little from one dog to another. You will need to feed your dog based on his body condition and not just a calculated number. But it’s amazing how often these figures are about the same.
You can estimate how much to feed your puppy by determining how much he will weigh as an adult dog. We’re including a list of average adult weights for many well-known breeds that you can use as a reference. If you have a different kind of dog, you can ask your vet about the weight or look up your puppy’s anticipated adult weight on a reliable breed web site.
We also have a chart with daily caloric needs at the end of this article.
*** Average Adult Weights for Common Large Breed Dogs
|Labrador Retriever||75 lbs||65 lbs|
|Golden Retriever||75 lbs||60 lbs|
|Doberman Pinscher||85 lbs||75 lbs|
|Rottweiler||115 lbs||90 lbs|
|Poodle (Standard)||65 lbs||45 lbs|
|German Shepherd||75 lbs||60 lbs|
|Collie||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Great Dane||160 lbs||130 lbs|
|Mastiff||200 lbs||150 lbs|
|German Shorthaired Pointer||70 lbs||55 lbs|
*** Average Adult Weights for Common Small Breed Dogs
|Shih Tzu||12 lbs|
|Miniature Poodle||12 lbs|
|Dachshund / Mini Dachshund||10 lbs / 10 lbs|
|Boston Terrier||18 lbs|
|Yorkshire Terrier||7 lbs|
|French Bulldog||22 lbs|
Many of these breeds have a range of sizes and weights so we suggest that you talk to your breeder or veterinarian if you have questions about how large your puppy will grow to be as an adult dog. Often the size of one of the parents is a good guide to how large your puppy will be when he’s grown. A male puppy may grow to be as large as his sire. A female puppy may grow to be as large as her dam.
How often to feed your puppy
Of course, puppies don’t stay small for long. That cute little puppy you brought home will be growing up fast! Along with how much to feed your puppy, you’re also probably wondering how often you should feed him.
Feeding Schedule up to 3 Months
During the first three months puppies are growing fast so it’s vital that a puppy has plenty of food during this time. Most people will bring a new puppy home when he’s between 8 and 12 weeks old so it’s usually up to “mom” and the breeder to make sure puppies are eating well at this stage. Puppies are generally weaned somewhere between 3 and 7 weeks of age, depending on the dam and the breeder. (Some female dogs are very tolerant and let puppies nurse for a long time. Other mothers will stop nursing asap.)
Regardless of when your puppy is completely weaned, puppies will have teeth and start trying some semi-solid and solid foods by 3-4 weeks of age. Many puppies will sneak their mother’s kibble or canned food at this time; most puppies also love meat at this age. If you have puppies at this age, they are often able to regulate how much they eat surprisingly well. You can try putting out some kibble and letting them graze at will at this time. (If you put out canned/wet food, don’t leave it sitting out. It doesn’t do well when it’s been sitting out long.) If you think the puppies are eating too much, you can go back to putting out food at frequent intervals. Most people feed puppies about four times per day at this age.
Feeding Schedule between 4 and 6 Months
By the time your puppy is four months old, most puppies can change to three meals per day. Eventually, puppies and adult dogs are usually fed twice per day.
At this age, between four and six months, your puppy is still growing but not as fast as before. It’s important to keep an eye on your puppy’s weight at this time. No more free feeding or leaving food sitting out all the time for grazing. You don’t want to overfeed your puppy at this age. Puppies that become overweight, especially with large and giant breeds, can develop bone and joint problems later in life. Even though chubby puppies are cute, being overweight is a health risk for a puppy.
You can use body condition scoring to keep your puppy at a good, healthy weight. You will see body condition charts in your vet’s office and online. We have one here.
Use the body condition chart so you can tell if your puppy is too fat – or too skinny. You can talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions.
If your puppy isn’t gaining weight even though he’s eating enough food, talk to your veterinarian. He could have parasites such as worms, a congenital problem, or some other health problem.
