From Human Grade Fresh to Raw and Kibble, a healthy diet for puppies considers age, breed, and body condition.
Puppy breath is one of the best scents on the planet. It still has that sweet scent of warm milk. As newly adoptive Moms and Dads with nutritional responsibility and a multitude of different puppy food brands and formats, we want to know what and how much to feed our new family members. Is the food she was given by the shelter, breeder, or previous family the optimal choice?
There are no universal answers, but here is some good guidance to five of the most frequently asked questions about puppy food.
1. What food should I feed?
Most puppies come to their new parents on some form of kibble. Kibble is a highly processed, starchy energy source. While 100% kibble diets are often associated with inflammatory conditions or obesity in adult dogs, kibble can be used as an affordable way to meet the high energy needs of growing puppies. According to veterinarian Dr. Nathan Heilman, puppies need a minimum of 20% of their diet from starch to fuel growth. Most commercially available kibble likely contains about twice this amount.
According to Dr. Heilman, ideally upon bringing your new puppy home, you would begin feeding a partial whole food diet made with human edible ingredients. This means that in the morning, your puppy would receive the dry food/kibble diet, and in the evening, he would eat a nutritious high-protein whole food diet, at about twice the volume as the kibble served as breakfast. The whole food diet is composed of either great quality homemade dog food (see Dr. Heilman’s formula), or a commercially prepared raw food.
Why feed a whole food diet? Dr. Heilman says “for their first year, dogs generally tolerate high energy foods well. If fed these kibbles continuously, they will often develop inflammatory symptoms, as their bodies simply cannot handle all of the energy of these highly processed foods. By feeding your puppy half of their nutrition as whole foods, you will be moderating the Warming (inflammatory) nature of the kibble, with meat and vegetables.”
Dr. Heilman’s practice recommends feeding puppies a high-quality, lightly cooked diet; or a commercially prepared raw food, and lightly cooking it at home. Super premium raw food brands are nutritionally complete and balanced, and made of excellent quality ingredients including meats, vegetables, and fruits.
2. Does breed matter?
Special considerations should be given to large and giant breed puppies (those who will be 50 pounds or more as adults). A slow growth diet is best for these puppies.
“Giant breed puppies born weighing one pound (1 lb) can easily gain 150 pounds within the first 18 months of life, with the most rapid growth rate occurring between 3 and 6 months of age,” says Susan D. Lauten, PhD. “Large- and giant-breed puppies are sensitive to nutrient and caloric deficiencies or excesses.”
According Dr. Lauten, strong evidence suggests that excess energy (starch and fat, but not protein), calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D in large and giant breed puppy diets leads to developmental orthopedic disease and subsequent osteoarthritis in adult dogs. Osteoarthritis in dogs shortens lifespan on an average of about two years.
Large breed puppies are at risk of growing too fast when fed traditional highly processed kibble diets for puppies. Traditional puppy formulas also can contain too many minerals (like calcium and phosphorus). Large and giant breed puppies on these types of canine diets can develop bone, joint, muscle, and neurologic problems. Dr. Karen Becker recommends feeding large breed puppies a diet specially formulated “for all life stages” or for the growth of large and giant breed puppies because of these risks.
Dr. Lauten also advises against feeding adult maintenance dog foods to large breed puppies because of the calcium to energy ratio. Adult maintenance foods are generally less dense energetically. To get the right amount of calories on these diet, puppies would be fed greater amounts of food, but with those increased rations comes a higher total calcium intake than recommended.
One of the best ways to compare commercially available pet foods – be they kibble, raw, canned, fresh, freeze dried or dehydrated is on a dry matter basis (DMB). We provide a cheat sheet for that here.
According to Dr. Lauten, a veterinary nutritionist, the energy density of a large-breed puppy food should be 3.5 to 4.0 kcal/g, (DMB) compared with 3.8 – 4.5 kcal/g in regular puppy diets. The fat content of large breed puppy food should be less than 15% (DMB) compared to 20%-23% in regular puppy diets. And, the calcium content of these foods should be approximately 1%, with phosphorus levels at approximately 0.8% (DMB), with an ideal calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 1.2:1. The ideal calcium and phosphorous levels in traditional puppy food formulas are around 1.3% and 1.2% respectively. Vitamin D levels are usually adequate in commercial pet foods but may require supplementation when balancing home-cooked recipes, reports Dr. Lauten.
3. How much should I feed my puppy?
The amount of food to feed your pup will depend on the formulation, and the activity and breed of your puppy. According to Dr. Becker, “raw-fed puppies need a larger volume of food than kibble-fed puppies, because raw food contains less fat and calories per ounce.”
While roly-poly puppies are cute, this physique is not a healthy one according to Drs. Becker, Heilman, and Lauten. Puppies, like adult dogs, should be lean, with a body condition score of 4 out of 9. Rations should be given to achieve and maintain this optimal body shape.
Overfeeding at any time of life can result in obesity, a disease that is associated with an increased risk of several inflammatory diseases including canine cancer.
Puppies will go through their fastest growth spurt between 12 - 16 weeks of age. During this time, you may be feeding your puppy four times a day so that she can meet her energy requirements.
4. When and how do I transition her from her puppy food to her adult food?
If you have a puppy between 4 – 8 months of age, you can feed 40% (by volume) of her diet as kibble in the morning, and the remaining 60% as raw food, lightly cooked, in the evening, according to Dr. Heilman. By 8 months of age, he suggests decreasing the kibbled amounts, to avoid your puppy getting too heavy. Their level of exercise will be an important factor in determining how much kibble they may be fed.
Dr. Lauten recommends switching large breed puppies to adult food around 12 months of age.
5. If I want to make homemade meals for my puppy, how do I know they are complete and balanced?
While expensive, the nutritional integrity of commercially made, super-premium fresh pet food can give your pup a longer, healthier life and avoid costly veterinary issues down the road. If, however, the price tag is out of reach, interspersing homemade fresh food with kibble is a good option.
Animal Diet Formulator and Balance IT are two helpful online services for pet parents. Both enable parents to create recipes for complete and balanced homemade meals for canines of any age, activity level, and metabolic condition. We use Animal Diet Formulator to craft the species-appropriate, complete and balanced meals you find here.
About Goodness Gracious
Here at Goodness Gracious we support a healthy diet for dogs. We handcraft human grade treats in a licensed and inspected human food facility using USA sourced human grade ingredients. Our products include lean, healthy dog treat choices like our single ingredient chicken jerky for dogs. We also make single-ingredient, odor free chews like our Gnarlies, and gluten free and grain free puppy training treats. We are woman-owned, diversely-staffed, and we donate 51% of our profits to animal charities.