Guide to Puppy Nutrition

Similar to human babies, puppies grow rapidly and require a special diet (puppy food) that meets their unique nutritional needs in order to develop properly. The puppy stage is traditionally defined as the first 12 months of a dog's life; however, this time-frame can differ depending on the breed. For smaller breeds, growth usually ends around 9 months. In the larger breeds, growth can last until 18 to 24 months. As your pup grows, his/her dietary needs will evolve. It's important to strike the right balance of nutrients to keep your puppy happy and healthy so he/she can build strong bones and teeth and have the energy to learn and play.

There are countless types of puppy food on the market and differing recommendations about when to feed, how much to give your dog, and what the best puppy food is, but don't worry. We've got you covered.

What makes puppy food different from adult dog food?

Regardless of size, your new puppy is using most of his/her energy to grow and requires nearly two times as many nutrients as an adult dog. Puppy food contains extra protein and fat that supports muscular and skeletal development.

Dry food versus wet food

It is generally recommended that puppies start eating dry puppy food, like Blue Buffalo Wilderness Dry Puppy Food, at around four weeks, at which point their mother's milk is not providing them with the proper amount of calories. For puppies in between four and eight weeks, some pet parents choose to moisten their food with water or chicken broth so that it is easier for their puppies to eat. Please keep in mind you should not give your puppy cow's milk as this causes diarrhea.

Recommended for your new puppy
How to choose the best type of puppy food

There are multiple brands that produce equally healthy puppy food options. No matter what brand you settle on, look for the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) label on the bag. All foods that bear that label will give your puppy the proper blend of vitamins and minerals, as regulated by the organization. It is important to note, however, that many of the generic brands meet only the minimum requirements stipulated by the AAFCO. To help your dog through their important developmental stages, consider feeding a premium variety of puppy food.

How much and how often to feed your puppy

Once you've found the right food, you need to understand how often and how much to feed your puppy. Keeping your new pup on a regular feeding routine will help prevent indoor accidents. Newly weaned puppies (four to six months) should be fed three times daily, with that number being reduced to twice daily after six months. Consult the food label or your veterinarian to understand how much to give your puppy during each feeding. Do not overfeed your puppy, as too much weight could lead to orthopedic issues as he/she grows. If you have a large breed puppy, be on the lookout for special large breed puppy food designed to reduce the risk of bone and joint diseases caused by weight gain in growing large breed puppies.

What about water?

Water is an integral part of puppy nutrition, though your pup should not always have access to fresh, clean water, as it could lead to issues with house training. As he or she matures and gains better control of the bladder, consider a pet drinking fountain that will provide your pet with fresh water at all times.

Consider your pet's bowls

Admittedly less important than what goes inside, the dog food bowl also plays a role in pet nutrition. Ensure that it's the right size to hold the proper portions and is made of a material that is suitable for your dog. Plastic bowls are durable but dangerous for puppies who chew on them. There's a risk of small plastic shards breaking off and possibly being ingested. Stainless steel and ceramic bowls are better options that don't encourage chewing and are easy to clean.

What about giving my puppy human food?

Although recipes for many homemade dog food meals are considered healthy, you should always consult with your veterinarian first before giving human food to your dog. Common food ingredients such as onions, chocolate, grapes and tomatoes, should always be kept out of reach.

Talk about treats

While it's traditional practice to reward good behavior with puppy treats, you should consider the ingredients the same way you would your puppy's food. Although treats can be given anytime, in between meals is ideal. Look for treats that include real meat or ingredients puppies love such as peanut butter or pumpkin. There are also treats that address other pet health concerns, such as VeggieDent Chews to help reduce plaque and tartar.

Treats should not make up more than 5 to 10 percent of your puppy's calories for the day, so either look for low-calorie options or give treats sparingly.