At this age, between four and six months, puppies will eat LOTS. Expect your puppy to eat about twice as much, per pound, as an adult dog that weighs the same amount.
Feeding Schedule between 6 and 12 months
By the time your puppy reaches six months, you can begin changing his schedule to eating two meals per day. You can make this change between six and 12 months for most dogs.
During this same time period some puppies will also start to eat adult dog food. Toy and small breeds will achieve their full growth during this time and you can start to switch them to an adult dog food. Medium and larger breeds, however, will continue to grow. Larger breed puppies and especially giant breed puppies should be eating puppy foods that have controlled amounts of calcium. That means feeding them either a large breed puppy food or an all life stages food that specifically states it’s appropriate for large size puppy growth in the nutritional statement.
You will need to continue to monitor your puppy’s body condition to make sure he doesn’t become obese at this time. Any puppy can become overweight at this age if they are overfed. That includes small breed puppies and large breed puppies. So pay attention to your puppy’s weight and condition.
Feeding Schedule between 12 and 18 months
By this age most dogs have become adults. Most dogs should be eating two meals per day. If your puppy has become less active at this age and starts to gain too much weight, you may need to reduce his portions slightly, even though you are feeding two meals per day.
In most cases, the bigger the dog, the longer it takes for him to grow and reach full maturity. For example, Great Danes can continue to grow until they are two years old. Their growth rate does slow but you will need to continue to feed a large breed puppy food so your BIG puppy gets proper nutrition while his bones and body develop.
If you have a small or medium-sized dog, they are probably already eating an adult food at this time. Many people like to feed an all life stage food after a dog is a year old. Just pay attention to portion control and your dog’s body condition so he doesn’t become overweight.
Wet Food vs Dry Food for Puppies
Should you feed your puppy wet/canned food or dry/kibble? There are pros and cons to each. You may be wondering which food would be better for your puppy. We can help you with these options.
- Wet food or semi-moist food typically comes in cans, pouches, or single-serving packets. It’s usually more expensive than kibble. It usually has more fat than kibble. Dogs often find it tastier than dry food.
- Kibble usually costs less per ounce than canned food. It’s easy to scoop it out of a bag and serve it to your dog. You can also moisten it a little with water; or you can add some canned food to it as a topper.
- Many people like to give puppies canned/moist food while they are being weaned to help them with the transition to solid food.
When Should You Start Feeding Puppies Food?
One of the questions people ask about feeding puppies dogs is when they should start feeding their puppy solid food – and how to feed it.
- Most puppies will start to try to eat food when they are about three weeks old. If you’re helping a puppy try food for the first time, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Pay attention to the size of the food pieces. Puppies can usually eat dry food when they’re about six weeks old but the size of the kibble pieces needs to be appropriate for the puppy. Smaller kibbles are made today for small and Toy breeds. Many all life stage formulas also have kibbles that are appropriate for smaller breeds.
- Add some water to dry food. You can give a puppy dry food during weaning as long as the kibble is well-moistened. If you have a puppy from a small bred, you may need to mash it for the puppy. Or, you can put the kibble in a food processor to crunch it up into smaller pieces.
- Always make sure your puppy has plenty of fresh water. This is always true but especially if your puppy is eating dry food.
How Much Dry Food Should You Feed Your Puppy?
How much kibble to feed your puppy mostly depends on his breed and weight. (Check the feeding chart below as a starting point.) Here are some other things to keep in mind about dry dog food.
- Dry dog food generally contains 3.5 to 4.5 calories per gram; or about 100 calories per ounce. That comes out to about 350 to 450 calories per cup (depending on the dog food). That’s about three to four times as many calories as you find in wet/canned dog food.
- Dogs often seem more likely to become overweight when they eat a diet made up of kibble. This is probably because kibble has lots more calories than canned foods. It’s easy to underestimate how many calories you are feeding your dog. Carefully monitor how much food you are giving your puppy at each meal – even if he looks at you with pleading eyes and tells you he is starving.
