Bringing a new puppy into the family is a wonderful and chaotic time – nothing brings as many laughs or as much frustration to a home then a puppy. Even though at times you may wish the little bundle of fur would hurry up and mature, puppyhood is all too short of a time and one that should be enjoyed before it is gone.

A simple way to keep the chaos down is through feeding them properly.

What to Feed a Pup

Much like human children, what you feed a pup greatly affects their behavior and ability to learn but pups have one other diet related concern – how fast they grow.

Commercial puppy food is formulated for proper growth, contains nutrients such as the fatty acid DHA which is believed to heighten the ability to learn, and is easy to digest for puppy tummies. It is usually highly palatable to puppies tuck right into it and kibble size is usually smaller then the adult version so little mouths find it easier to eat.

There are now two types of puppy food on the market – regular and large breed. Large breed puppy food maintains slow and steady growth for our large and giant breed puppies. Fast growth has been linked to hip dysplasia as well as other growth related issues where bones grow faster then the rest of the body is able to control.

The addition of the nutrient DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is relatively new to the puppy food producers. It is a member of the omega-3 fatty acid family and is a key component to both the structural and the fatty acid balance in the brain. It is critical for optimal neural development in mammals and when added to the diet, increases trainability and overall health of the young animal. Eukanuba/Iams was one of the first diets to include DHA in all of their puppy foods and many manufacturers have followed in their path.

Like adult dog foods, watch the ingredients list for too much corn or wheat products that are used as fillers. Because ingredients are listed by weight, manufacturers have learned to break an ingredient down into its smallest amounts. Corn for example is broken down into ground corn, corn flour, corn bran and corn meal. Add all four of those ingredients up to get an idea of the amount of corn in a diet and you begin to understand exactly what your puppy is eating – filler.

Meat and meat by-products confuse the average puppy owner as well. The Association of American Feed Control Officers (A.A.F.C.O.) classes meat by-products as:

“The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Although that sounds repulsive, those parts of the animal are actually higher or denser in nutrients then the meat and, in the wild, would be the first part of the animal to be devoured. Do they belong in our pet’s dinner? Definitely. Is there varying degrees of quality amongst the meat by-products? Definitely! Watch for the AAFCO stamp on dog food bags that contain meat by-products to know that what your pup is eating is within the accepted definition of ‘by-product’.

What to give a pup as a treat can be a difficult decision. Many dog treats contain high levels of sugar, artificial colors and flavors and various nitrates. Look for biscuits and chews clearly labeled organic, 100% natural, etc before buying and read the ingredients list for anything ending in ‘ose’ (i.e. sucrose, fructose, dextrose) as that is just Latin for sugar and, like your children, you do not want to feed your puppy sugar!

Homemade Diets and Puppies

The chief concern about feeding a puppy a homemade or raw diet is whether the pup is getting balanced nutrition from the food. For small breeds that do not have growth issues already, the success of a homemade diet is easy to see – the puppy is developing normally, is not too fat, not too thin, is happy and cheerful and has a healthy coat for their breed. For a large or giant breed, however, where growth rate is extremely fast and sporadic, a homemade diet may not be the best choice.

Feeding the Right Amount of Food

The caloric requirement of puppies varies widely even within the same litter. Energy levels, gender, growth rate and exercise all play a part in how many calories a pup needs to stay healthy and grow at a steady rate. The side of the bag of puppy food is a good indicator of amounts but most information comes from your eyes and your hands.

Skinny puppies are healthy puppies. In a short-coated breed, the last rib should be visible and in a thick-coated breed, the ribcage should be able to be felt through their plush coat. Puppies look cute when they are fat and roly-poly but it is not good for the pup especially in giant breeds or breeds prone to hip dysplasia.

To judge how much food a pup needs, begin with the guidelines the breeder gave you and then daily judge whether their fat levels (not their weight as that will obviously increase) go up or down. If they lose fat, feed them a few extra kibbles and if they gain fat, decrease their meals by a few kibbles. Puppies are usually ravenous so appetite is not a good judge of food requirement. For a pup that is constantly hungry, try feeding him three or four smaller meals throughout the day or adding a teaspoon of canned pumpkin to his breakfast, the high fiber will help satiate him throughout the day without increasing his body fat or adversely altering his nutrient levels.

Who to Ask for Help

Confused about what to feed your pup? There are many self-appointed experts that love to give their opinion but in truth, the best advice will come from your veterinarian. There is much on the internet about how vets do not receive adequate nutritional training while in school and that they know less then the average dog owner. This is not true and nutrition is more then just what is on the label or what is in the dish. No one is better suited to exam and discuss the health and development of your new puppy then your veterinarian. They are able to detect problems that the average person cannot and be able to address any issues with sound knowledge and experience.

Puppyhood is short so feed him well, train him consistently, take him to puppy class and make him a member of your family – all too soon he will be a well-mannered, intelligent and affable companion.


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