How Often Should I Feed My Puppy?
The frequency for feeding a puppy is one of the most common questions new puppy owners ask me. The answer, of course, depends on a lot of factors, including how old the puppy is, the puppy’s breed, the puppy food you are using, any medical problems the puppy has, what body condition score the puppy has, the activity level of the puppy, and whether the puppy has been spayed or neutered. I will explain how these and other things can influence how often to feed your puppy.
1. How Old Is Your Puppy?
The age of the puppy makes a big difference in how often to feed. Neonatal puppies should nurse as frequently as the mom will allow, until they are roughly 6 to 8 weeks of age. The mother’s milk will provide the necessary antibodies to protect the puppy from diseases and provide the necessary nutrition. When the puppy is approximately 4 to 6 weeks of age, you can begin transitioning to puppy food by offering small amounts of puppy food that has been softened with puppy milk replacer or warm water. This should be done three to four times a day. The transition should not happen quickly. It usually takes a week or two to completely wean the puppy off of the mother. At 8 weeks of age most puppies can be on puppy food and fed three to four meals a day. Usually by 12 to 16 weeks of age, the puppy can be fed two to three times a day, and by 6 months of age, most puppies can be fed just twice a day.
2. What Type Of Dog Is Your Puppy?
The type of dog also influences how often to feed. Really small breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas, are prone to developing low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) when they do not eat often enough. Their small and developing liver has a difficult time maintaining their glucose level without frequent meals. These small breeds may need to be fed four to five times a day until they are roughly 16 weeks of age to prevent a low glucose problem. Some large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, are prone to bloating. Large meals may contribute to this potentially fatal problem, so it is frequently recommended to feed several small meals a day to help prevent any bloating problems in at-risk breeds.
3. What Type Of Food Are You Feeding?
The type of food will also influence how often to feed the puppy. Puppy food is different from regular adult dog food. In general puppy food has more calcium, more protein and more calories than regular dog food. In addition, several companies make puppy food specifically for small breeds, for medium breeds and for large breeds. The small breed foods have a smaller kibble size and are more calorie-dense. The large breed foods are a larger size, less calorie-dense and designed to slow down the rapid growth of the bones. The slower growth will aid in preventing hip arthritis and hip dysplasia from developing. The medium breed puppy foods are somewhere in the middle of these two. There are even a few companies making puppy food designed just for one specific breed. I recommend using a high-quality puppy food based on your puppy’s breed size.
Puppy foods also come in three different types: dry, semi-moist and canned. Dry food, which is usually called kibble, contains roughly 10 percent water and is the easiest and most cost-effective option. Semi-moist food comes in small, vacuum-sealed packages and contains roughly 50 to 60 percent water. In addition, a lot of the semi-moist foods contain sugar or corn syrup. Be aware that excessive sugar is not good for your puppy. Canned food contains 75 to 80 percent water, and some small breed dogs really love the taste of canned food. For large breed dogs, semi-moist and canned food may require another meal in order to get enough calories and nutrition to the puppy. Consult with your veterinarian about what type and brand of food to feed your puppy.
4. How Much Is Your Puppy Eating At Each Meal?
Most puppies will eat as much as they can in a 10- to 15-minute time span. These puppies do just fine with a regular feeding schedule of two to four meals a day. On the other hand, some small breed puppies and some very active pups may not eat enough food in a short time frame if they are distracted or playing or need to defecate. These puppies may require an extra meal a day to ensure adequate nutrition and caloric intake, or they may need to be fed “free choice” by leaving puppy food in their food bowl at all times.
5. Does Your Puppy Have Any Medical Problems?
Puppies recovering from medical conditions such as intestinal parasites, viral diseases (like coronavirus or parvovirus), or upper respiratory diseases are usually underweight. These puppies may benefit from an extra meal a day or from free-choice feeding. The extra calories will help them gain weight and recover faster.
6. How Active Is Your Puppy?
Activity level is another important factor in determining how often to feed a puppy. Very active puppies like the herding breeds and retrievers may need an extra meal per day, especially if they are fed canned food, just to keep up with their caloric needs. Very active toy breed pups may also need an extra meal per day to prevent hypoglycemia. Inactive breeds may need a reduction in the number of meals fed to prevent the puppy from becoming overweight. Your veterinarian can advise you on your puppy’s weight and body condition with each visit for vaccines, and when it is time for the puppy to be spayed or neutered. The feeding frequency may need to be adjusted if the puppy becomes too thin or too heavy.
7. Is Your Puppy Spayed Or Neutered?
Most puppies are spayed or neutered when they are about 5 to 6 months old. This surgery slows the metabolic rate of the puppy. Some puppies will need to have a slight reduction in the amount of food fed at each meal after this procedure. Some puppies are already overweight when they are fixed. These overweight pups may need to have a reduction in the number of meals per day to prevent the puppy from becoming obese.
8. Are You Giving Any Treats Or People Food?
More factors to consider are the amount of treats fed to the puppy and whether the puppy receives any people food. Treats can be a major source of calories, especially to toy and small breed puppies, but most treats are not nutritionally complete or balanced. Thus, it is best to limit the amount of treats to prevent any nutritional imbalances. People food can also cause some problems. People food can be a major source of calories without being nutritionally complete or balanced. In addition, puppies can experience gastrointestinal upset from people food, and some fatty foods could cause a serious problem with the puppy’s pancreas. Plus, puppies who eat people food may start to beg for people food whenever they see it. This can become a very bad habit. My recommendation? It’s best to completely avoid giving people food to your puppy.
9. When Do You Start Feeding Adult Dog Food?
When the puppy reaches maturity, it is time to slowly transition him to a regular adult dog food. This should be done by adding a small amount of the adult food to the puppy food, and then slowly increasing the amount of adult food being fed over one to two weeks. Most small- and medium-breed puppies can be converted to adult food around 12 months of age. Large breed and giant breed dogs may take longer to reach maturity and can be switched to adult food between 18 to 24 months of age.
Dr. Jerry Murray graduated from Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. He has been in private practice working with small animals and exotic pets for the past 23.5 years. He currently practices in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. When he is not working, Dr. Murray enjoys sports, traveling, wildlife photography and helping with the endangered black-footed ferrets in South Dakota.
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