Puppy’s Nutritional Needs
Welcoming a new puppy into your home is an exciting time, and for many people, there is a lot to learn about what to feed a puppy.
It can take a huge amount of dedication to ensure that a puppy is raised to be a healthy, polite adult dog. Along with choosing a puppy from a responsible, ethical breeder (or a shelter/reputable rescue organization), there is a great deal you can do to promote your new family member’s optimal long-term health.
Good nutrition from day one is a cornerstone to total health, and it’s important to understand how a growing puppy’s needs differ from that of an adult dog. Puppies require proportionately more calories to support proper growth and development. Ideally, most of those calories should come from protein and fat. But puppies shouldn’t be over-fed to the point of gaining excess body weight. They should be fed a sufficient amount to retain a lean figure and maintain a visible ‘waist’ as they develop and mature.
It’s important to remember that each animal is an individual, and your puppy may have quite different needs (or appetite) from his littermates. Also, for larger breeds in particular who can appear to have grown half an inch after a simple afternoon nap, their requirements may adjust from day to day. The key is to allow your puppy to guide you. Keep a close eye on his bodyweight and feed enough to keep him lean but not ‘ribby’, and certainly not too plump.
Puppies also need to eat more frequently than adult dogs. Four meals a day are often necessary for very young pups and even an eight-week-old puppy will likely consume three daily meals at least for the first few weeks in his new home. It’s important to ensure your schedule can accommodate this lunch time meal for the first few weeks, or make alternative arrangements if needed.
Puppies also have slightly different mineral needs from those of adult dogs. Calcium and phosphorus levels are especially important. Not only are the actual amounts important, but also the ratios of one to the other. The diet should contain between 1:1 and 2:1 parts calcium to phosphorus. Excessive amounts of calcium should be avoided in large and giant breed pups because of their increased propensity to develop bone and joint problems. That said, it’s important not to get too obsessed with the minute percentages of minerals your pet consumes. A little piece of banana, a scoop of yogurt, or a hard boiled egg, here and there, will not throw off your pet’s nutrient balance!
Unfortunately many of the big-industry pet food companies caution against mixing any sort of ‘people food’ (also known as real food) with their commercial products. The reason? They want pet guardians to feed as much of their product as possible. If you supplement with your own ingredients, you’ll likely feed less of their food, which means less money in their pockets.
In addition to feeding a healthy diet, it’s important to feed only good quality natural treats to your puppy, for rewards and training. Extra nutritional supplements are not usually necessary unless your vet or breeder recommends them for your particular dog. Raw beef marrow bones (also called ‘soup bones’) make an excellent treat between meals. Your puppy will not actually eat these, but gnaw on them in delight! These are available from many supermarkets and will help with teething and also keep adult dogs’ teeth clean and sparkling white, as well as helping to reduce the risk of periodontal disease.
For large and giant-breed puppies, it’s particularly important not to over-feed or provide too many calories, especially during rapid growth periods, because this can lead the pup to grow too fast, which may result in developmental bone and joint problems later in life. Your veterinarian or breeder can provide guidelines for this.
Larger breeds tend to be able to transition to adult food sooner (some breeders of large and giant breed dogs recommend phasing in adult food for their puppies at around four to five months of age) whereas small breeders typically have a faster metabolic rate and can benefit from staying on a more calorie-dense, puppy formula for much longer, up to one or even two years of age. Decisions about this will be based in part on breeder recommendations and the individual dog’s specific requirements, which also vary according to his lifestyle.
It’s important to have a holistic pet partner in your pet’s first years. Natural rearing breeders and holistic veterinarians are usually just a quick phone call away. Resources that The Honest Kitchen trusts are:
- The Whole Dog Journal Magazine
- Dogs Naturally Magazine
- Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kymythy Schultze
- Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Dr Richard Pitcairn & Susan Hubble Pitcairn
- Natural Healing For Dogs & Cats by Cheryl Schwartz DVM
- The Dog Bible by Tracie Hotchner
The benefits of a good, wholesome, natural diet are numerous. The consumption of a minimally processed diet is commonly associated with increased strength and vitality, ‘happy’ eyes and freedom from chronic skin health problems such as dry skin, excessive scratching, ear infections and digestive problems. Starting your puppy off right, with common sense approach to nutrition and a nourishing, biologically appropriate diet can set her up for a lifetime of great health.