The Most Important Question: Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

Puppies eating
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

You may be wondering what to feed your new puppy right after you bring him home and one of the options that came to your mind is adult dog food. Besides, it is dog food so why not? Well, the problem is puppies need more nutrients than adult dogs and the bite size of these foods may not yet be suitable for their little mouths. Yes, it may be a lot cheaper to just buy adult dog food especially if you already have another dog to feed. It would definitely be a good way to cut costs but your puppy may not be getting what he or she needs.

Would you sacrifice your puppy’s future health by giving him less than optimal types of dog food?

As a pet owner, you need to understand that a growing puppy’s needs are not the same as that of a fully grown or adult dog. Their bodies need all the nutrients that they can get to develop tissues, organs, muscles, and bones in order to reach their adult size. Together with this need comes the requirement for greater energy sources which is why you need to supply a greater amount of calories.

Aside from that, you also need to take into consideration the fact that they have weaker teeth, jaws, and stomach so what you may be feeding your grown up dog may not be suitable for them.  Here are a few other things to consider to help you decide which types of food to feed your puppy.

Puppies need their mother’s milk up to 8 weeks

A puppy’s mother will be its best source of nutrition until they reach the age of eight weeks or two months. The mother supplies not only warmth and hygiene needs for the puppies, but also one of their most important needs – antibodies. Just like in humans, a mother’s milk contains essential components which cannot be replicated by commercially prepared formula milk. They have the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals that they need to grow as well as essential nutrients such as DHA that helps in their brain development.

Puppies need mothers milk

If however, the puppies have been orphaned or are abandoned by their mother, then the next best thing would be replacement milks which can be bought from your local pet store. You can start feeding them some puppy food mashed in some warm replacement milk or water once they are three (3) to four (4) weeks old. You can also give them some mashed steamed vegetables and some meat, just make sure that they are soft enough for them to eat.

Different puppies require different amounts of food

Not all puppies require the same amount of food every day. Some of the important things to consider when feeding them is their breed and their estimated size once they become full grown adults. A smaller breed will require smaller feedings whereas a larger breed will require a greater amount of food to support their growth.

For example, toy breeds such as Pomeranians will only need about a tablespoon of puppy food per meal when they turn eight weeks old whereas a giant breed, such as a Labrador will need one-half cup per meal. Smaller breeds will also require more frequent feeding since they metabolize food faster than larger breeds. Their smaller stomach also means that they can only eat limited amounts of food per meal hence the need for more frequent feeding.

If you have a large breed puppy, then you may also need to limit their intake of calories and minerals to avoid bone and joint problems when they grow up.

Different dog bredds

Here is a simple guide on how much to feed your puppy per day depending on their breed:

  • Toy breeds – ¼ to ¾ cup
  • Small breeds – ¾ to 1 cup
  • Medium breeds – 1 to 2 cups
  • Large breeds – 2 to 2 ½ cups
  • Giant breeds – 2 to 4 cups

Different breeds mature at different time periods

Another thing to consider is when can you consider your dog to be still a puppy? You need to understand that dogs will have different time periods of maturing into an adult dog. The general rule is that the smaller the breed, the faster will it mature. This is quite easy to determine with a pure-bred puppy but if you have a mixed breed, then you may have to talk to your breeder or your vet in order to determine how large they will be when they become adults. Below is a guide on how you can determine the average length of time that it will take for your puppy to grow up.

This will help you know when to switch from puppy food to dog food as well:

  • Small or toy breeds. This group includes Chihuahuas, toy poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, miniature Dachshund, Pekinese, Jack Russell, toy poodles, and Pomeranians. These types of puppies will typically take from nine to twelve months to get fully-developed bodies.
  • Medium-size breeds.  Bull Terriers, Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles belong to this group. It will take about 12 to 14 months for these puppies to become adult dogs.
  • Large breeds. This group includes German Shepherds, Labrador or Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and Collies to name a few. If you have puppies in these breeds then you will generally have to wait for 12 to 16 months for them to grow into adult dogs.
  • Giant breeds. Mastiffs, Great Danes, St. Bernard, Malamute, and Pyrenees are just some of the breeds that belong to this group. These dogs take 18 to 24 months to mature so be careful not to give them adult dog food before these periods as it can greatly affect their bone and muscle formation. They may look big but they are still puppies inside.

Puppy food is different from adult dog food

The difference between puppy food and adult dog food lies in the fact that they have different biological needs. Puppies generally tend to require more nutrients than their adult counterparts due to the fact they need more materials to turn their bodies into fully-developed adult dogs. Hence, they require more protein, micro nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates for their source of energy.

You will be able to notice that puppies generally are a lot more active than adult dogs since it helps to develop their muscles and bones. This is the reason why pet food manufacturers add more dietary nutrient amounts to puppy food than to adult dog food. You can see this especially in premium dog foods where they add up to 30% more protein to aid in the growing puppy’s needs.

