Who doesn’t love a tiny puppy? However, anyone who’s had one knows that they don’t stay small for long! In the first year of life, most dogs will increase in size dramatically… It’s almost as if they get bigger every time you blink! Everyone wants their puppy to grow up to be a healthy adult. But, exactly how much should you feed to get there? Will feeding more ensure that they grow bigger and stronger?

The short answer is: no! It is not a good idea to let your puppy have an all-you-can-eat buffet of food and treats. The puppy stage is a very critical period of growth, and nutrients must be closely matched to requirements. Any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances during this time can have life-long effects. 

How do you know what to feed your puppy?

By 6 weeks of age, your puppy will be fully weaned onto solid food. At this point, it is important to pick out a nutritionally complete and balanced diet that is formulated specifically for puppies. Your veterinarian can help you calculate your puppy’s caloric needs and explain how much of your chosen diet to feed. The amount will depend largely on your puppy’s body weight and their age. Remember to weigh out your puppy’s meals using scales —cups are inaccurate and often lead to portion sizes that are much bigger than intended.

Staying on track

After you choose a diet and have figured out how much to feed, there is still some work to be done! All puppies are different and some may have a different caloric requirement than what was calculated. Monitor growth using a growth chart to ensure that your puppy stays on track. The WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute has scientifically-researched charts available to download for both males and females of all breeds. You can find the one that’s right for your puppy here. If your puppy’s growth does not follow a smooth curve on the chart, it is best to book an appointment with your veterinarian. A change in your puppy’s growth pattern can be a sign of a health problem, or might signal that the daily meal size needs an adjustment.

If my puppy is a large breed dog, will that mean that he needs to eat more?

Larger puppies will have to eat more food but it is critical that nutrients in the diet are balanced. Large breed puppies are prone to skeletal abnormalities when the calcium levels of the diet exceed their growth needs. Many large breed dogs have been left with life-long leg problems because of an added calcium supplement to an already-balanced diet. The best commercial diet for a large breed puppy will be formulated specifically for them, and you should find this stated on the label of the package.

Do specific breeds have different nutritional needs as puppies? What about when they grow up?

The vast majority of dogs will grow and thrive with any diet that is formulated to be complete and balanced for their specific life stage. However, some breeds may benefit from extra nutritional support that matches their unique characteristics. For example, breeds of dogs that have short snouts (also called “brachycephalic”—think of bulldogs and pugs) can have trouble picking up certain food items with their mouth. These dogs will be able to dine more comfortably when their meals are easier to grasp. Breeds with wrinkly skin are prone to getting skin infections and may be best suited to a diet that supports skin and coat health. The right nutrition can also help prevent diseases for which certain breeds are genetically predisposed. 

As much as you may look to your dog’s breed to make a decision on what to feed, it is important to consider that every individual dog will be different. If you have any concerns about your dog’s specific nutritional needs, ask your veterinarian.

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