How Much Should I Feed My Puppy?

January 10, 2022


January 10, 2022

Raising a puppy can be daunting. Whether you’re an experienced dog owner or brand new to canine companionship, providing the best care requires careful consideration and decision-making right from the start. Some of your most important decisions will be about your puppy’s nutrition, which significantly impacts their lifelong health and wellbeing. 

We know puppy owners—much like their adorable little charges—are too busy to sit still, much less conduct extensive nutritional research. So, we’ve created a quick-start puppy nutrition guide that covers food selection, how much and how often to feed, and when to transition to adult food. 

What should my puppy eat?

Puppies literally have a growing need for nutrition, as their bodies change and develop around the clock. Between 6 to 8 weeks of age, puppies are weaned from their mother’s milk or bottle-feeding, and introduced gradually to solid food. As you welcome your puppy home—ideally after 8 weeks of age—their digestive system should already have adapted to solid foods.

Puppies should be fed a high quality, complete, and balanced diet made exclusively for puppies. Unlike dog food formulas for adults, or all life stages, commercial puppy food diets are formulated to meet puppies’ specific needs, including:

  • High quality protein for growing bodies
  • Fats and carbohydrates for steady energy
  • Appropriate calcium for bone and dental development
  • DHA—a natural omega 3 fatty acid that aids in nervous system, eye, and brain development

High quality puppy food is formulated as a complete diet, with no vitamin or mineral supplementation required. In fact, giving supplements to your puppy can be detrimental to their health. Always discuss any nutritional concerns with your veterinarian before altering your puppy’s diet.

Does my puppy need a small- or large-breed diet?

Size-based feeding provides customized nutrition for small- and large-breed puppies, and can help safely regulate growth:

  • Small-breed dog nutrition— Toy and small-breed puppies have a higher metabolic rate, and are more prone to hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar). Specialized small-breed puppy food formulas are calorie-dense, and made in a smaller kibble size, for more efficient chewing and better digestion.
  • Large-breed dog nutrition — Improper feeding during puppyhood can have lifelong effects on large-breed dogs. Excessive calories and inappropriate calcium supplementation cause immature long bones to grow at a rapid rate, resulting in hip dysplasia and other painful orthopedic development disorders. Large-breed puppy food provides controlled, steady bone growth, by limiting calories, and supplying an appropriate level of calcium.

How much should my puppy eat?

Your puppy’s health status, age, diet, and anticipated adult weight will dictate how much food they should eat. This amount will fluctuate as your puppy experiences physical and physiological changes, such as:

  • Growth spurts
  • Activity level changes
  • Spaying or neutering
  • Skeletal maturity

The feeding chart on your puppy food bag or can is a great initial guideline for how much to feed—however, your veterinarian and your puppy’s physical condition are more reliable measures of how much your puppy actually needs. Because your puppy is rapidly growing, you must prevent over- or under-feeding by “feeding the dog, not the dish.” This means:

  • Always using a measuring cup for accurate feeding
  • Feeding at consistent times, to improve digestion and housebreaking
  • Removing uneaten food after 10 to 20 minutes
  • Not feeding your puppy human food

Regularly assess your puppy’s body condition by feeling their ribs, which should be clearly apparent under a slight fat covering. Your puppy should also have a visible waist after their last rib. Adjust your puppy’s food according to your findings, or consult your veterinarian. 

Should my puppy eat wet food or dry food?

Many puppy foods are available in canned or dry formulations. While both formulations have their benefits, the decision on which to feed—or to feed both—is a matter of preference. Always check the product label to ensure your puppy is receiving the appropriate amount of calories per meal, as wet and dry food have different caloric densities.

How often should I feed my puppy?

Your puppy’s metabolism and immature digestive tract require small, regular meals, to maintain energy and fuel proper development. Your puppy’s daily food intake should be divided evenly among these meals. As they age, increase the interval between meals, according to your veterinarian, who likely will recommend:

  • 6 to 12 weeks of age — Feed four small meals per day.
  • 3 to 6 months— Decrease meal frequency to three times per day. 
  • 6 months and older — Twice-daily feeding is recommended for lifelong weight management and digestion.

You may be advised to continue multiple small meals for toy and small-breed puppies, to prevent hypoglycemia. If your dog will be spayed or neutered, monitor their weight closely after surgery, because metabolism may decrease, making weight gain more likely. Provide your puppy with plenty of low-impact exercise to maintain a healthy weight, and prevent obesity. 

Can I use treats to train my puppy?

Positive reinforcement (i.e., reward-based) training is an effective method for teaching puppies, and they certainly have a lot to learn. Unfortunately, this means they’ll need a lot of treat rewards! Treats are fine in moderation, and should comprise no more than 10 percent of your puppy’s daily food consumption.

Rather than commercial pet treats, which can be high in calories, try using your puppy’s kibble for training. For really challenging tasks, use small pieces of skinless chicken breast.

My puppy isn’t hungry—should I leave food out all day?

Free-feeding, which can result in obesity and encourage your puppy to be a picky-eater, is not recommended. Puppies should be meal-fed at regular intervals, and any food remaining after 10 to 20 minutes should be removed. If your puppy isn’t finishing their food, but is otherwise behaving normally, they may no longer require a large quantity of food. If your puppy stops eating altogether, immediately contact your veterinarian.

Do I need to feed expensive puppy food?

With nutrition, you get what you pay for—inexpensive brands often contain cheap fillers in place of quality ingredients, and may be preserved with harmful chemicals. Poor nutrition will result in poor health and higher long-range veterinary expenses.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for reputable puppy food recommendations in your price range. Remember—quality nutrition is built on extensive research, testing, and development, all of which improve your puppy’s chances for a long and healthy life. 

When do I make the switch to adult food?

Puppies can graduate to adult dog food when they reach maturity, around 1 year old for most breeds. Small breeds under 30 pounds are considered full grown at 10 to 12 months old, while large and giant breeds may take up to 18 months. After skeletal maturity (i.e., growth plate closure), puppies will continue to fill in and develop, but require significantly fewer calories, so switching to adult food helps prevent obesity. 

Make the transition from puppy to adult food gradually. Sudden diet changes can be hard on your pet’s digestive system. Give them time to adapt with a slow introduction over 7 to 10 days:

  • Days 1 to 2 — Feed 75 percent old food with 25 percent new food
  • Days 3 to 4 — Feed 50 percent old food and 50 percent new food
  • Days 5 to 7 — Feed 25 percent old food and 75 percent new food
  • Days 8 to 10 — Feed 100 percent new food

Monitor your dog  for digestive upset (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, loose stools) and take a few steps back, if necessary. If the problems persist, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Puppies may be small, but caring for them can bring up a lot of questions. VetVet can connect you with a knowledgeable veterinarian, so you can get the help you need for your new best friend.

Sources: Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. 2019. Purina. 2020. Tufts University Veterinary Nutrition Service. 2016. Purina. 2021.

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Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.