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Those ticklish whiskers. That soft, pink tongue. Those tiny, high pitched yaps. The peace and quiet when they finally stop chewing your couch, shoes, and walls and fall asleep in your lap. Few things are quite as cute as a brand-new puppy. But whether you’re a first-time canine best friend or a long-time dog owner, you know that puppies are also big responsibilities. From potty training to obedience classes, owning a new dog means looking out for their health and well-being. Perhaps the most important of these duties is setting your puppy up for long-term health and wellness by starting them out with proper diet and nutrition.
It’s important for puppy owners to understand why proper nutrition is so crucial to the health of your growing pooch. Unlike human children, who reach maturity over 15 to 20 years, your puppy will typically reach their full-grown adult size within 18 months to two years of age. Much of this growth happens during the first critical six months, with some breeds doubling in size as quickly as every few weeks. Bones, teeth, organs and other vital structures are all forming during this time and use the fuel provided via proper nutrition to gain strength and function properly. Not feeding your puppy properly can cause serious harm that affects your dog both in the short term and for the rest of their lives.
How should I feed my puppy?
Proper puppy nutrition is easier than you think. To start, one of the most important aspects of feeding your puppy will be establishing proper routines. Feeding schedules, in which your dog is given similar meals around the same time every day, not only provides adequate nutrition, it also helps with potty training. You (and your puppy) will get used to their toileting habits, and a consistent routine fosters regular elimination.
Since so much of your puppy’s growth happens while they’re young, it’s important to feed your puppy several small meals throughout the day. Much like human children, a solid breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack will help keep them fueled and growing and will also help curb destructive behaviors when they wander off looking for something to chew on between meals.
As far as what type of food your puppy should be eating, whether commercially available kibble or homemade cooked or raw meals, your puppy needs a balanced diet with protein, starch, and fat. Avoid processed foods or too many snacks as your puppy grows to better track your dog’s eating habits and food intake.
How much food does my puppy need?
The schedule and amount of food you give your dog will change at periods throughout their first year. When they are under twelve weeks you may be feeding them four times a day, but when they reach one year, feedings often are reduced to twice a day. This can be discussed with your vet or canine nutritionist and will be based on your puppy's size, breed, and rate of growth. For example, small dog breed dog food is formulated different than large breed food.
It is important to set your puppy up for success as an adult by avoiding overfeeding. While excess weight isn’t good for dogs of any age (or humans for that matter) an extra 5lbs on a young dog can put undue stress on joints, bones and other bodily tissues at the critical growth stages. While your puppy should never be starving, a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to feel their ribs when gently pressing on their sides. A last rib visible while your dog is running or fully stretched out on the floor is also a great indicator of proper body weight.
Remember, if you are using healthy treats as a part of your puppy training regimen, you may need to reduce the food based on how many treats you feed your dog on a given day. Also, keep in mind that breed appropriate food is important, as is the consistent ingredient profile of a high-quality food. Another essential component to puppy nutrition is to never feed your dog (of any age) table scraps. Spices and fatty sauces should not be a part of your dog's diet.
The final word on puppy nutrition
Remember that when it comes to feeding your puppy it’s all about establishing healthy routines. From consistent meals, eaten at approximately the same time during the day, to measured portions and consistent nutrition, having structure in what and how much your dog eats is paramount to their long-term health and well-being. Once you’ve set up a few basic protocols, you and your new pooch can get back to the important things in raising a young dog… such as fishing that designer shoe out of their shark teeth-filled jaws.