Basic Feeding Guidelines for your Puppy's First Year

Adopting a puppy inspires a great deal of joy and excitement but it also causes a fair amount of trepidation, especially when it comes to ensuring that your new ball of fur receives the proper nourishment and nutrition essential for proper growth and development.

Puppy Feeding

While most people only receive their puppies after they have been weaned from their mother, few may have a pregnant female and are anxious about how to deal with the pups nutrition when they arrive, so let's take a look at leading veterinary guidelines to feeding your puppy in the first year of its life.

For the first six to eight weeks of their lives, puppies should remain with their mother and nurse as they need to. The mother's milk not only contains antibodies to protect puppies from disease but also provides the best possible nutrition for them. If puppies cannot be kept with their mother for some reason, for example if she develops mastitis or eclampsia then milk replacements fed via bottles should assist you in aiding the puppy/puppies to feed adequately.

Weaning puppies from the mother should be a gradual process which takes place over two to three weeks. It is essential to select the brand of puppy food that you intend to feed bearing in mind that puppies have high caloric and nutritional requirements, so you should always purchase a high quality brand of puppy food. It is always advisable to consult your veterinarian for specific recommendations but good quality puppy foods should offer a balanced diet of protein, calcium and calculated calories.

When selecting a dog food, read the labels carefully and always remember that ingredients are listed in order according to ratios within the overall meal, so try to avoid dog foods that list meat or corn by-products as the first ingredient because real meat should always be the primary ingredient.

From about four to six weeks of age, start to introduce your puppy to puppy food by making a gruel that blends puppy food with a milk replacement product. This should be offered to you puppy between three and four times a day. Over time you can slowly reduce the milk replacer used so that your puppy learns to adapt to a solid diet with minimal gastric upset. By eight weeks old your puppy should be fully weaned and eating solid foods.

Essentially puppies should be fed three to four times per day, this means that you should keep meals small and easy to digest. Smaller, more frequent meals also mean that your puppy's energy levels will remain constant throughout the day.

At the age of 6 months you may start to feed your puppy twice a day for convenience but if possible it is best to keep them on the three to four times a day schedule.

It is important to adjust your puppy's food type according to his/her stage of life. Puppy food is very high in nutritional supplements and calories so you need to be mindful of switching to adult food when your puppy reaches the appropriate level of maturity in order to avoid obesity and resulting orthopaedic problems. There is no definite age at which the switch to adult food should take place because this dependant both on the breed and individual dog.

Generally, the smaller the dog the faster they mature with small breeds (up to 30 pounds) maturing at 10-12 months, medium breed dogs (up to 80 pounds) reaching maturity at 12-16 months and large breeds (weighing in excess of 80 pounds) taking up to 24 months to reach maturity.

You will be able to determine when the time has arrived to switch from puppy food to adult dog food as your dog may tend to eat less or gain excess weight. In switching from puppy food to adult dog food, make the transition slowly over the course of up to two weeks by gradually adding increasing amounts of adult food and decreasing amounts of puppy food to their diet.

Always remember that recommendations on labels are only guidelines and do not always apply to every dog, so you will need to keep an eye on your dog's body condition in order to determine whether to feed him/her more or less. You should ideally be able to feel but not see your dog's ribs when looking straight down at him/her when he/she is standing and you should be able to see a waist. If you are unsure, ask your veterinarian for pointers on a healthy weight for your dog’s age/stage of life as well as examples of body condition scores too keep an eye on.