Puppy Nutrition: How Much To Feed Your Pup & More

Congratulations on your newest addition!

Among the many decisions you will encounter during your pet’s life, what you feed your puppy is hands-down one of the most important. Your puppy’s nutritional needs are just as special as they are! Starting them off on the right foot (err, paw) with a high-quality diet will help their body and brain grow to its best potential.

During the first several months of life, your pup’s caloric and nutritional needs are the highest they will ever be due to the high metabolic rate and energy demands associated with growth. Think of metabolism as how fast or efficiently calories are utilized. In the adult animal, whose growth is complete, calories are being used for day-to-day energy to run the machine. In the growing animal, these calories are not only being used to fuel the machine, but to build the machine from the ground up!

To build that machine, puppies need the same essential ingredients they will require throughout life, but the proportions of these ingredients need to reflect the demand of rapid growth. Likewise, caloric needs are substantially higher in immature animals.

 An ideal puppy diet should offer high-quality and high-proportion animal meat proteins, healthy fats, appropriate fiber content, and supply the vitamins and minerals essential for complete and balanced nutrition.

  1. Proteins: to build tissues and support the developing immune system
  2. Fats: energy-dense ingredients; omega-3 fatty acids, DHA, and EPA to support skin, brain, and coat health
  3. Vitamins and Minerals: to create a complete and balanced diet

how often to feed

When pups are little, their stomachs are tiny and cannot hold the volume of food that their adult stomach will be able to accommodate. However, puppies require more food on a daily basis than their adult selves. Dividing their daily total food volume into multiple small meals throughout the day circumvents this issue. Regularly spaced small meals also helps promote healthy digestion, establish a potty-training schedule, and keep pups focused on their food at mealtime. Multiple meals also provide a more consistent supply of energy, which is especially important in small and toy-breed dogs who are more prone to hypoglycemia (dangerous dips in their blood sugar level).

A good rule of thumb is to feed 3-4 meals per day until your pup is 3-4 months of age. Moistening the food or adding in canned food can also make the meals more palatable and readily digestible. When your pup reaches 4-6 months of age, you can transition down to twice a day feeding. As you know, every pup is unique; your veterinarian can help tailor that feeding schedule to one that is optimal for your dog.

how much to feed

High-quality commercial diets like Nulo have suggested feeding amounts listed by body weight and age in the feeding guidelines sections on the bag and website. Remember, these are guidelines. Every puppy is special, down to its individual metabolism and body type, so nutritional requirements will vary from pup to pup.

Ideally, we want to feed a diet that supports an average growth rate. We certainly want to ensure that we are feeding enough, but we also want to be mindful that we are not overfeeding. When we overfeed puppies, we can set them up for a lifetime of battling obesity. In humans, the number of adipose (fat) cells that are acquired in our immature years are the number that we will keep as we proceed into adulthood. Essentially, the number and size of our adult fat cells is “set” during childhood; it is the amount of fat that is stored in those cells that fluctuates as we age. When a puppy is overfed, that excessive number and size of fat-storing power can more readily result in obesity as an adult.

Additionally, we also see a host of developmental orthopedic (bone and joint) issues associated with too rapid a growth trajectory in our large and giant-breed dogs. For these breeds, it is exceptionally important to maintain a controlled and steady growth pattern.  A good rule of thumb is the larger the dog will be at maturity, the longer it takes for them to reach adulthood. Hence, small and toy breed dogs reach maturity (both adult size and sexual maturity) at an earlier age, some as young as 5 to 6 months of age. Conversely, large and giant-breed dogs will continue to grow well into 15 - 24 months of age.

Certainly, predicting the adult size of a mixed breed or rescue dog can be more challenging. It is important to remain flexible and amend your feeding plan along the way. This is an excellent opportunity to seek your veterinarian’s help. Your vet will be seeing your pup regularly through his first several months of life for wellness checks and vaccines. Regular weight checks will help better predict your dog’s mature size. Your doc can be an excellent resource to help determine the appropriate daily volume to feed.  

take home points

  1. While your pup is growing, the amount and frequency of feeding will be GREATER than when he is an adult.
  2. Based on your pup’s estimated adult size, you will need to adjust that amount and timing accordingly. As he approaches adulthood, his caloric intake and frequency of mealtimes should decrease.
  3. The goal is to achieve an average and steady growth rate for your pup. Overfeeding and too rapid a growth trajectory may lead to obesity and orthopedic issues, among other concerns, as an adult.
Meet the Author
Dr. Abby Huggins
As a veterinarian and a competitive triathlete - Abby knows what she chooses to put into her body translates to faster swims, rides, and runs - and she believes the same goes for her patients and her own pets.
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