I have personal experience raising Labrador puppies, but I love all dog breeds.
Just as babies have different dietary needs from adults, puppies have special requirements, too. Food needs to be nutritional and provide for all your puppy's dietary needs.
But possibly even more importantly, your puppy's food needs to ensure proper development of muscles and bones. Puppies need certain minerals and vitamins in greater quantities than adult dogs. At the same time, too much of some minerals might also cause issues later in your puppy's life.
Commercial or Home-Cooked Food?
This is a question that sparks huge debates whenever it comes up.
Some argue that manufacturers try to maximize profits by including all kinds of potentially dangerous substances. I've even seen claims that some manufacturers include animals that had to be euthanized.
This seems to be a pretty good argument for cooking your puppy's food yourself, but that has other risks.
You can't guarantee that your puppy is getting enough of all the required vitamins and minerals. For example, if a puppy doesn't get enough calcium, he could suffer from joint problems when he gets older. For commercial foods, there are strict standards that they have to comply with, and you know that the amount of vitamins and minerals are right.
Of course, not all food is equally good. Talk to your vet and make sure that you are feeding your puppy the best food you can.
Canned or Dry Food?
This is usually a matter of choice, but personally, I feel there are more advantages to dry food.
- Canned foods are more palatable, but they contain a lot of water. This means that you are effectively paying for water.
- Canned foods are also more expensive than dry foods, so especially for bigger breeds, they can cost a lot more than dry food.
- Dry food is easier to store.
So, especially for bigger breeds, dry food is a lot more economical; just make sure that your puppy always has water available as well.
- For dry food, just make sure you store it in a cool, dry place. If possible, store it in a sealable container as well since it stays fresher.
- For canned food, once opened, you need to keep it refrigerated, but don't keep it for more than a couple of days, as it can go bad quite quickly.
- If you are feeding refrigerated food, take it out of the refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes before feeding since your puppy won't want it if it's too cold.
Your puppy obviously needs to have clean water available all the time. Make sure you change the water every day.
Puppies will need to drink often, and you'll notice that they drink a lot. This is because they haven't figured out when they've had enough yet.
Just keep in mind that this water will go straight through them in a pretty short time, so you need to watch them carefully after they've had water.
Exercise is essential for puppies to develop properly, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
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Keep in mind that your puppy's joints are still developing, and as such, the exercise should be in moderation (especially in bigger breeds—large breed puppies should not be encouraged to jump until they are at least 12 months old.)
Around 4 months of age, puppies will start teething. This is when their puppy teeth are being replaced with permanent teeth.
This is often uncomfortable and even painful for your puppy, so they might be less inclined to eat. If you are feeding your puppy dry food and they are refusing to eat, you might want to try softening their food with some warm water to make it easier for them.
Quite often, you will also find that they start chewing on everything during this period. If they do, give them some ice to chew on, or even take a clean rag, wet it, wring it out, and put it in the freezer to freeze, then give that to your puppy to chew on. The cold ice alleviates their discomfort and gives them something acceptable to chew on.
Feeding Tips for When You First Get Your Puppy
When you bring your puppy home from the breeder, ask them if they can give you half a kilo or so of the food the puppy is currently eating.
The reason for this is the fact that any sudden changes in food are likely to upset the puppy's stomach and cause diarrhea, which is not only unpleasant for you but could also be dangerous for your puppy.
After you've decided what food you will be giving your puppy, You'll be mixing the 2 foods together for the first 5–6 days while your puppy gets used to the new food.
- What you want to do is start with 90% of the old food with a tiny bit of the new food on the first day.
- Then on the second day, 75% of the old food and 25% of the new food.
- Day 3: 60% old food and 40% new food.
- Day 4: 40% old food and 60% new food.
- Day 5: 25% old food and 75% new food.
- Day 6: 10% old food and 90% new food.
- From day 7, you'll feed the puppy only the new food.
How Often Should I Feed My Puppy?
Puppies younger than 2 months old need to be fed small meals at least 4 times a day.
For puppies 2–6 months old, you can generally feed them 3 times a day.
At about 6 months old, you'll notice that the puppies start becoming less interested in lunch, and you can start making their lunchtime meals smaller and breakfast and supper bigger. For giant breeds (Bigger than 40kg or about 90 pounds), you should ideally continue feeding them 3 meals a day for their entire life.
Eventually you'll end up feeding smaller breeds 2 times a day and giant breeds 3 times a day.
Puppies should NEVER have food available all the time. Firstly because they will eat until they can't fit anything else, and secondly because it could cause behavioral problems later on.
When Should I Feed My Puppy?
This isn't really important. You can feed your puppies at any time, but you should try to always feed at the same time.
Personally, my puppies get their food at about 7 am and 6:30 pm. When they were younger, they got lunch at about 12:30.
