Inviting a new puppy into your life is one of the most fun, rewarding (and exhausting) things a person can do. Because your puppy is so early on in their life's journey, they're counting on you to take proper care of them, and part of raising a healthy pup is feeding them correctly. Your puppy's food and nutritional needs will change over time, and this helpful guide will help you stay informed every step of the way.
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When, what, and how to feed puppies
Most puppies are ready to be placed into their forever homes at around eight weeks of age, although some may come to find their adoptive families a little later. Their needs will change as they grow and get older, about every two to four months. This helpful breakdown from the American Kennel Club can help you assess your puppy's needs over those first weeks and months, all the way up until they're about 14 months old.
Young puppies under eight weeks will ideally be nourished by their mother's milk, or bottle-fed by their guardians when the need calls for it. Between around six and 12 weeks, puppies should be given food formulated for puppies and that will meet their nutritional puppy needs, like fatty acids, protein, carbohydrates, and calcium. Puppies are rapidly growing at this time and should be fed about four times per day to maintain their health and proper development.
Between 12 weeks and about six months, your puppy should still be eating puppy-formulated wet food, solid dry food, or a mix of both. Their feedings should be reduced over time during these weeks, from about four times a day to three times per day. Because the sizes and breeds of puppies differ, some dogs will require more or less food, or the window of time stated here may look a little different. It is recommended that you speak with your veterinarian about the best feeding practices for your dog, and gauge your dog's needs by behavior, body type, and hunger levels over time.
The last half of the first year will reveal major changes to your dog's body and personality, and their feeding habits should reflect that. In most cases, dogs between six and 12 months can drop down to about two feedings a day, but most should still be offered a puppy formula during this time. Most people consider adulthood to begin at around the one-year mark and may gradually switch their dogs to a new food, like adult dog food. Some dogs may take a little longer to develop, and some, like small breeds, may find switching up sooner to be better for them. Whatever the case, if you're not sure when you make the change, it's best to wait a little later than transition to adult dog food too soon.
Giving puppies access to water
Puppies, like all animals, should be given easy access to fresh water at all times. Lack of water can greatly inhibit their metabolic process, which can affect things like brain function, digestion, and even breathing. Very young puppies should not have water withheld; puppies who have been weaned will generally need about an ounce of water or slightly less per pound of bodyweight to remain healthy.
Depending on your puppy's age and development, unlimited availability of water can lead to more accidents around the home, or in your puppy's crate or playpen. For puppies who have been weaned and are ideally a little older, you can limit their intake by making water less available during times when you know they will not get regular bathroom breaks, like while you are asleep. A good rule of thumb is to limit water about two to three hours before bed and allow for a potty break as late as possible to prevent accidents.
What not to feed puppies
Growing puppies are a hungry bunch, and it's not uncommon to see them asking for food in the most adorable and hard to resist ways possible. For a healthy puppy, however, some foods should remain off-limits — namely, people food. Some people may opt to share table scraps or a bit of meat with their dogs, and that's a personal choice. If you are going to allow your dog to indulge, however, it's recommended that you do so later in life and resist the urge during puppyhood, which is when dogs are highly susceptible to building habits and boundaries. Table scraps for a puppy can lead to an imbalance of nutrients, dehydration, and possible choking hazards, so it's best to stick with the puppy food, at least for the time being.
A good feeding schedule
Your puppy's feeding schedule will depend on their age, your schedule, and the lifestyle in your home. Generally, younger puppies will only be able to eat smaller amounts of food and will need to eat a few times per day, so timing those feeds at regular intervals is recommended. For puppies who are a little older, scheduling feed times around potty breaks, training, and regular outings can help establish a dependable routine for your dog and can help deter demanding or excessive begging into adulthood.
One thing that is not recommended is to keep your puppy on no schedule and allow them to "free feed," meaning, nibble on food throughout the day as they see fit. This feeding style may work for some older dogs, but it's best to keep puppies on a schedule, which can prevent overeating. Alternatively, making food too scarce for your puppy can lead to malnutrition and behaviors like resource guarding, so finding a schedule that works to meet your puppy's needs will yield the best results in the long run.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.