If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you just got a puppy or are considering getting one. Congratulations! Puppies are fantastic. They are adorable and lovable and make you healthier and happier. (They are also naughty and destructive and have trouble controlling their bowels.) When I first brought my dog Henry home, I was terrified of killing him. I can’t keep a plant alive, so as cute as Henry was, I didn’t think he had a good chance of survival under my regime. How much food does he need? What kind should I buy? Should I leave it out all day? Does he still drink milk? How did he get that shoe? Can you tell I’m childless?
The second Henry entered my apartment he bee lined for the food bowl like he owned the joint and gulped it down in 4.5 seconds. While I stared at him in disbelief, I thought, if this little monster always eats like this, I will not be able to afford him and we will be homeless.
We are not homeless. He still eats like that (he has choked more than once), but he is a healthy, happy, alive 65-pound two-and-a-half-year-old so I must have done something right. Here are some tips for feeding your own puppy in a way that’s healthy and affordable.
Consider your puppy's age and breed
All I ever wanted – and still want – is what’s best for my dog. And in order to do what’s best for your puppy, it’s important to first consider two things – age and breed.
How often should she eat? PetMD suggests feeding her three times a day until she is six months old; after that, twice a day will be the feeding guideline for the rest of her life.
But what if she is a teeny-tiny pup and less than 8 weeks old? Ideally, she should stay with her mother so she can nurse, but since that is not always an option, what should you do? Use a milk replacer or bottle (they can be found at any major pet store) until you wean her to solid food.
From Cesar’s Way, Dr. Kristy Conn suggests, "Starting around four to six weeks of age begin introducing your puppy to puppy food by making a gruel by blending the puppy food with milk replacer." Offer the gruel three to four times daily, but gradually reduce the amount of milk used to make the gruel so she can slowly adapt to solid food (without even noticing!) and minimize her chance of gastric upset. Your pup should be weaned off of milk and eating solid food by the time she’s eight months old.
Sadly, large breed dogs have shorter life spans than small ones, so it’s important to help them properly grow and develop at a young age to keep them around as long as possible. What’s more, since each breed has different metabolic needs, the puppy food industry now predominantly produces food for breeds of every size.
According to the ASPCA, since puppies require up to twice the energy intake of adult dogs (more or less depending on the breed), they will need to be fed a food that contains 25 to 30 percent protein, and if your puppy is on the larger side or a high-energy breed, she will need to consume more calories than small, low-energy pups.
However, don’t free-feed your pup; feed her at the same time and same place every day. Not only will this help with training and consistency, it will ensure she doesn’t overeat because in addition to obesity, overeating can also cause bone or joint problems (like hip dysplasia), especially in medium or large-breed puppies. If you’re concerned, it’s best to talk to your vet for specific advice and insight on your pup and breed.
What should he eat?
Like babies, puppies are still developing, so their diets need to be different than adults. Their bones, muscles, and internal organs are growing, and they need proper nutrition (high protein, calcium, phosphorus) in order to develop strongly and healthily. PetMD says, "A well balanced puppy food contains those nutrients that a puppy specifically need for this purpose, nutrients that are not necessary once the puppy has finished growing into a dog and that are not added to adult formula dog foods."
Additionally, feeding him puppy food means not feeding him table food, because that can result in vitamin and mineral imbalances and bone and teeth problems. (Not to mention a freak-dog who stares at you while you eat and believes wholeheartedly in the adage what’s yours is mine.) Be sure to reference the back of the dog food bag to see how much you should be feeding her at meal times.
Dry puppy food
Of the three types – moist, semi-moist, and dry – dry food is best for puppies because it contains the most meat protein. PetMD says, "It is also more practical, cost-effective, better for keeping the teeth clean, and easy to digest. Moist puppy food is also easy to digest, but it is more expensive and spoils more rapidly if not stored properly. In addition, moist foods are commonly composed of 75 percent water, so they contain fewer nutrients."
Because of its soft texture, moist dog food will also affect his teeth because more of it will get in between his teeth and stay on the surface, making them prone to cavities.
Semi-moist food is also a good option since it’s easy to digest and practical to use, but it can be expensive and is believed to lead to obesity and hyperactivity because it contains high levels of salt, sweeteners, artificial colors, and preservatives
Dry, high-quality puppy food
Your pup’s first nutritional priority is protein, so the very first ingredient listed should be a simple whole animal product like chicken, lamb, or salmon. The Whole Dog Journal also suggests healthy grains (like rice or oats), natural fats and oils, and essential vitamins and minerals.
What does Fido not want in his bowl? Meat and vegetable by-products, cheap grain fillers (corn and wheat), corn syrup, and chemicals like pesticides and growth hormones. Did that last list make your stomach turn?
5 dog foods for puppies
Here are five dog foods that are pawfect for your precocious puppy. Most importantly, these foods will help her develop into the dog she was meant to be – happy and healthy!
Wellness Complete Health Puppy – Wellness pretty much tops all dog food lists – food for puppies, adults, seniors, sensitive stomachs – and I totally understand the craze. By carefully choosing authentic, high-quality ingredients to create nutrient-rich whole foods, Wellness helps your pup develop strong teeth and bones, healthy muscle growth, and energy for growth and play.
Earthborn Holistic Puppy Vantage – Be the yin to her yang with this dog food purchase! Since puppies are always on the go and need energy for growth and play, Earthborn helps provide that energy with nutrient-rich carbs like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and brown rice. Not only are they easy on your pup’s digestive system, they’re important for her overall health.
Blue Buffalo – Dry food, wet food, puppy treats, oh my! If Fido wants it, there’s a good chance Blue Buffalo has it. Their food and treats are made with all natural ingredients to support everything from your puppy’s skin and coat health to his muscle, bone, and cognitive development.
Acana Puppy & Junior – Acana is "more meat, less potatoes" kinda company. Their dog foods are brimming with chicken and eggs from local prairie farms and wild-caught flounder from North Vancouver Island. They’re grain-free and protein-rich, designed to promote your pup’s development and conditioning.
Eagle Pack Puppy – This dog food is formulated for the healthy growth of small and medium breed puppies. By balancing the right amount of proteins, fats, carbs, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids, Eagle Pack helps your pup’s health soar with a healthy immune system, shiny coat, and optimal brain and eye development.
Image: Darrell Hitchcock