Puppy in food bowl

Another significant difference, if you are feeding dry kibble, is its size and texture. Puppy foods are intended for smaller mouths than adult dog food. They are also softer compared to adult dog foods which an older dog can chew down very easily. Giving puppies foods that are intended for full grown dogs can cause damage to their jaws, teeth, and overall health.

Your puppy will have to work harder to chew down these foods and this can lead to dislocated jaws, broken baby teeth, and developmental problems. This is especially true since adult dog food contains lesser protein and calories that are meant to complement their dietary needs. So as you can see, there are a lot of problems when it comes to feeding puppies with adult dog food. Not only will you be putting their health at risk, you will also make it harder for them to eat their food. Remember that these are just puppies and are not fully-developed yet.

What adult dog food cannot give to your puppy?

This applies from small to large breeds of dogs and does not apply for giant breeds since they have lower mineral content needs. But, in terms of an average puppy, you will need up to 1.5% of calcium per day for their food. This is hard to come by especially since most adult dog foods will provide more or less of this amount.

The problem with giving more calcium is that it contributes to the excessive formation of bone materials while giving less contributes to poor bone structure. This can both lead to significant health problems once they become mature dogs.

Giant breeds on the other hand, require a specific balance of calcium and phosphorus in their diets. A slower growth pace through fewer calories and nutritional content is recommended for them in order to prevent joint problems. These breeds are more prone to muscular and skeletal problems when they mature which is why they need a specialized diet for growing up.

You can use homemade food together with puppy food

Giving your puppy natural and wholesome foods early on will help provide a good base for their health as well as help them get used to wholesome foods. Puppies can be fed with homemade food from The best way to prepare homemade foods for puppies is to boil them until soft and then mash them with warm water or milk.

Toxic food for dogs

Don’t add salt, sugar, and other spices as this can cause some health risks for the developing puppy. You can use small pieces of meat such as chicken or lamb as well as boiled carrots, peas, potatoes, rice, cabbages and eggs but make sure not to use too much veggie as this can cause an upset stomach even indigestion.

Caveat should be taken here as there are foods that you may consider to be perfectly fine for humans but are actually extremely harmful for dogs, namely:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Cooked Chicken Bones
  • Small Bones (These can be accidentally swallowed.)
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Raw Bread Dough
  • Fruits with Stones
  • Fish with Bones
  • Mushrooms
  • Candies (Especially those with Xylitol.)
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn or Corn Cobs

Taking the above advisory into account, you could invest some time into making your pup’s own meals in your very own home. We have a great article filled with terrific recipes for you to try to make homemade dog food. Just take extra care to include ingredients that are easier for your puppy to digest.

How often should you feed your puppy?

Puppies have smaller stomachs so this means that you would need to feed them more often but in smaller portions. The amount that you would need to feed your dog will depend on their breed.  Average puppies will need about 22 to 29% protein and 8 to 14% fat.

Large breeds will need 23 to 25% protein and 12 to 15% fat.  Their caloric needs will often be twice as that of an adult of the same breed. The younger your puppy is, the more frequent will you have to feed them. You will also need to feed them at regular intervals so they will learn your feeding schedules. This is the best start in house-training a puppy.

Here is a simple guide on how to feed your puppy as they grow to mature dogs:

  • Birth to weaning. This can vary depending on the availability of milk from the mother. If the pup is orphaned, you will have to feed them with replacement milk every two hours or every time they cry until they are ready for whole foods which is about at three weeks. Once they can eat mushy foods, you will have to feed them up to 6 times each day but make sure to determine the proper daily food portion first. You can then divide that into the number of feeding times per day.
  • Eight weeks to six months. During this period, you can feed your puppy up to four times daily. The more difficult periods would be starting from 3 months onwards when your puppy begins to shed their baby teeth and grow the permanent ones.
  • Six months to adulthood. Puppies of different breeds will grow into adulthood in different times so it is important to know that before transitioning into an adult dog food. But, from six months onwards, you can feed your puppy up to three times only. You can time them before or after your meals so they will learn your own schedule. Once they are full-grown, you will only have to feed them twice.

If that’s all a bit confusing to remember, here’s a great article you can read on creating a feeding schedule for your puppy to ensure that he’s getting all the nutrients that he needs.

Other factors to consider

Try to buy puppy foods that contain named meat as its first ingredient in the back label; this will assure that your puppy is getting a high quality protein which is necessary for their growth. Although some brands would say that they meet the American Association of Feed Control Officials you need to understand that pet foods can earn this even when they supply only the minimum requirements.

Not sure which brands you should be getting? We have a great article on the best food brands for puppies.

