New year, new puppy?
Have you recently welcomed a new four-legged family member into your home?
One of the best ways to give your puppy the right start to a long and happy life with you is by feeding it healthy, nutritious food. But with so many options (there are literally thousands of choices on the market), you may be feeling overwhelmed or simply unsure of the best selection for your pet. Or, if you own multiple dogs, you may be wondering if the answer is as simple as feeding them all the same food (it’s not).
The great news is that through extensive scientific-based research and modern technology, we have achieved greater comprehension of the specific needs of growing dogs. We understand now more than ever that properly balanced nutrition is essential to the appropriate development of both mind and body. Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to nutrition since needs may vary depending on specific breeds, traits and life stages, but there are some general guidelines that can be followed to get you and your pup on the right path to spending many years together.
Nutrition for healthy, happy puppies
1. Puppy nutrition versus adult dog nutrition: Puppies mature rapidly and have twice the daily nutritional requirements of adult dogs. Their muscles, joints, bones, internal organs and immune system are just a few of the major components that are developing in their first one to two years of life. Therefore, they require a high-fat/high-energy, 30 percent protein diet with increased levels of many essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. A complete and balanced puppy food will contain specific nutrients tailored to meet these critical needs. Your puppy should be fed three times per day until it reaches 6 months of age. You can then reduce meals to twice daily. You can read more about the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommendations for growing puppies here.
a. Large breed puppies have unique needs: Owners of large breed puppies should take additional heed when selecting food because orthopedic diseases can arise if appropriate nutrition is not applied. Large breed dogs that grow too fast can suffer from hip dysplasia, knee problems or other comparable concerns. It is imperative that a large breed puppy formula is fed, which should contain a lower fat content and reduced caloric density than food intended for small to medium breed dogs.
2. High-quality puppy food: Choose food based on high-quality ingredients, backed by proven research, that meets or exceeds AAFCO and National Research Council guidelines. Your veterinarian, breeder or trainer may also be able to guide you in the right direction.
3. Moist, semi-moist or dry food and how much to feed: Dry food is generally considered to be the best option because it contains more meat protein, is more efficient, is easily digested and is better at keeping teeth clean. Regarding how much to feed, it is generally recommended to follow the label guidelines based on your dog’s age. Do not overfeed.
4. How long to feed puppy food: Generally, dogs are considered puppies until they reach their anticipated adult size. Most dogs are about a year old and at 80 percent of their expected size when the transition is made from puppy to adult food. Speak with your veterinarian if you are unsure of when to make the change.
5. Switching food: Luckily, dogs are generally not considered very picky eaters. Transitioning from an old food to a new food should be a fairly straightforward experience but should be done gradually to avoid digestive upset. Mix small amounts of the new food in with the old food, gradually increasing the new and decreasing the old over the course of at least seven days.
Last, but certainly not least, it is critical to avoid overfeeding your pet. Like the human obesity crisis, pet obesity in the U.S. has reached epidemic levels. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. This is entirely in your control as a responsible owner. Even a few extra pounds can lead to chronic health issues and a shortened lifespan. Follow recommended guidelines for feeding, even for treats, and provide ample exercise to keep your pet (and possibly you, too) at a healthy weight level.