For new pet owners, introducing puppies to solid food is a vital, delicate process. Owners and breeders can begin weaning a puppy off of their mother’s milk when they’ve reached eight weeks of age. From this point on, proper nutrition will form the foundation for healthy development.
A quality diet is essential for any puppy to ensure they grow at a healthy rate, develop a strong immune response, and avoid health concerns related to malnutrition or excess weight gain.
During the weaning period (2-3 weeks), the choice of an appropriate puppy-specific food is critical because puppies require lots of calories and key nutrients to maintain their rapid growth. Proper puppy diets will include a healthy balance of proteins, calcium, fats, and digestible carbohydrates (better known as carbs).
Optimal growth vs. maximal growth: which is best
An optimal growth rate is best for puppies. This gradual, consistent growth rate is suited to a puppy’s unique dietary needs. Plus, it also considers the ideal adult body state, minimizing risks associated with excess weight gain. On the other hand, maximal growth rate emphasizes accelerating the puppy’s growth, often by including high-fat foods, extra feeding, or free-choice feeding. This strategy may predispose the puppy to certain conditions like skeletal abnormalities and weight gain that can reduce life expectancy.
Tip: Routine weigh-ins and body state evaluations are necessary to ensure a puppy grows in a healthy way. Reach out to your vet for advice on assessing your dog at home.
Nutrition’s impact on a puppy’s maximal growth
Dogs develop rapidly, with small and medium-breed dogs maturing to adulthood in about 10-12 and larger dogs taking about 18-24 months. Apart from a breed’s gene composition, other factors contributing to the puppy’s growth rate include nutrition and environmental factors. Diet is perhaps the most important element in promoting a puppy’s health and growth.
Avoiding maximal growth & obesity issues
During the developmental stage, puppies need more nutrients than they will as adult dogs. However, too many extra calories and too much excess calcium can raise serious growth concerns. For small and medium-breed dogs in particular, an overabundance of energy-giving nutrients can result in obesity. At the same time, excess energy and calcium might cause abnormal skeletal development issues in large and giant-breed dogs. From the weaning stage to adulthood and old age, dog handlers must take steps to prevent obesity. Excess weight can lead to host of additional health complications, including:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Respiratory conditions
- Heart conditions
- Compromised immune function
By limiting free-choice feeding (eating at will), a puppy owner can minimize the risk of excessive eating and the related health risks.
Tip: Portion feeding is a great strategy when you want to prevent weight issues in puppies. Try using a measuring cup that makes it easy to determine portion sizes.
Nutritional requirements for healthy growth
Puppies grow rapidly and that means it’s essential to serve carefully measured portions at specific times. Moderating energy and food amounts during the development stage of large-breed dogs may also help reduce the risk of hip dysplasia without impeding their eventual size as adult dogs. Let’s take a closer look at the four main nutrients found in your dog’s food.
Proteins: these nutrients help in the development of your puppy’s tissues. Typically, a dog’s protein requirement for developing dogs peaks soon after weaning. These protein needs progressively decrease afterward.
- Experts recommend a dietary protein provision range of 22-23% based on the dry matter for healthy puppy growth. These provisions promote ideal growth.Avoid feeding developing puppies with nutrient-based formulations intended for adult dogs. Though the dry matter protein constituent may be sufficient, the same may not be accurate for other nutrients and energy portions needed for optimal growth.
Fats: In addition to promoting healthy skin and hair, fat is crucial for healthy brain development and optimal vision.
- Fat provides energy and carries fat-soluble vitamins.
- Fat content for puppies in the growing stage should be limited to 10-25% based on dry matter.
Carbohydrates: Carbs fuel your puppy, playing a role in their boundless energy. There is no established ratio of digestible carbs for puppies, but some experts suggest a portion of 20% (with reference to dry matter) as a good starting point.
Calcium:The recommended amount of calcium for a puppy depends on the breed and its adult size. Owners should be especially cautious with larger dogs, selecting dietary compositions that meet the standards established by AAFCO. Small- and medium-breed dog owners should aim for a calcium portion between 0.7 and 1.7% based on dry matter.
Water: Most canned puppy food is more than 70% water. Eating puppy food could help your dog meet its needs, but it’s no substitute for plenty of water.
Feeding routine & frequency of feeding
How much should you feed your new pet? The amount of food you feed a puppy depends on its age and weight. Here’s a guide to meals during your dog’s first few months:
- 2-3 months old: 4 meals/day
- 3-6 months old: 3 meals/day
- 6-12 months old (for large breeds, 24 months): 2 meals/day
To help your puppy adjust to solid food, wet their food with lukewarm water to form a soupy gruel.
Treats & table scraps
Introducing a pup to table scraps is never a good idea. But, sometimes, you can’t stop a pet from pouncing on an occasional treat. What do experts say about “people food?” Experts advise pet owners not to let treats or table food account for more than 10% of their pet’s caloric intake. Make sure not to feed your dog any ingredients that could prove dangerous or deadly.
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