- If your puppy eats plenty of kibble but seems hungry all the time he might need a food that has more fiber. Many large-breed puppy foods have more fiber for this reason. It helps the dog feel more full.
- For most puppies and dogs of most breeds, you can move from free-choice feeding to feeding three times per day to feeding twice per day. The amount you feed will remain about the same after your puppy reaches four months of age for most dogs.
Kibble vs. Fresh Puppy Food
Along with dry dog food/kibble and wet/canned food, you could also choose to feed your puppy fresh dog food. Fresh dog food is ready-to-eat food that is sold refrigerated or frozen. It can be shipped to your home and, depending on the company, is pre-portioned for your dog. Again, depending on the company, it can have high quality ingredients and be easier for dogs to digest than kibble or wet dog food.
How Much Kibble to Feed a Puppy
You may be thinking, “How much kibble should I feed my 3-month-old puppy?” Or, “If my puppy is 6-months-old, how many calories should he eat in a day”? Age may not be the best way to think about your puppy’s nutrition.
To know how much kibble to feed your puppy you just need to know his estimated adult weight. Refer to the chart below to find his daily caloric needs. Then look up the “calories per serving” on the nutrition facts label on your kibble. That’s all you need to do.
So, if you have a Labrador Retriever puppy, figure out what his estimated adult weight will be. (It’s on the breed chart above.) He should be about 75 pounds as an adult dog. The chart below says that a dog that weighs 75 pounds needs 1622 calories from a dry kibble. That’s how many calories your puppy needs per day between four and 12 months – and as an adult dog. (This isn’t exact but it’s pretty close.) The only thing you have left to do is look at your dog food and see how many calories are in each serving so you know how much to give your puppy.
Of course, we should mention that dog food quality can vary from one brand to another. We recommend that you choose dog foods based on many different factors and not just ingredients that sound like something you would want to eat yourself. AAFCO definitions for ingredients don’t always sound good but it’s far more important for your puppy and adult dog to get the proper nutrients in his food than to have a dog food that just looks good on paper.
Look for foods made by companies that work with veterinary nutritionists to formulate their foods; that do nutritional research; and which don’t use a lot of exotic ingredients, peas, lentils, legumes, potatoes, or sweet potatoes. These ingredients are currently under investigation by the FDA because of a possible link to dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs.
Raw Food Diets and Puppies
Raw dog food is also popular with many dog lovers. It can be a mix of raw meat, bones, organ meat, and sometimes fruits and vegetables. These foods are moist and can have a caloric density similar to or a little higher than canned/wet dog foods and fresh foods. That would be about 1.5 calories per gram or 45 calories per ounce. You should check the label to be sure. You can determine your puppy’s portions based on his weight, the company’s recommendations, and your vet’s advice.
There are pros and cons to feeding a puppy raw food.
- Raw dog food is minimally-processed which many people prefer. It doesn’t contain preservatives or some of the other additives that can be found in some kibble and canned foods. It’s a more natural food for your dog.
- Raw dog foods tend to be high in fat. Some manufacturers use fattier cuts of meat because they are less expensive.
- The FDA and other organizations such as the AVMA recommend against feeding raw food diets. A 2012 study by the FDA found a high risk of Salmonella and Listeria bacterias in raw food diets. Some newer raw foods are pasteurized or freeze-dried which can reduce potentially harmful bacteria.
- There is some risk, if you formulate your own raw-based diet, that the food won’t contain all of the nutrients that your puppy/dog needs. If you are feeding a raw food diet based on your own formulations, make sure you consult with a canine nutritionist.
It should be said that all kinds of dog food, including kibble and canned, have at various times been recalled due to bacteria, so raw foods are not the only dog foods at risk.
People who feed a raw food diet to dogs claim that there are many health benefits with this kind of diet. Cooking food usually reduces the risk of bacteria but it also diminishes the natural nutrients in the food which then have to be added back into dog food with added vitamins and minerals.
