Understanding Your Puppy's Nutritional Needs

Getting a puppy is exciting, but it is also a massive responsibility that should never be taken too lightly. There's a lot of consideration and planning that goes into getting a house and garden ready for the new arrival. Having decided on which dog breed would best suit your lifestyle (see Pets4Homes Dog Breed Selector), it's important to do as much research not only on how they need looking after, but also on the type of food the puppy should be fed and the frequency of their meals. The one consistency when it comes to puppies, no matter what their breed, is that they have must be fed a diet that allows for correct development and growth.

Growth demands explained

Puppies have very different nutritional needs to that of a mature, adult dog. As a rule of thumb puppies need to increase their birth weight by a tremendous amount which is typically anything from 20 to 100 times before they reach full maturity, depending on how big a puppy is going to be when fully grown. Puppies also need a tremendous amount of energy which they get from their food intake for them to grow and develop as they should.

However, care should be taken as to how many calories a puppy is given because it could lead to them putting on too much weight and storing fat early in their lives could put them more at risk of being obese further down the line. Where larger dogs are concerned, feeding too many calories to a puppy when they are still developing and growing can negatively impact their development because they grow too fast and this puts a lot of pressure and strain on their bones, joints and even their internal organs.

Understanding healthy bone development

Two essential minerals that ensure a puppy's bones develop as they should, are calcium and phosphorus. The levels of both these minerals in a puppy’s diet are essential and must be precisely balanced because too little or too much of either can negatively impact a puppy’s bone growth. In short, the calcium-phosphorus ratio needs to be exactly right.

Understanding the protein content

It's essential that puppies be fed a good quality protein and it’s worth noting they need a lot more than mature, adult dogs need in their diet. High value protein provides the vital building blocks that puppies need for tissues and muscles to grow and develop properly.

Understanding a puppy's body is still immature

A puppy's body is very immature in the early stages of their lives which means their systems are weaker too. This includes a puppy's digestive tract and their immune systems which is why puppies are at greater risk of developing tummy upsets and why they are more at risk of being affected by infections. Because of this, puppies need higher levels of antioxidants as well as prebiotics in a diet which help support the digestive tract and strengthens immune systems.

The importance of a well formulated diet

Puppies no matter what breed, need a well formulated diet that includes all the above for them to grow and develop, bearing in mind that puppies grow fast and therefore their nutritional needs are continually changing for the first months of their lives. As such, their food intake must change too.

Understanding that a dog's size matters

There are hundreds of dog breeds with some weighing less than 1kg whereas others can weigh in at well over 100kg as is the case with Chihuahuas and English Mastiffs. The size of a dog results in vast differences in growth rate as well as energy needs and can include things like health sensitivities and a dog's life expectancy.

As a rule of thumb, a very small puppy that grows up to a fully mature dog weighing under 10kg would typically grow very quickly reaching their adult weight when they are anything from 8 to 10 months old. With this said, a puppy that grows up to be a Giant breed, would have a far slower growth rate and only reach maturity when they are between 18 to 24 months old.

Top tips of choosing the correct puppy diet

  • The easiest way to establish the amount a puppy should be fed every day, is to feed them a complete diet specifically formulated for growing dogs and which contain all the nutritional balances a puppy needs to develop and grow
  • Choose a commercially produced diet that's tailored to a puppy's breed which will help support a puppy's immature body and provide everything needed for basic development and growth
  • Always check a puppy's growth rate, their energy levels and the condition of their coats all of which are clear indications they are being fed a correct diet in the first months of their lives
  • All puppies are unique and with so many well-known brands of puppy food on the market, it can make life confusing for owners. If in doubt, it's best to discuss things with a dog nutritionist or a local vet who would be able to offer valuable advice on how much, how often and what type of food a puppy should be fed every day so they grow and develop properly

The Do's and the Don'ts

There are certain do's and don'ts when it comes to choosing the correct diet for a puppy which are explained below:

  • Do allow a puppy enough time to settle into a new home before attempting to alter their diet. This must be done carefully and gradually over a period of 14 days or so once they are settled in. If a puppy develops a tummy upset, change them back on to their original diet and seek advice from the breeder or a vet
  • Don't attempt to change a puppy's food too quickly or add anything extra to it which could trigger a digestive upset
  • Do read feeding guidelines for a puppy's age and always keep an eye on their weight, condition of body and growth rate before adjusting the amount of food they are fed every day if necessary
  • Don't give a puppy free access to food because this will only end up with them overeating which in turn would result in them growing too fast and could lead to obesity
  • Do feed a puppy at the same time of the day making sure meal times are never too far apart, bearing in mind that puppies should be fed 4 times a day. If they leave food in their dish, take it away and do not feed them anything until their next meal is due
  • Don't worry over a puppy or encourage them to eat their food when they don’t seem interested. Remember, there are times when a puppy may be less hungry than usual and by fussing over them, you are rewarding them for not eating which could result in a dog becoming a fussy eater. If the puppy refuses to eat for more than a day, it’s time to get them to the vet for a thorough check-up

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