Puppy Meal Deal
What you need to know about feeding your puppy
By Kim Campbell Thornton
If you have a new puppy, your head may spin as you walk through store aisles trying to decide what to feed him. Puppies have specific nutritional needs if they are to grow at an appropriate pace to adulthood, but no single food is right for every puppy. Among the factors that can influence your decision are age, breed, activity level and size at maturity. All of those can affect what an individual puppy needs from a food. Here’s what you should know as you make your choice.
First, read the food label. It should state that the food is complete and balanced and, ideally, that the nutritional value has been proven in feeding trials approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials. Look for a statement such as, “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth.”
Size matters. Small dogs have high metabolic rates and require a food that will provide them with a steady flow of energy. If they are very young or unusually small, they often need frequent small meals throughout the day. Choose a food that’s easy for these dogs to chew with their little teeth.
While a small-breed puppy might be able to switch to an adult food before he’s a year old, a large-breed puppy may need to stay on an appropriate growth formula until he is nearly 2 years old. Large-breed puppies often undergo rapid growth spurts, but that’s not good for their musculoskeletal development.
Developmental orthopedic disease is one of the most common problems seen in large- and giant-breed dogs. Leaving food out all the time, feeding energy-dense foods or foods with high levels of fat, high calcium intake either from supplements or in the diet, and a rapid growth rate have been linked to developmental orthopedic disease in large- and giant-breed dogs who have the genetic risk for it, says Joe Bartges, DVM, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens.
The best choice for large-breed pups is a food that enables slow, uniform growth. These foods usually contain fewer calories and less calcium, while still providing all the nutrients a growing dog needs. Another option is to feed smaller amounts of a regular puppy food. In both cases, the goal is to avoid excess weight gain at an early age, which can stress developing joints.
Diet benefits the brain, too. The AAFCO and the National Research Council (NRC) now agree that DHA omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in puppy brain development, including the areas of learning and memory.
“A lot of the puppy foods now are containing them,” Dr. Bartges says. “AAFCO and NRC now recognize omega-3 fatty acids as important for both puppies and adults.”
When should you switch your pup from a food for growth to one for maintenance? A good rule of paw is to begin transitioning him when he has reached approximately 80 percent of his anticipated adult weight or size. Small dogs usually arrive at that stage when they are 6 to 8 months old, but large-breed dogs may not achieve it until they are 18 to 24 months old. There’s nothing wrong, though, with switching him to a food for adults once he reaches 50 percent of adult weight, Dr. Bartges says.
“It may slow down the rest of their growth a little bit, but it doesn’t stop them from reaching their genetic potential.”