What Is the Best Food To Feed a Puppy?
Mother’s milk may be the gold standard for newborn dogs, but when they wean at around 3 to 4 weeks of age, a new gold standard is required: a high-quality commercial puppy food. Luckily, it’s not hard to find one to feed your puppy. So what do you feed a puppy?
When Daisy Lehman of Cleveland brought home her Pug puppy last summer, it was with explicit feeding instructions from the breeder. “He told me to transition slowly from the food he’d been giving her to the puppy formula I was planning to give her,” says Lehman. The advice was sound, but Lehman was still not sure what this new puppy food should be.
“The pet food companies do a remarkable job with products that address overall nutrition,” says Dr. James Cook, a veterinarian, and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. “The science that goes into commercial dog food these days is comprehensive. It’s great as a veterinarian because it makes advising clients about food easy.” Read on to learn what other docs have to say about how to feed a puppy for growth.
What Should You Feed a Puppy?
“Puppies have different nutritional needs than adults and senior dogs,” says Katy Nelson, DVM, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian. “They need food specifically formulated for young dogs. They also have size-specific needs.” Small breeds need more protein and calories. Large-breed puppies must have less of both to avoid joint and bone problems as they grow. Below, Nelson offers more advice on what you should look for when choosing a commercial puppy formula to feed your puppy.
While breed size is an important food factor at every stage of life, it may be the most important during puppyhood, when proper nutrition sets future health. “All puppy diets support growth, but breed size matters a lot,” explains Dr. Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists. “Small- and medium-breed dogs can safely grow very quickly, while the same is not true for large- and giant-breed dogs.” She adds, “To prevent orthopedic issues, such as disorders of the skeletal system and associated muscles, joints and ligaments, we try to slow down their growth.”
To feed small- or medium-breed food to a large-breed puppy could put the puppy at risk for malformations, such as hip dysplasia, a gradual loosening of the hip joint that can ultimately be crippling. Large-breed puppy formulas are a bit lower in calories and calcium, helping to prevent unhealthy growth spurts.
Introducing Solid Food to Feed Your Puppy
When puppies begin to wean at 3 or 4 weeks, they’ll consume both mother’s milk (or a milk replacement) and solid food, which should be mixed with water and initially provided once or twice daily. “Mix water with puppy formula to make gruel,” says Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Procter & Gamble. “Typically, more food will end up on them than in them. Slowly, they’ll make progress, and by five weeks, they’ll be eating more skillfully.
What Can I Feed My Eight Week Old Puppy?
From around five weeks, slowly decrease the water as the puppy adjusts to eating kibble. By eight weeks, they should be ready for weaning and dry food consumption.”
The Key Ingredients For Your Puppies Diet
Protein helps puppies maintain skin and coat health and lean muscle mass, but the jury is still out on what constitutes “high quality. Nelson says that egg and chicken are the ideal protein sources to feed a puppy, followed by other meats and byproducts. “Puppies need a good-quality protein source, whether human-grade or directly below,” says Nelson. “There’s a bad feeling about byproduct meal in the world, but as long as it’s quality refined, it’s not bad. Skin, liver, and spleen are nutritious.”
Vitamins and Nutrients
Like human infants, puppies have specific nutrient requirements. Calcium and phosphorus need to be in proper balance, so that bone development is healthy. The same is true for amino acids and vitamins. “The proper ratio is key,” says Nelson. Look for a commercial food that has been certified “complete and balanced” by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the FDA of pet foods.
Following her own veterinarian’s advice, similar to Dr. Nelson’s, Daisy Lehman ultimately chose for her Pug’s first year a complete and balanced puppy food formulated especially for toy breeds. She’s happy to report that her flat-faced friend has grown into an energetic and healthy pooch that’s now nearing doggie adulthood.
Beet Pulp and Fructooligosaccharide (FOS)
These fermentable fibers help to keep the digestive tract healthy. Beet pulp and Fructooligosaccharide (FOS) are moderately fermentable, which means they enhance nutrient absorption while also helping the puppy remove waste.
These substances are thought to protect cells against the effects of disease-causing free radicals. These free radicals are produced when food is broken down, and when there is environmental exposure to toxins. Free radicals likely play a role in diseases like heart disease and cancer, among others. Puppies who take in antioxidants through food are thought to be less likely to have growth abnormalities and are generally healthier in the long run.
Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients (oligosaccharides) that work in the digestive system to help good bacteria thrive. This is important because good bacteria help with digestion. Without them, the body loses nutrients and ends up with gastrointestinal tract irregularity. “We see it all the time in dogs, particularly puppies, because their immune systems aren’t sturdy,” says Dr. Nelson.
Prebiotics are especially crucial in pups because they are naturally nervous critters. Events like thunderstorms, vacuuming, or mom and dad going out of town cause quite a lot of stress. Stress leads to the release of cortisol, which changes bacteria in the system – prebiotics help to balance out your puppy’s system, promoting the good bacteria over the bad.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
While proper training is essential in teaching your dog good manners, diet also plays a critical role in your puppy’s development. If you want a smart and healthy puppy, the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential component of your dog’s diet. Fish and vegetable oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 and fatty acids may help you succeed. Numerous studies show that when pregnant and nursing mothers take DHA, their puppies are more trainable. “It’s brain food,” says Dr. Nelson. These fatty acids also keep skin and coat healthy and benefit the joints and GI tracts by reducing inflammation. “They help with all body systems. I don’t think we’ve reached the tip of the iceberg in understanding their benefits,” adds Nelson.
DHA’s Essential Role For Your Puppy
DHA is a major structural component in the brains of all mammals, explains Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Healthy brains are about 60 percent structural fat, and 30 percent of the fat in gray matter is DHA, the most abundant fatty acid in the brain,” says Dicke.
Just like a human baby, your puppy’s brain develops after birth. “Puppies have acquired only 70 percent of their adult brain mass by six weeks of age, and 90 percent by 12 weeks,” notes Dicke.
Pregnant dogs pass DHA to their unborn pups, aiding in their development. Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian, recommends feeding puppy food that contains DHA to the mother during the last two weeks of gestation and then until the puppies are weaned.
Research shows that puppies fed high levels of DHA are easier to train than puppies with low DHA levels. The study highlighted a significant statistical difference, notes Dr. Nelson. “The puppies were given the same amount of training, the same interaction each day and were of the same breed and line,” adds Nelson.
What Are the Benefits of Feeding a Puppy a Commercial Food Containing DHA?
Feeding your puppy a commercial food containing DHA can promote:
Your pup is likely to adjust better to your home environment and your family.
Faster Learning of New Skills
You’re more likely to be able to teach your furry friend new concepts and obedience challenges quickly.
Less Destructive Behavior
Your pup is less likely to engage in the sorts of behavior that cause stress for you and your household.
Other Benefits of DHA For Your Puppy
“Omega-3s are also potent anti-inflammatory agents within the body,” says Nelson. “They help with inflammation in joints, gums, skin, the GI tract, and more. A dog fed a diet high in DHA is very likely to have a shiny coat, healthy teeth and gums, and normal stools.”
The Source of DHA For Your Puppies Diet
In commercial dog food, fish, fish-meal, and fish oil are sources of DHA. It’s difficult for dog owners to provide appropriate DHA levels and the right combination of essential fatty acids through homemade diets or the use of supplements. “Homemade diets have proved to be nutritionally deficient in most cases,” explains Dewhirst, “unless formulated by a veterinary nutritionist — especially for the percentage of protein, vitamins, and essential fatty acids.”
Feed your pet right from weaning and into adulthood (one year, in dog time), and you’ll ensure it has a healthy foundation to grow on.