Puppies grow up fast – especially if you feed them the right amount of food. But knowing how much to feed a puppy requires careful thought. It depends on his weight, age, and even his breed and environment too!
Also, puppy growth is not linear. They grow in spurts and stages. When your puppy looks full-grown, he will still be developing ‘inside’ as his bones and muscles reach full strength. This is why nutrition is so important.
When to feed a puppy solid food
A healthy puppy may burn as many as three times more calories than an adult dog. So puppies should eat plenty of easily digestible, nutritious foods to keep them growing up strong. They need high quality proteins, vitamin D, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
“During the first six to eight weeks of life, the puppy should stay with the mother and be allowed to nurse ad-lib. It is especially important they nurse from the mother. The mother’s milk provides the best nutrition and provides antibodies to help protect your puppy from disease”, said Dr Kristy Conn.
A puppy will leave his mother’s teat after 6-8 weeks. But he may already have sampled solid food from his mum’s food bowl or elsewhere, from as early as 3-4 weeks old.
During this period, you may begin to give him puppy food which is specially formulated for growing dogs. It is different from adult dog food as it contains the extra protein, DHA, and calcium that your puppy needs to grow. But don’t force him from mother’s milk to solids too fast. Weaning is a slow process. His little belly needs to learn to cope with complex foods.
Starting with wet food might be easier for both your pup's digestive system and teeth! However, if you prefer to start with dry food, you should crush it and add water or milk replacer. Add less each week until he passes the eight-week mark.
And don’t feed him within an hour of exercise (except for his after-dinner toilet walk) as this can cause bloating.
How much food to give a puppy
A pupster’s digestive system is still growing, so his eyes may be considerably bigger than his belly. Give him a loaded bowl of chow in the morning and he may scoff it all down, but he’ll pay for it later (and so will you).
But rather than underfeed your pup, try dividing his daily food intake into multiple meals. From 2-3 months he should eat four times a day. Then three times a day until he’s 6 months old. After that, twice a day is good. Be wary of feeding him between meals, and make sure the people you live with are on the same page. You can choose your own schedule when it comes to mealtimes, but one thing to keep in mind is to give your dog his last meal of the day at around the 5 o’clock mark. This gives him enough time to digest the food and eliminate before he goes to sleep for the night.
Pay attention to feeding instructions on the label of the food you buy, but also speak to your vet about how much is appropriate for your dog. There are general guidelines for sizes and breeds (see below).
But particular dogs may also have specific needs. Particularly if their growth rate is untypical. Normally, a six-month-old puppy may need as much as twice the number of calories as a two-month old. After that, the growth rate slows.
Be consistent with the food that you give to your puppy. Any sudden changes (of type or brand) can confuse his little belly. And you know how a confused belly expresses itself.
You might need to change his diet if he isn’t getting on with his current brand. But do it gradually.
Recommended daily feeding amounts for puppies
The portion size you feed your pup depends on his age and expected adult weight. Remember, it’s always a good idea to ask your breeder or veterinarian for advice. After all, that’s what they’re there for!
A small breed puppy that is unlikely to grow past the 12lb mark in body weight should begin (after weaning) with a ½-¾ 8oz cup of food per day. At 4-5 months he can progress to up to 1¼ cups. From 6-8 months, two-thirds to one and a third cup. And after that, adult portions are fine.
Puppies that will grow up to become large dogs will require larger puppy portions, and will also need to continue with pup-sized meals until the age of two years. You can gradually increase their portions over two month periods as they grow. There’s a great puppy feeding chart over on Purina’s website that provides a full guide on roughly how much to increase pupper’s intake each month.
Fortunately, most dog food bags have a dog feeding chart on the label. This comes in handy if you’re still unsure how much you should feed your puppy!
Of course, you may need to adjust this according to how your dog fares to the portion sizes you are feeding him. An ideal body condition is one in which the outline of the ribs can be seen and felt, the belly tucks up when viewed from the side, and there is a visible waist when viewed from above.
Lastly, don’t feed your dog puppy food longer than needed. “Feeding puppy food too long can result in obesity and orthopaedic problems. You will know when it is time to make the switch when you notice your dog eating less of the puppy food or if he starts to put on too much weight”, said Dr Conn. The transition to adult dog food should be done at around 12 months of age (or up to 24 months for larger dogs). However, just like with weaning, you shouldn’t make the switch between puppy food and adult dog food too brutal. You should mix the two gradually over a period of a few days at least, and adjust according to how well your pup adjusts to the changes.
If you feel like your puppy is gaining too much weight too fast, or, on the contrary, is not gaining enough weight, consult your vet. Every dog is different, and being examined by a professional is the best way to ensure an adapted diet and an optimal body condition. Furthermore, weight issues could be a sign of illness, so it's better to be safe than sorry!
In conclusion, the key to properly feeding a puppy is to feed him in regular small portions rather than all at once, so he doesn’t bloat. The main concern is to ensure the type of food you are giving him is nutritious, and that he gets enough exercise to process it and grow up strong and healthy.
Follow these instructions closely, and you’ll be helping your puppy to grow up healthy as can be!