Feeding Large Breed vs Small Breed Puppies
Even though all puppies are equally lovable, there are some nutritional differences between large-giant and small breed puppies.
According to AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials – the people who regulate the sale and distribution of animals feeds, including dog food – large breeds are breeds that will weigh 70 pounds and more when they are adults. These dogs grow more slowly than smaller dogs. As we mentioned earlier it can take 18-24 months, or more, for these dogs to reach maturity. Adult dogs that weigh less than 20 pounds are usually considered to be a small breed. These puppies grow quickly and can reach maturity by the time they are 6 to 8 months old.
With this in mind, you can see why large/giant breed puppies and small breed puppies can have different nutritional needs.
How Much to Feed a Large Breed Puppy
Here are some things you should know about large/giant breed puppy nutrition:
- Too much calcium and too many calories have the most effect in large/giant breed dogs. It’s critical to feed these puppies the appropriate food and to closely monitor their caloric intake.
- If you have a large/giant breed puppy, his body condition score is especially important. Allowing your puppy to become overweight or obese can result in health problems later in life. You should be able to feel his ribs without seeing them. He should have a visible abdominal tuck behind his ribs. This is his waist. You should be able to see his waist from the side and from above.
To figure out how much to feed a large/giant breed puppy, you can find his predicted weight as an adult. Then check the chart to see how many calories he should have. Look at the calories per serving information on your dog food label.
Be sure to use your puppy’s body condition as a guide. Within every breed there is always a weight range. Some dogs will be bigger or smaller than others. Metabolism and energy needs will vary by up to 30 percent sometimes so you may have to adjust the amount you feed your puppy. You can always talk to your veterinarian if you have questions about how much you should be feeding your puppy.
How Much to Feed a Small Breed Puppy
You can apply all of the above advice to feeding a small breed puppy, too. Check how much your puppy will weigh as an adult dog. Look at the chart to see how many calories an adult dog of that breed needs. Then look at your dog food to see how many calories it contains per serving so you can tell how much food to give to your puppy. And, of course, check your puppy’s body condition score to make sure your puppy is maintaining a healthy weight.
Other factors to consider with a small breed puppy include:
- Closely monitor your puppy’s portions. Small breeds mature faster so you may see your puppy’s metabolism start to slow sooner. A slower metabolism means your puppy/dog can start to gain weight even if he’s eating the same amount of food as usual. This is especially true if you carry your puppy/dog everywhere and he doesn’t get a lot of exercise!
- Watch the treats. If you’re feeding your puppy treats that are made for bigger dogs they could be contributing a lot of calories to your little dog’s diet. This could upset the balance of your puppy’s diet and he might be missing out on some important nutrients.
- Small dogs don’t always stay true to published weights and sizes. Talk to your dog’s breeder and use your puppy’s parents as a guide for how much your puppy will weigh as an adult.
When Should You Switch to an Adult Food?
By now you’re probably wondering when you should switch to feeding an adult dog food. In general, you can switch when a puppy is about a year old but it really depends on the breed.
When your puppy reaches about 80 percent of his adult size his growth rate will slow down. This is a good time to shift to an adult dog food for many dogs but, again, it really depends on your dog’s size more than his age.
Toy and small breed puppies will reach their mature sizes first. Many of them will look like mature dogs by the time they are six to eight months old. They are still puppies at this time and you should feed your puppy a diet that is made for a puppy for a few more months.
Medium-sized dogs will often continue to grow until they are about 10 to 12 months old. You should continue to feed your medium-sized dog a diet formulated for puppies at least this long.
Large breed dogs will often continue to grow, slowly, until they are 15-18 months old. Your dog may look like an adult when he’s about a year old but the growth plates in his legs won’t close for a few more months. Feed him a diet that is formulated for puppies for a few months beyond a year.
