Puppies are normally weaned from their mother’s milk by the breeder starting at about three weeks and continuing until about six weeks when they should be able to eat enough to sustain themselves without mum. Of course, mum continues to give them a drink of milk but that should be finished as well when they are ready to go to their new homes at anything from eight to twelve weeks. They receive antibodies and colostrum from the mother’s milk that helps protect them until they receive their injections from the vet.
The breeder will give them tiny amounts of either soaked puppy kibble or tiny pieces of raw mince that has been frozen and then thawed. They smack their lips and instantly realize they can chew. They also have to learn how to lap from a bowl and that can be a very messy process indeed with more liquid on the floor and the pups than inside their tummies.
All of that being suitably dealt with when the eight week puppy comes to the new owner it should have instructions from the breeder about the food already being given and how to proceed. Breeders should offer to be ready to answer questions by telephone if the new owner feels they need support.
Responsible breeders will usually supply some food with the puppy to ensure that there is no interruption of the diet.
Be aware that there are many unscrupulous people out there who simply want to make a quick buck and never see the buyer again. If you get this impression or you cannot see the pup’s mother, be very careful about buying from that source.
Basics about feeding needs
Puppies have different feeding needs from adult dogs. They have an enormous amount of growing to do in a very short time and will become full adults over a year or maybe two years for the larger breeds. To manage this growth rate they need high quality food and plenty of it as a pup can use up to twice as many calories as an adult dog.
They need to eat quite often because of the size of the tummy and the food should be easy to digest because the system is still developing. A pup’s digestive system can easily be overwhelmed.
Manufactured puppy food contains a balanced blend of easy to digest protein along with minerals, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin D for strong bones and teeth. It is also made into small enough bite sized pieces for a small mouth and new teeth. Because it is balanced you are unlikely to need to supplement the food with extra vitamins unless advised by the vet. In fact too much of a good thing can actually do harm.
The makers have usually spent years developing and studying the best balance for the pups and most firms are happy to advice. By and large the more expensive foods are better as you get what you pay for and in most cases the extra money is well spent when your dog is a youngster.
From eight weeks, when a pup often goes to a new home, to twelve weeks, most pups will need four meals a day. From four to six months , three meals a day and over six months two meals a day. Do not be tempted to overfeed as the pup is still growing.
Overfeeding can also lead to a condition called bloat – gastric dilatation- This is often a fatal condition and is a medical emergency. Lots of exercise immediately before or after eating can also trigger this awful situation. That’s why it’s important that you be careful about not only what you feed your puppy, but also how often you provide meals. To ensure you’re not over- or under-feeding, please read our article on maintaining a proper puppy feeding schedule.
Larger breeds are usually more susceptible to this than tiny dogs. In fact, even with adult dogs, if you have large breeds it is best to give a snack in the morning as well as an evening meal to help guard against bloat.
Where, how, what not to feed
Your puppy should feel safe and settled when eating, so always feed in the same place and it should be somewhere quiet without other dogs around. In fact lots of people have crates for the dogs and feed in the crate but with the door open. This gives the pup his own space and he feels safe.
If you want to moisten dry dog food, leave it in water for about half an hour to soften and then drain off the excess water. Dogs do like to crunch but there may be times when he is teething that it is uncomfortable.
Leave the food down for twenty minutes to half an hour and then take it away. Leaving food out all the time might seem a good idea as the dog can eat when hungry but it sets up a bad pattern and the food can be contaminated. He can also become an overweight body for the young bones to support. If he leaves a little bit on the plate then that means he has had sufficient and you can safely take away the rest.
It is difficult never, ever to give your pet a little treat- the end of your piece of cake or the corner from your sandwich but you should only do that on very rare occasions and NEVER FEED chocolate, grapes, raisins or onions as they can be toxic to dogs.
If you’re unsure as to whether your puppy may have gotten into any of these foods when you weren’t looking, then check out our article on the symptoms of food poisoning for the above-mentioned foods.
Watch out for small pieces of chicken or fish bones that are brittle and sharp and can cause obstructions in the intestine and fresh meat should be thoroughly cooked to remove bacteria.
Your pup may look fully grown at six to eight months but he is still a pup and still has lots of development to come so do not be tempted to start on adult food early. He needs the extra nutrients.
Do not change the diet suddenly or you will end up with a sad puppy who has a tummy upset. If you wish to change to a different brand or type of food, add some to the existing food and over ten or twelve days make the changes slowly.
There are basically three choices. There is dry kibble, wet food in cans or pouches and a mixture of the two.
Each of these three types comes with even more choices because there are holistic diets, grain free diets, natural menus or organic as well as the various well-known brands of dry kibble manufacturers.
The well-established manufacturers who are known worldwide are
- Pedigree: Pedigree have developed a puppy Vital range to deliver the complete needs of the pup. The meat is animal derivatives- mostly chicken- whilst the sunflower and fish oils help coat and skin, protein extracts provide the energy and there are minerals and antioxidants added. It has a small, easily managed kibble for little jaws.
- Purina: Purina Pro Plan Puppy Original also caters for a range of puppy sizes from mini to large. They add colostrum and Omega 3 fatty acids as well as minerals. The chicken content is twenty per cent but they also add poultry derivatives.