Variety and the availability of fresh wholesome foods will be the key to your pet’s health as they grow. Never depend on one single product for your puppy’s food especially since not giving variations can often cause allergic reactions to specific foods. Aside from the above-mentioned factors, you also need to consider other health and lifestyle needs of your pet puppy. First and foremost, you have to supply them with fresh and clean water. You can either set a schedule on when to give them this or you can have it available to them through automatic feeders.

Next, you will also need to give your puppy some supplements as prescribed by your veterinarian. Never try to do this by yourself. Third, never try to give your puppy a lot of food at a single serve. This can cause them to regurgitate their food or it can even lead to bloating where the intestines twist and become sealed off. Fourth, don’t feed your puppy immediately before travelling or playing. This can either cause nausea or stomach upsets. Fifth, don’t engage your puppy in exercises. A few minutes of play is sufficient for their growing bones and muscles.

Remember that their bodies are not fully formed yet and any hard physical activity can greatly damage their joints or organs.

Aside from these, you also need to take note that puppies are still on their growth period and so will require a lot more sleeping than most dogs. It would be best if you can place them in an area of the house where they will be least disturbed and safe from falling or from other pets that may cause them harm. Keep them away from toxic products such as cleaning substances and electrical parts to avoid the risks of being poisoned or electrocuted.

Puppies sleeping

Feeding your puppy is a very important step in raising him as it provides the foundation o his future health. It is important to take several factors in doing so namely: their age, breed, availability of milk from the mother, as well as their nutritional needs for their specific life stage.

Adult dog food is definitely not the best type of food to give them while they are yet puppies since it lacks the necessary amount of calories and nutrients that their developing bodies need. Puppies can also injure their teeth and mouth when eating adult dog food which is harder and larger than puppy kibbles. It would be best to wait for the right time when you can give them this type of food for them.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.

  • Helen

    Probably the author of this article is right that is not desirable to give the puppies food for adult dogs. But frankly speaking I can’t feed my puppy with dry or canned food for dogs at all. I don’t trust to manufactures of such products. Who knows what they are producing this food from!

    I feed my puppy with boiled milk, soups, different cereals, cooked meat and fish, fresh and cooked vegetables, and cottage cheese. And my little pet eats these products with a big appetite and looks very healthy.

  • Yes, this is a way to go. However, when you don’t have the time or the money to invest in a more diversified diet, commercial food (from high-quality sources) is just as good. Today’s producers understand the importance of introducing your puppy to a balanced diet and they won’t introduce anything that could harm your puppy in their products.

  • Chynna Lambert

    My puppy loves the ‘Taste of the Wild’. However, I want to figure out if my puppy has a poultry or chicken allergies. I’m feeding him chicken in very small quantities, but I have not seen reactions yet, maybe because it is too early to detect it if there’s any.

    • I would recommend sticking with the Puppy formula. Chicken can trigger allergic reactions to young puppies, as their immune system and digestive system is still underdeveloped.

  • Tamera Smith

    I have a new puppy. I bought puppy food but he wants to eat my other dogs food. His dog food is something balance. No wheat no corn how can I get my puppy to eat his food.

    • Anna Smith

      If your other dogs are also considered as juvenile, I believe the puppy can take them. You can portion the dog food with part other dog food and part puppy food.

  • Carrie Phelps

    Frightening that I was always of the opinion that the more calcium in a puppy’s food, the better! I am grateful I came across this article, as I will have to unlearn some things about dog care. Also thanks for linking to the homemade dog food recipes! I’ll check them out tonight when I get back from work!

    • Anna Smith

      You’re very much welcome Carrie! Happy to write more and share some more to everyone! Aren’t the homemade dog food great! Try them out and let me know how your dog finds them!

  • Gwen Hanson

    Is Greek yogurt really good for puppies? I got advice from a friend to add plain Greek yogurt into my 6month puppy’s food, apparently it will be good for his gas farts. I’d like your opinion on this.

  • Iris Cohen

    Nice article Anna, we just got a corgi, he is about 8 weeks, however he refuses to eat the puppy food that we buy for him, and he is on 4Helath grain puppy food? After 2 bags, he refuses to eat. What do you think is the problem? Does he miss his mother’s milk?

    • Anna Smith

      I hope your puppy has regained his appetite! It is quite possible that it may be a case of picky eating. Was there a time he was given table food before this happened? Some puppies, given a table food will try to find a way to get it again. Drop a note for updates!

  • Virgil Chandler

    I had a friend whose puppy had some form of osteochondrosis, due to her ignorance of a puppy’s nutritional needs. She fed him every and anything, this is why articles like this are highly appreciated amongst dog owners. Thanks for the info Anna!

    • Anna Smith

      I am glad that you are able to learn something from my article! I hope to write more articles to help out dog owners especially new ones. Share away when you can!