You just want to make sure that they get breakfast fairly soon after they wake up (They've spent 12 hours without food, you know!), and they shouldn't get supper too late.
Keep in mind that dogs need the energy at dusk and dawn since this is when they are most active (I call this crazy hour).
How Much Should I Feed My Puppy?
How much you feed depends on your dog's breed and weight, as well as the food you're feeding, so it's impossible to say exactly how much.
Any commercial food will have a table on the bag showing you how much you should feed at a specific weight.
Another point that affects how much you should feed is how active your dog is. As such, you should use the tables as a guideline, but also check your puppy at least once every week. You should be able to feel their ribs and to see the outline of their ribs in the sun, but you shouldn't be able to easily see their ribs all the time.
Feeding the Wrong Food
The easiest mistake to make is also the one that can easily be the most damaging. If you get food meant for a small breed puppy and feed it to a large breed, the puppy won't get enough Calcium, which could cause joint problems (Especially in dogs like Labradors that are prone to these problems).
So make sure you are feeding the right food. Not only the right breed but also make sure you are getting food specifically meant for puppies.
Leaving Food Out
Another common mistake is leaving food out for your puppy all the time. If you do this, your puppy will eat more than it should. They just don't know better, and it is genetically built into a dog to eat food when it is available. If your puppy hasn't finished his food in 5 minutes, take it away. You can always try giving it to him again in an hour.
Giving Milk or Dairy Products
Giving a puppy milk or dairy products is another common mistake. You take them from the breeder, and because they aren't getting milk from their mother anymore, so you figure you'll give them some milk. This is wrong! Milk will likely cause diarrhea and an upset stomach for your puppy. If they get too dehydrated, this could be fatal.
Is It OK to Feed Human Food?
In a word, NO!
A lot of human food isn't good for your puppy, and even the food that isn't necessarily bad for them could cause problems simply because they are getting too much food or too much of certain things.
For example, too much of the wrong kinds of fat could cause liver failure in a puppy. By giving them that nice big piece of fat you could off your steak, you could kill them! This isn't very likely to happen, but is it worth the risk?
Some puppies will become aggressive and guard their food once you give it to them. You have to stop this immediately.
If a puppy starts growling when you approach their food bowl, tell them "No!" and take the food away, then ignore them for several minutes. Then try giving their food and approaching them again 15 minutes later. Keep doing this until they ignore you when you approach them.
Once you can do this reliably, start taking food out of their bowl (Or just putting your hand in their bowl if feeding wet food). If they growl, take away the food immediately and wait 15 minutes before trying again.
If you have a bigger dog that has food guarding issues, do NOT try this. You need to speak to a dog behaviorist to help you solve it!
What type of food do you feed?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
What's your opinion?
Claire Eaton on September 21, 2018:
The behavioral advice given reference how to deal with a young puppy that guards it’s food it outdated and incorrect.
Taking a puppy’s food away when it growls as you approach only reinforces its concern that you were coming to take his food away.
If you keep doing this and ignore a dogs growl it will eventually bite.
You should however place Half the dogs food in its bowl and as you approach throw a few more treats in your dogs bowls direction - repeating this every meal time, will change your dogs perception on why your are coming near his bowl.
You become a welcome vistor to the food area as a pose to a unwelcome guest that must fiercely be kept away from the error.
Positive reinforcement equals positive relationships.
Skyeet on August 17, 2018:
10 week old pup is gladly eating three meals per day, on routine (10AM, 3PM, 7PM) and the mixing for new food is REALLY good advice! NEVER, EVER just suddenly change the food, no matter what breed.
Tip: Make your puppy "sit" or "wait" just before you feed them. This will help you stay in charge and make your puppy realise they have to be good and calm to eat.
jack on July 09, 2018:
my 5 month old puppy will only eat one meal per day sheis on nurure diet raw food at280 gm
princess on May 04, 2018:
my puppy is 13 weeks old and will only eat one pouch per day and afew dry puppy biscuits
Husky mixed on August 01, 2017:
My puppies are from the same litter, Hannah is the one who has become aggressive when izzabella goes near her food bowl...now they aren't eating much at dinner time, now lately izzabella isn't eating from her bowl...but will eat from my hand at dinner time...they eat breakfast n lunch with no problem, what's going on??
Avril Johnson on August 10, 2014:
Very informative and helpful.
swapna on July 28, 2014:
please give me exact answer for feeding for 5months lab puppies
Mrinal on July 11, 2014:
Awesome tips really thanks
Gwen on September 07, 2013:
Very helpful thank you!!
Mandy Jones from Hampshire, England. UK on June 12, 2013:
Very interesting, thank you.
kpfingaz from ~~~ on November 19, 2009:
Very informative and resourceful hub. Thumbs up.