How Much Should My Puppy Eat?
Parents of newborns obsess over feeding their babies. Is my baby getting enough food? Too much? How can I tell? And parents of newborn puppies are no different. There's a lot to learn about how much you should feed your puppy once he's been weaned from his mother's milk. We talked with top veterinarians and pet nutritionists about how much should a puppy eat—and when. Here's what they had to say.
How Much Food Should I Feed My Puppy?
When determining how much to feed a puppy, Savannah Welna, Dogly Nutrition Advocate, says it's critical you look at the puppy feeding guide on whichever bag of food you choose to use. Food is formulated to provide a certain amount of nutrients per amount of food. For example, she says, a well-formulated food that is higher in calories will often have a lower nutrient density. "This is not a bad thing! This prevents puppies from consuming too much calcium and phosphorus, but enough calories if they are more active."
She adds that a well-formulated food that is lower in energy will need to provide more nutrients relative to the energy density of the food. This is also good and ensures puppies with lower energy requirements are consuming enough nutrients.
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How Much to Feed a Puppy Based on Breed
How much food a puppy should eat is a question with a lot of variables. "The biggest variable is breed," says Gary Richter, MS, DVM, and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. "Different breeds have different daily caloric requirements due to metabolism and level of activity that can vary with breed."
Also, different breeds grow at different rates. Welna notes their energy requirements increase and decrease at different rates. "For example, a Chihuahua will be full-grown before a Great Dane," he says. "Furthermore, a Chihuahua will, of course, eat less than a Great Dane. Puppies that are more active will need more energy than less active puppies."
If you're feeding your pet commercial puppy food, Richter generally recommends you start with the recommended feeding amount listed on the package.
How Much to Feed a Puppy by Weight
Next, make sure you're not overfeeding your puppy. "A good rule of thumb is to feed the dog about 75 percent of the amount of food they eat if you gave them as much as they wanted at any given meal," Richter says. "In other words, feed them 25 percent less than if you allowed them to eat until they were full. The goal here is to keep them a little bit hungry."
There are a couple of reasons for this. "First, we know from research and long experience that larger-breed dogs that are overfed/overweight as puppies develop more orthopedic problems than puppies that were kept at a more appropriate weight," he says. "In short, keeping them on the thinner end of the normal weight range (particularly larger breeds) while they are puppies will keep them healthier for a lifetime."
The second reason to feed this way is a more practical matter: Dogs are easier to motivate with training treats if they are a bit hungry.
Even going with the 75 percent plan, Richter says there is variability between breeds and individuals. His suggestion is to keep an eye on the pup and monitor their weight. If over time, they seem to be getting a little heavy or if they seem a little thinner—then increase or decrease the amount of food accordingly. "Obviously, feeding a puppy is a dynamic process, in that as they get larger, their nutritional requirements change," he says. "At the end of the day, however, it really is as simple as this: If they are getting fat, feed a little less. If they are getting skinny, feed them a little more. The real trick here is to educate pet owners about what heavy and thin look like on their dog." People tend to think an overweight puppy is cute, but as Richter mentions, it's not good for them in the long run.
To get an initial baseline on how much to feed your puppy, check out the Pedigree Puppy Food Calculator. And chat with your veterinarian about the needs of your specific pet.
How Often to Feed Your Puppy
Once you've determined the daily feeding amount, you can create a puppy feeding schedule. Puppies need a lot of nutrients and energy. "For this reason, when puppies are younger and entering the critical growth stages, portioning their daily food allowance into smaller, more frequent feedings, allows a smaller bulk of food to pass through their system," Welna says. This makes it easier for them to digest and absorb nutrients. An easy way to portion your puppy's food is to take the total daily amount of food and divide it into however many meals you plan to feed your pet.
Tory Waxman, VMD, co-founder and Chief Veterinary Officer at Sundays, recommends the following best schedule for feeding a puppy:
- Four times per day until they are 12 weeks
- Three times daily until 6 months of age
- Then, twice daily for the long-term
Welna says as puppies get older and have more "room" for digestion and absorption, you can increase the meal size and decrease the frequency fed.
What Kind of Food to Feed Your Puppy
Small and large breed puppies have different nutrient requirements. "On the back of the dog food, there will be an AAFCO statement that states which life stages the food is intended for," Waxman says. She notes it's important to feed your puppy a diet that is labeled for "All Life Stages" or specifically for puppies. "It's especially important if you have a large breed dog (over 60 pounds) that you feed a puppy formula that is labeled for large breed puppies," she says. This is because large breed puppies are at risk for musculoskeletal development issues if fed incorrect nutrient ratios.
What to Know About Free Feeding Your Puppy
Welna doesn't recommend free feeding (the practice of making food available at all times) for puppies because they can easily overeat—or under-eat. "This can result in growth deformities or suboptimal growth and development," she says.
Planning the Switch to Adult Food
As a general rule of thumb, Waxman says small and medium-sized breeds can be switched to adult food around a year of age. Large breed dogs often need to remain on puppy food until they are 18–24 months in age. "Keep in mind that some large-breed puppies are not technically full-grown until 2 years or more," she says. "It's important to discuss with your veterinarian the appropriate time to switch your puppy from a puppy to adult food."