- Eukanuba: Eukanuba are another well-known brand- sponsors of Cruft’s Dog Show- They too, make breed specific and kibble for different sized puppy breeds. Their lamb and rice variety of puppy food is also suitable for dogs with sensitive tummies and can also be fed to pregnant or nursing bitches. They add prebiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids and an ingredient that helps remove plaque from teeth. They use diced turkey, chicken or lamb along with beet pulp and proteins that are easy to digest.
- Hill’s Science Plan: Hill’s Science Plan is another make that provides puppy food in small to large puppy varieties. They make the point that this food can be given to pregnant or lactating bitches who also need high nutrients and energy. This brand has ground turkey and chicken meat as well as minerals, vitamins and fatty acids.
- James Wellbeloved: James Wellbeloved offer breed specific and different sized kibbles. All of their products are hypoallergenic and are often stocked by vets.
- Royal Canin: Royal Canin provide a variety of puppy kibble that caters for different size of pups and even different breeds. They range from mini bite to giant breed puppy. The larger breeds have more chondroitin and glucosamine for joint and bone growth. They also use meat derivatives but add prebiotics and antioxidants.
Newer kids on the block
Most varieties of dog food can be bought online and so are widely available but your local pet superstore will also stock a great variety. Pets At Home in the UK have a wide range and they also have stores in Australia.
In the USA the manufacturers are governed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials who have specified 37 ingredients that must be included in puppy food to receive their seal of approval. In the American produced products you can simply look for the AAFCO mark and know it reaches a certain standard.
Many of the newer arrivals in the dog food market are making their products to a very high standard. Included in this group are Blue Buffalo Wilderness, Wellness Core, and Orijen. These are also available in Europe and worldwide through online suppliers.
Blue Buffalo uses whole meat and is thirty six per cent protein. They also provide for different size pups and two of their puppy dry kibbles have received the AAFCO’s highest rating. It does contain caramel as a coloring, however which some people would say is an undesirable additive. It is pronounced safe by the FDA.
Wellness Core also receive a five star rating from AAFCO and they have one puppy variety whose protein content is thirty four per cent. They use deboned chicken and chicken meal but potato as a fiber as well as peas. Potato has little nutritional value to dogs but is a source of carbohydrate.
Orijen dry food is growing in popularity worldwide and contains deboned chicken as well as chicken meal but also has herring, boneless turkey, eggs and salmon. It is thirty eight per cent protein and contains a huge variety of vegetables and fruits.
It is grain free and receives the five star award from the AAFCO.
Holistic, organic and grain free
Holistic dog foods only use one source of meat or fish and preferably sea caught fish or free range animals such as lamb. They do not contain any colors, additives or by products and should have vegetables and fruits.
Holistic manufacturers avoid any of the ingredients that are often responsible for allergies like gluten.
Some brands are:
- Almo Holistic Medium Dog Puppy with Chicken,
- Geller Holistic Choice Puppy Dry Food,
- Holistic Select,
- Burns pet Nutrition,
- Eden Dog Food.
Organic Dog Foods are produced to set guidelines where the grower or farmer has to prove with paperwork that no pesticides, antibiotics or hormonal products have been used on the crops. The animals are fed organic food and the farmers work to a traditional system. Some brands are Wellness, Lily’s Kitchen Organic and Burns pet. There are plenty of other brands too, which you can read in our article about organic dog food.
Grain Free diets are very popular now and avoid that grain and gluten that may cause allergies. The people who promote grain free believe that a dog’s natural diet would be mostly meat and animal fat an that their stomachs are not geared to deal with grain content.
There are a lot on the market now to choose from as most of the major producers are also making a grain free product alongside their normal one. Some well know ones are James Wellbeloved, Blue Baffalo, Wellness, Nutro and Innova.
Wet food for puppies
Most manufacturers make wet food either in cans or in pouches and trays. These are very popular now and most dogs find them very tasty. As with dry foods, most of the brands are made as a complete food and do not require an additives.
The British Kennel Club recommends that you choose a good quality product with an easy to digest recipe such as chicken and rice. You would probably always need to feed more of a wet food to give the dog the right amount per day than you would dry food. Young pups often do better on wet food because there is more hydration and it is easier on tender teeth and gums.
Some well-known makers are James Wellbeloved who now make pouches of hypoallergenic food. Hypoallergenic simply means avoiding ingredients that are known to cause intolerances like gluten, beef, pork, eggs or dairy. Artificial additives are omitted for the same reason. The firm do say that the wet food can be used as a topper on the dry kibble.
Nutro for large dogs has similar claims and is well thought of. Wainwright’s Puppy Tray is a more recent introduction and seems to be proving popular.
Almo Nature Diet have good reviews and are available only online. Pedigree make pouches as well as their long standing canned food varieties and Lily’s Kitchen now make holistic canned food as well as their dry kibble. In fact most of the worldwide firms offer a wet food variety as well as a dry and it is quite possible to use a combination of the two once the pup has grown.
The choice is enormous and if you are serious about organic or grain free diets than read all the ingredients on the labels and ask advice from your vet.
The breeder of the puppy should always be a source of advice and help and of course, if the pup reacts to a new food with upset tummy than go back to the one that was not an upset and start all over again. Eventually you and your puppy will find the right balance and the right food.