Giant breed puppies can take 24 months – or longer – to reach their full growth. These puppies should be encouraged to grow slowly in order to avoid possible musculo-skeletal problems and joint disease as adult dogs. Puppy food formulated for giant breed puppies is recommended for these puppies. These foods have a special narrow calcium range so the puppies don’t get too much calcium in their diet. Too much calcium for these giant breed puppies can lead to too much bone growth. These foods also usually have slightly fewer calories to encourage slow growth.
Many vets recommend that you continue to feed a good puppy food for a full 12 months even if your puppy is already looking very mature. You can talk to your veterinarian and see what s/he recommends for your puppy.
Nutritional Differences Between Puppy and Adult Dog Food
There are some nutritional differences between puppy food and adult dog food.
- Puppy foods are often higher in protein to support normal muscle mass with specific attention paid to increased amounts of amino acids – the building blocks of protein. Optimal puppy nutrition means that each amino acids, not just the total amount of protein, has to be present.
- Puppy foods are made with specially targeted amounts of essential fatty acids for normal development; and slightly higher levels of some vitamins and minerals.
- Calcium levels are carefully controlled in large breed puppy foods. Too much calcium for larger dogs can cause abnormal bone growth.
- Large breed puppy foods also usually have lower calories to encourage slower growth. Excess weight in large/giant breed puppies can result in hip dysplasia and other bone and joint problems later in life.
- On the other hand, some puppy foods, especially for small breeds, have more calories and fat. Puppies burn a lot of calories and small breed puppies burn even more than most.
By contrast, adult dogs usually have a wide tolerance for what they can eat. Their nutrient requirements are usually not as strict as long as they don’t have a health problem. An adult dog can eat a puppy food as long as he’s healthy – even though he probably doesn’t need those levels of nutrients. Puppies, however, should not eat adult dog foods unless they are formulated for all life stages and, for large/giant breed puppies, formulated for large breed growth.
You should not feed your puppy an adult maintenance dog food. These foods do not have the nutrients that puppies need for growth and development.
Large breeds do have special needs. If you have a large/giant breed puppy and you’re feeding an all life stage food, be sure to check the label and make sure it’s marked for all life stages including the growth of large-size or large-breed dogs. This is a relatively new designation but it means that the food is suitable for large/giant breed puppies that will weigh over 70 pounds as adults.
How to Switch Your Puppy to Adult Dog Food
Switching your puppy to adult dog food is not difficult. You can usually make the change in just a few days.
- Start by mixing your puppy’s old food (the puppy food) and the new food (the adult dog food). Over the period of about a week you can gradually add more adult food to your puppy’s puppy food and use less puppy food. On the first day the food will be mostly puppy food with just a little adult food. Halfway through you should have about half of each kind of food. By the end of the week you should be feeding mostly adult dog food with just a little puppy food in the dish. Try to keep the portion size about the same. A little difference in calories while you are making the change is no big deal.
- Watch your puppy’s bowel movements and look for any signs that he has an upset stomach. If you notice any sudden changes such as diarrhea, there could be a difference in fiber or nutrient levels in the two foods. You can slow the transition. Most dogs will adapt. The bacteria in your puppy’s intestines need to get used to the new food, especially some kinds of fiber.
Puppy Feeding Chart
Once you know your puppy’s estimated adult weight you can use this calorie chart to see how many calories he needs (between 4 and 12 months). This chart shows how many calories your puppy per day.
Some dog food brands can tell you precisely, down to the calorie, how much food to feed, which is very helpful. But if your dog food doesn’t give you this information, you can find out for yourself.
If you want to figure out the exact amount of calories your puppy needs, the Veterinary Medical Center at Ohio State University provides the math behind pet calorie counters. This is the old-fashioned way we had to figure calories before calorie counters came along.
We also have a body condition chart that can help you see how your puppy should look. If you ever have any questions about how much to feed your puppy or whether he looks like he’s a healthy weight, talk to your veterinarian.