How Much Food Should a Puppy Be Given?

Puppies need high-calorie, nutrient-rich diets to help them grow up strong and healthy. The needs of each puppy vary widely based on breed, size and age, so advice from your vet or breeder should be your guide. You’ll likely be directed to provide a high-quality food that lists meats rather than corn or by-products among the main ingredients and contains at least 25 to 30 percent protein. Regular vet visits can help ensure your pup thrives and gains weight according to schedule, and help you adjust his diet appropriately as he grows.

puppy meal time
Even a hungry puppy knows when too much is too much.
credit: John Mcallister/Hemera/Getty Images

The Early Weeks

Ideally, a puppy should be kept with his mother and allowed to nurse for at least six weeks, with weaning and gradual transition to a gruel puppy food blend taking place in weeks seven and eight. If you bring home a new puppy younger than 8 weeks of age, you may need to help with the solid food transition stage yourself. Mix enough warm water with the appropriate vet-recommended amount of food to make a soft blend of oatmeal-like consistency. Gradually reduce the amount of liquid you add to fully transition to dry food. Much younger pups may benefit from a canine milk substitute. Avoid giving them cow’s milk, which can cause stomach upset.

Feeding Times and Amounts

Feeding your puppy several small meals each day can help reduce the potential for gastrointestinal issues. If you’re consistent, regular meal times can also help with potty training, and create a stable and familiar routine for you and your pup. On average, puppies can consume from a quarter cup to 4 cups of dry food per day, and commercial foods provide amount recommendations on packaging based on breed and weight. Dry food allocations can be cut in half and supplemented with the same volume of canned food, if desired. Discuss homemade diets with a vet and design them with a canine nutritionist to ensure your puppy is getting the nutrients he needs.

Free Feed vs. Timed Feed

Small breeds -- those under 20 pounds when grown -- can generally be good monitors of their food intake and do well with free-feeding meals. In other words, you can leave a bowl of kibble out and let your pup eat when he’s hungry. Medium and large breeds -- those weighing more than 20 pounds -- don’t have as much self-control and should be given regularly scheduled meals. If you have a house with multiple pets, monitor all food consumption to keep an eye on who is eating what. Water should always be available to your puppy regardless of when and how you serve food.

Puppy-to-Adult Food

Puppy food is formulated to give puppies extra fat and carbohydrates when their growing bodies need it the most. As your pup reaches physical maturity, he should be moved to an adult dog food. Smaller breeds tend to reach full maturity faster than larger breeds, so the timing for this transition will vary based on what kind of dog you have.

Importance of Food Management

Managing your pup’s overall diet and nutrition will be vital as he grows and matures. Under-feeding your puppy can lead to malnourishment, while over-feeding can lead to obesity and related health problems. Feeding your puppy inappropriate human foods that are high in fats or salts can also cause digestive problems. Avoid giving your puppy too many treats, as well. While special goodies can be helpful during training and housebreaking, they need to be considered part of your pup’s overall daily food intake and should not exceed 5 percent of his daily food allowance.