Essential Tips on Feeding a Puppy Correctly

A puppy’s diet is a very dense topic surrounded by many myths. So how do you feed a puppy correctly? And does a puppy’s diet differ from that of an adult dog?

Puppy Energy Demands

The highest demand in energy the puppy experiences is during  the growth period, as it is growing intensively and needs a lot of nutrients and minerals. This should be taken into account when planning the puppy’s diet. In the first few days after the puppy is taken from its mother, his weight is small but the growth is intensive. 50% of his energy is spent on maintaining daily activities while 50% is used for  growth.

When the puppy has reached 80% of its full weight, 8-10% of energy is spent on growth. At a certain age, there comes a point when the energy consumed does not increase. For instance, for German Shepherds (whose approximate weight in adulthood is 35 kg), this moment comes at the age of 4 months. But this is, of course, not a general rule as all German shepherds are different. 

From the moment of separation until the time they gain 50% of their adult weight, puppies need 25 kcal per 100 g.  When the puppy has gained 80% of its eventual weight, its demand in energy is like that of an adult dog. But keep in mind that any formula is a measure based on averages. 

Large and giant breed puppies are recommended to have a lower amount of energy as they are predisposed to musculoskeletal apparatus diseases. Choose a low-calorie kibble from the moment the pup is at home as a high-calorie diet can lead to excessively intensive growth and be dangerous. 

Obesity prevention should begin from the moment your pup is separated from his mother. With a normal diet, the puppy will automatically gain the weight to which he is genetically predisposed. It’s better not to speed up this process.

Puppy Diet: Protein

A puppy needs protein as soon as it is taken from its mother. This demand is usually compensated for by a proportionately larger  amount of food. 

Most ready-made food contains enough protein – a minimum of 22% raw protein required at 80% digestibility. This is a minimum to focus on.

The hypothesis that a  high protein level is bad for the puppy’s musculoskeletal system has not been confirmed. 

A high protein level is safe for the puppy’s development, so there’s no need to limit it at any stage of growth.

But if the puppy’s diet includes only meat which is not supplemented with any mineral substances, particularly calcium, it may damage the musculoskeletal system formation process.

Puppy Diet: Fat

Fat is the main energy source for puppies.  A puppy’s food should include not less than 5 – 10% of it. If the content is less than 10%, it is necessary to supplement it with a high content of essential linoleic acid (vegetable oils except olive) and omega-3 (fish oil).

Puppy Diet: Calcium and Phosphorus

Puppies need a large  but not an excessive amount of calcium and phosphorus:

  • For large breeds: 0.7-1.2% calcium (content in food)
  • For small breeds: 0.7-1.7% calcium (content in food)
  • 0.35% of phosphorus (content in food)

An adult dog’s need for calcium and phosphorus always varies and requires regulation. 

An excessive amount of calcium and phosphorus is as bad for them as a lack thereof because puppies of 2-6 months don’t have regulated calcium absorption. Calcium absorption stabilizes by the age of 10 months, but growth troubles, if the puppy is predisposed to them, would already be revealed.

Moreover, excessive calcium can damage the puppy’s musculoskeletal system formation and may lead to problems with calcium absorption in the future.

To avoid any problems, follow dietary rules carefully.

Puppy Diet: Carbohydrates

A healthy dog doesn’t really need carbs, so there are no particular rules for them. However, they are an alternative source of energy and almost no dry kibbles are free of them. A carbohydrate content of 20% in the food is enough for 4-month old puppies.

If feeding with homemade food,  carbohydrates are unnecessary if the puppy eats high-quality proteins and has no troubles with digestion.

When feeding  high protein and high fat food with fewer carbs, more fat tissues are formed. 

Puppy Diet: Zinc 

In the first months, the puppy’s demand for zinc is high. It should be provided according to the norm. Keep in mind that high amounts of calcium and phosphorus interfere with zinc absorption.

Puppy Diet: Copper

The puppy’s demand for copper should be covered according to the norm. A hard-to-digest form, copper oxide, which is used in some kibble, is not to be taken into account as it’s only a colorant.

A lack of copper may result in the loss of pigment when, for instance, dark fur becomes grey. An extreme lack of copper leads to elongated fingers and anemia.

Puppy’s Dietary Norms

Factor  Amount in food
Adult dogs less than 55 lb Adult dogs more than 55 lb
Energy kcal  3,5 – 4,5 3,2 – 3,8
Energy kj  14,6 – 18,8 13,6 – 15,7
Crude Protein % 22 – 32 20 – 32
Crude Fat  % 10 – 25 8 – 12
Calcium % 0,7 – 1,7 0,7 – 1,2
Phosphorus % 0,6 – 1,3 0,6 – 1,1
Ca / P 1:1 – 1,8:1 1:1 – 1,5:1

Weight Control for a Growing Puppy 

Small and medium breeds (up to 25 kg) reach 50% of their weight by four months. Large breeds (over 25 kg) – in 5 months.

You can easily find puppy growth charts on the Internet. Enter your puppy’s breed, age and height and check how compliant it is with the specified standard. However, keep in mind that the information is not very precise as these charts are at the experimental stage and may differ from one another. 

To calculate the average weight of a puppy, you can use the following table:

Adult dog weight (lb) 11 22 44 77.1 132
1 month (in the middle) 1.1 1.5 2.4 3.3 4.6
2 months 2.6 4.1 6.8 10.3 14.5 
3 months 4.1 7.2 13 21.1 29.1 
4 months 5.7 10.5 19.62 31.9  44.9
5 – 6 months 7.7 14.3 26.8 44 66
The end of 6 months 8.8 16.5 30.8 50.7 79
12 months 11.02 20.9 41.8 68 105

These are average figures.

Here you can discover how many times a day you should feed a puppy and how to choose the best food for them.

Methods of Feeding the Puppy

There are several methods of feeding puppies, and each of them has its pros and cons.

Feeding Method  Pros Cons
Free access to food
  • You don’t have to know much about food content
  • A calming effect if the puppy is kept in a cage
  • All puppies are able to eat enough 
  • It is hard to control the daily amount of food eaten
  • May lead to obesity and damage to the  musculoskeletal system
  • Hard to estimate how much one dog has eaten
Portion feeding with a daily norm restriction 
  • Easy to ensure that the dog has eaten the normal amount 
  • Better weight control
  • Appetite control
  • The need to calculate the daily norm
Portion feeding with a time limit
  • Easy to control a daily norm
  • Appetite control
  • The amount eaten is determined inaccurately
  • May lead to obesity and damage to the  musculoskeletal system

When the puppy is in a fast-growing phase, it is better to refrain from free and time-limited access to food. Studies have shown that puppies who were fed twice a day for 20 minutes had more weight, more body fat and increased bone mineralization, as did puppies with free access to food. 

The best method: accurately measured amount of food, divided into 2 – 4 feedings (depending on age).

Disorders Caused by Improper Feeding of the Puppy

As a rule, we are talking about digestive disorders which may be caused by the following: eating bones or fiber (for example, if parts of wooden sticks are swallowed when playing), consumption of lactose and “heavy” proteins (for example, tendon bones or innards). All of these can cause diarrhea in the dog.

June 14, 2021

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