How to Feed Puppies

Having a brand new puppy at home can be a ton of fun but it will also require a lot of work to keep happy and healthy. Puppies, just like human babies, need proper nutrition for normal healthy growth and development. Making educated choices about your new puppy’s nutrition is important to getting that little pup off to the right start.

Introducing Your Puppy to Food
Let your puppy nurse for the first four weeks. The milk the puppy’s mother produces contains the exact combination of nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong. It should make up the entire diet for the first four weeks after birth. [1]
If you actually bred the litter and have the puppies and the mother dog, the introduction of “dog food” typically starts around one month of age.[2] If you try to wean the puppy too early, his health will be compromised.

Find a commercial puppy formula supplement if the mother isn’t producing enough milk. The puppy milk replacers typically come in powdered form to be reconstituted with water or an already mixed option.
Depending on the age and health status of the puppy, they may be able to suckle on a bottle, or you may have to talk with your veterinarian about tube feeding.

Introduce small quantities of puppy food at four weeks of age. Puppy kibble provided three to four times per day will allow the puppies to start investigating and ingesting the new food. Soak the kibble in water or puppy formula. The puppies will start licking and eating the new food as they become more familiar with the taste and new texture.
The puppies will also walk through the food and make a mess. You will need to keep on top of keeping things clean.

Make sure the new food is designed for puppies.

Do not change the food you are feeding your puppy abruptly. If you are bringing home a new puppy, stick with the same brand your puppy was fed by the previous owner for a few weeks before deciding to change to a different food. Food changes should be done gradually over a week or two to prevent stomach upset and possible diarrhea. Add in small amounts (about 10%) of new food to the old diet until you reach 100% new food. Unless your veterinarian recommends an abrupt change in diet, take your time.[3]

Know how much food to give your puppy. Each puppy is different and so the amount of food you need to feed them is very different. The amount you give the puppy is dependent on how many calories it needs to stay at a healthy weight and size. Follow the directions on the package of puppy food but adjust it to the needs of your particular dog, specifically to their appetite and body weight.[4]
If you’re not sure exactly how much to feed your puppy, talk to your veterinarian.

The dog food bag may offer some guidelines, but realize that it is impossible for the dog food manufacturer to be able to tailor their recommendations for each individual dog.

Using a body condition scoring system (BCS) will help you determine whether your puppy or adult dog is at a healthy weight.[5] A dog that is neither under nor overweight will have ribs that are not visible, but easily palpated with the flat of your hand. It will also have a nice waist just in front of the hips and a flank tuck when viewed from the side.

Watch for the signs of low blood sugar in small breeds. Toy and miniature breed puppies are predisposed to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in many cases. The blood sugar can drop and the puppy will be lethargic, and, in severe cases, can start having seizures.[6]This is an emergency and you need to take your puppy to the veterinarian immediately. You can try rubbing Karo syrup on the gums to help, but still take your puppy to to your veterinarian.

Providing access to food all the time or every 3-4 hours for the first 6 months of life for toy breed puppies will help prevent dietary based hypoglycemia. For larger breed puppies, feeding three times per day is generally sufficient.

Adjust the puppy’s caloric intake as they mature. Puppies will have growth spurts, just like children, where they will get taller and leaner and then fill out. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.

Don’t feed puppies table scraps. It might be tempting to give your puppy enticing foods like bacon or ham from the table, but avoid doing this. People food will often cause vomiting or diarrhea and could also lead to obesity and pancreatitis.
Bear in mind that the more people food you give your puppy, the more he’ll want, so it can interfere with training and cause behavior problems.

Consult your veterinarian about dog safe supplemental feeding. Low fat options include vegetables (green beans, carrots, broccoli, etc.) or tofu or skinless chicken breast. Remember, everything in moderation and you have to be cautious of creating a picky eater.

Starting a Feeding Schedule
Feed your puppy at the same time every day. Puppies are like babies in that they like to stick to a schedule. Meal feeding also helps with house training, since the puppy will need to relieve itself on a schedule. [7]

Feed puppies under 6 months old three times a day. Try feeding your puppy early in the morning before work, again at lunchtime, and once more at dinnertime.
If you aren’t home during the day, you’ll need a way to feed your puppy while you are gone. Either come home at lunch or otherwise arrange for someone to feed your dog in the middle of the day.

You can also purchase feeders that operate on a timer that will make food available at certain times during the day. [8] This schedule will only be for a few months, then you can feed morning and night when your puppy is older.

Always provide fresh water with the food. Fresh water can be provided at all times; there’s no need for a schedule. Change out the water dish every day and wash it out between uses.
Bring a bottle of water and a collapsible dish with you when you travel.

Provide a quiet area for feeding and prevent other animals from getting to the food bowl. If your puppy feels threatened while eating, the puppy may start guarding the food bowl. This resource guarding behavior can escalate and become dangerous to you and others.

Make it a routine to take the puppy outside to relieve itself after eating. Most puppies need to eliminate 15-20 minutes after eating a meal.

Choosing Food for Your Puppy
Do some research on types of dog food. Dog food is available in many forms: dry kibble, canned, semi-moist, refrigerated, dehydrated, and even raw. A balanced diet high in the proper nutrition is important for your puppy’s health. Talk to your veterinarian about options.

Choose a brand of dog food that uses high-quality ingredients. The first ingredients on the list should be a protein like “chicken” or “beef’ and not a grain like “corn” or “wheat.” The caloric content of the food is often found on the manufacturer’s website and not on the bag. There will be information on the protein, fat and fiber in the nutrient analysis section. Most puppies are fed a diet in the mid 20 to 30% protein range.[9]When it comes to choosing any food, make sure you look at the list of ingredients. If it contains chemicals and ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t give it to your puppy.

Offer healthy treats. Treats should make up no more than 5 percent of the overall diet. Choose treats that are high in quality and flavor. They’re good training tools and a fun way to connect with your puppy.

Make your own puppy food. If you want to make sure your puppy is getting only the best ingredients, you can make his meals yourself. This can be time consuming and you will need to follow recipes closely. Do not leave out ingredients. The first year of a puppy’s life involved lots of growth and they need the proper nutrition to develop and mature normally. One resource for making your own pet food is “The Whole Pet Diet” by Andi Brown.[10]
Consult with your vet before deciding to cook all of your puppies meals. Outline your plan and make sure your puppy won’t have a nutrient deficiency.

If your puppy vomits, has diarrhea or acts ill after eating food you cook, take him to the vet.

Educate yourself on what ingredients are dangerous for puppies. Chocolate, caffeine, garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, chewing gum, alcohol, apricots and salt are all poisonous to or unhealthy for puppies.

Related wikiHows
How to Create a Feeding Routine for Your Dog

How to Avoid Foods Dangerous for Your Dog

How to Live in a Multi Dog Household

How to Calm a Huge Puppy Down

Sources and Citations
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