If you’re responsible for taking care of puppies in the first few months of their lives, you need to be prepared to move them from a diet of mom’s milk to regular puppy food. Our ASPCA nutrition experts tell you when and how it’s done, along with some other important info, in these easy top ten tips:
- Mother Knows Best Newborn puppies receive complete nutrition from their mother’s milk for the first four weeks of life. Mom's milk is 100 percent perfect for their needs, so there is no need to feed them anything else.
- Substitutions Allowed
In the event that the mother dog is ill or doesn’t produce enough milk—or if the pups are found as orphans—it may be necessary to feed a commercial milk replacer. If you find yourself in this situation, contact your veterinarian for product and feeding recommendations.
- Love at First Bite
Puppies generally begin eating puppy food around three or four weeks of age. Start with small quantities, and gradually increase the amount of puppy food.
- Tasteful Toys
Puppies often play with their food when it is first introduced, but they will quickly learn what to do with it! By the time the pups are completely weaned at seven to eight weeks old, they should be eating their dry food consistently.
- Hey Ma, What’s for Dinner?
Puppies require up to twice the energy intake of adults and, depending on the breed, will need to be fed a food that contains 25- to 30-percent protein.
- Small Breed Needs
Small breeds of dogs—those weigh 20 pounds or less at maturity—reach mature body weight in nine to twelve months. As puppies, they can be fed free-choice. When food is readily available, most small-breed dogs will develop good eating habits and not become overweight. However, if you have other pets, you should probably feed your small-breed dog by the portion control method.
- No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
Most medium-breed puppies (adult size between 20 and 50 pounds) and all large- or giant-breed pups (more than 50 pounds as adults) are best fed with the portion-control method.
- Growth Spurts Can Hurt
If they are allowed to overeat, they can consume too many calories, grow too rapidly and develop bone growth problems. Clinical signs often seen with bone growth disease include bowing of the front legs. Sometimes, these signs are misdiagnosed as calcium deficiency (also known as rickets). Radiographs are crucial for an accurate diagnosis.
- Easy Does It
Do not overfeed in an attempt to accelerate a puppy’s growth rate. Remember, the adult size of a dog is determined genetically—not by how fast the animal grows. Controlled feeding of a balanced diet specifically made for large- and giant-breed puppies facilitates optimal skeletal development. It is important to aim for a slower rate of growth with large and giant breed puppies.
- Treats for Your Sweets
It is okay to feed your puppy treats. However, treats should make up no more than five percent of your puppy’s daily nutrient intake. The rest of his or her diet should come from a high-quality puppy food.