From weaning through the transition to adult dog food, here's everything you need to know about giving your new pup a nutritious start.
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puppy eating from food bowl; What You Need to Know About Feeding Your New Puppy
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A new puppy adds joy and wonder to your world, and watching him grow so rapidly week after week is a sheer delight! Before you know it, he'll be ready for his first vaccinations and puppy kindergarten, and well on his way to becoming your full-grown four-legged buddy. 

Feeding your new puppy isn't hard. What works best is to first consult your veterinarian about breed, size, and weight expectations to establish a puppy feeding schedule. This helps you stay on target with your wee one's rapid development and nutritional needs. We'll take you step–by–step.

Feeding a Puppy Starts With Weaning

In his first couple of weeks of life, your wee furball usually receives all the sustenance he needs from momma, including colostrum, the antibody-rich milk that provides immune support and growth hormones. (If you're feeding a newborn puppy, you're immediately stepping in as a momma dog by providing puppy formula and have a lot more work to do!)

By the time he's 4 weeks old, his eyes are open and he's ambling about in the world. At this point, momma starts weaning, as her milk doesn't have enough calories for her increasingly active offspring. If you have a litter of puppies, you'll supplement her nursing with soft puppy food options.

"Puppies will typically show interest in what mom is eating as their intestines become more able to digest solid food," says Jessica Romine, DVM, DACVIM, a veterinarian with BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Southfield, Mich. "Real food becomes more and more appealing to them." 

According to VetWest Animal Hospitals, here are the steps for weaning a puppy: 

  • Offer your  3- to 4-week old puppy a flat saucer of reconstituted puppy milk replacer for lapping. (Milk replacer comes in powder and liquid forms.) 
  • Between 5 and 6 weeks old, add pre-soaked puppy biscuits or canned puppy food, crumbled into tiny bits, to the milk replacer. Your pup will consume the crumbled food as he laps at the runny mixture.
  • Decrease the amount of milk every day until he or she is eating puppy food with little or no extra moisture.

The weaning process lasts approximately 6–to–8 weeks. A puppy's razor-sharp baby teeth are usually in place by 8 weeks, too, making it easier for him to eat more solid food. But puppies can't have what momma eats just yet. They require nutritionally balanced puppy food for at least the next year. Here's how it works. 

Follow This Puppy Feeding Schedule

puppy feeding schedule infographic
Credit: Kailey Whitman

Your veterinarian establishes a puppy feeding schedule based on: 

  • Breed type 
  • Age
  • Size and staged growth rate

The most active growth period is within the first five months, so your puppy needs measured and consistent portions of food to keep his progress steady and controlled. Your vet may provide a detailed puppy growth chart for a better understanding of how this process works and what to expect. 

Some pet parents might weigh their pups weekly to make certain they're on target, although this isn't usually necessary with regular exams. As you progress through your puppy's recommended vaccination schedule, he's probably hopping on the scale at the vet's office regularly. 

Then, there's a shift. "Growth naturally slows at age 6 months for average-sized dogs and 12–18 months for large/giant breeds," says Jenna Stegowski, RVT, Daily Paws health and behavior editor. So you'll notice in the puppy feeding chart above that the number of feedings reduces based on the age of your pup—with one slight exception. Romine says toy breed puppies such as Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas need to eat small meals more often because they're more at risk for developing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) for the first several months of their lives. 

Finally, most meals precede exercise, playtime, and potty breaks so your frisky lil' canine pal can burn off his fortifying fuel in a healthy, engaging way. Establishing a routine is important. For instance, if your work schedule is normally 9–5, you and your pup might eat breakfast together, then they have another feeding in a treat toy during the day, and dinner with you at night.

How Much to Feed a Puppy Each Time

The amount you feed a puppy depends on those key growth factors as well. Obviously, as a small breed, a French bulldog won't require as much per serving as a large breed Bernese mountain dog. By monitoring graduated weight benchmarks, individual metabolism rates, and activity levels, you and your vet will determine the proper amount specifically for your dog to achieve optimal growth. 

"Additionally, large breed puppies require a regulated protein intake because overfeeding can contribute to orthopedic issues, such as hip dysplasia," Stegowski says. Romine adds that large- and giant-breed puppy food may also contain extra fiber to bulk up the diet without adding unwanted calories. Early obesity, regardless of breed size, can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health conditions.

How much to feed your puppy also depends on the type of food. You and your veterinarian can decide on dry, wet, or semi-moist puppy food options based on the specific needs of your pet, and the amount of each that works best. 

If you're training with treats—and you should!—this frequency will be factored in as well. Treats shouldn't exceed more than 10 percent of your pup's daily calorie percentage, so your vet might suggest adjusting what you put into his dish compared to what's offered out-of-hand.

Overall, you'll know your pup has the right amount because he'll be playful, energetic, and sporting a thick, shiny coat. His droppings should be well-formed and brown, which means he's digesting most of the nutrients found in his food. Around 12 weeks, he'll lose his cute little puppy potbelly, and at about 20 weeks, should be at his optimal weight.

What's the Right Food for Puppies?

Can puppies eat adult dog food? No—not until they're at least a year old. Large- and giant-breed dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds when fully grown may not be mature enough to switch to adult dog food until they're 1–2 years old.

Puppy food is formulated with the proper amount of nutrients and calories to fuel his growth and energy requirements. Romine says puppy food also contains the necessary fatty acids for brain development, as well as calcium and phosphorus for joint health.

Check the package label for important information. The words "complete and balanced" mean the food provides the level of nutrients specified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The label also details the life stage the food is meant to nourish. Puppies, who need food with extra fat and protein, should have food indicated for growth and reproduction. Learn more about reading dog food labels from the Pet Food Institute.

Additional reporting by Debra Steilen.