Feeding your puppy
Your puppy seems small now, but they have a lot of growing up to do in a short space of time! In just 12 months (up to 24 months for larger breeds) they'll become fully-fledged adults.
In the meantime their bodies and brains have to develop incredibly quickly, and plenty of high quality puppy food helps them to get there. They definitely need it, as a healthy, energetic puppy can burn through up to twice as many calories as an adult dog!
- Introducing puppy/solid food
Mum’s milk makes the ideal first food for a puppy as it's naturally rich in all the required nutrients that they need to grow up big and strong. Although puppies get ready for weaning between six and eight weeks old, most will start to take an interest in solid foods at three to four weeks - usually by romping through mum’s bowl and licking the food from their paws!
This is the best time to start offering them a puppy food formula. If you choose a dry food, add some water and mash it into a thin porridge-like consistency. As your puppy gets older you can add less water and make the food progressively drier. Don't be tempted to wean them too early, as switching exclusively to solids too soon can put stress on your puppy’s immature digestion.
Puppies are eager to learn about the world around them, and they need lots of energy to explore it. When it comes to what to feed a puppy, manufactured puppy food is designed to provide a completely balanced combination of the nutrients your puppy requires. Puppy foods contain higher calories with no extra bulk, so they get the energy they need to develop both their bodies and brains, without overwhelming their tiny tummies.
High-quality puppy formulas contain lots of easily digestible protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, and higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin D to help build strong bones and teeth. So, unless your vet advises you otherwise, there’s no need to give your puppy any supplements if you’re feeding them a complete puppy food. There are a range of Purina products that you can try.
Puppies also have smaller mouths than adult dogs, so the smaller, bite-sized kibbles in most puppy foods make it easier for them to chew and release all the essential nutrients. Puppies naturally enjoy crunching these kibbles, as it helps to keep their teeth strong, clean and healthy.
Once you’ve found a puppy food both you and your pet are happy with, it’s a good idea to stick to it. Puppies can get tummy upsets if their diet is changed, so unless there is an obvious problem with their current diet, or you’re advised to change it by your vet, it's best to keep to the same brand of food. If you need to change your puppy’s food, see our section on “changing from one food to another” below for advice on how to make an easy transition.
How much to feed your puppy
Very often, a puppy will have eyes bigger than their belly! To get the balance right between what they need and overfeeding, give them small amounts on a frequent basis. This depends on their age, size and any advice given to you by your vet. Try starting with a tablespoon of food about five times a day while your puppy is still feeding from mum, and use the following guideline as a rule of thumb:
- From starting to offer food to weaning (usually two months) - 4-6 meals a day.
- From two to three months - 4 meals a day.
- From four to six months - 2-3 meals a day.
- Over six months - 2 meals a day (depending on breed).
Don't be tempted to overfeed your puppy as too much could either upset their tummy or put pressure on their frame if they gain too much weight in a short period of time. Neither of these are good for your puppy’s health, so take care when planning their meals.
Always read the feeding instructions on their food packaging carefully – they should give you a good starting point. The exact amount that you should feed your puppy can vary depending on their age, breed, any medical conditions and how energetic they are – more playful puppies will burn more energy, so need more food for fuel! Use our body condition tool to measure your puppy and make sure that they’re growing properly and aren’t under or over weight.
Weighing your puppy regularly will help you to make sure that they’re the right weight for their age, size and breed. You can do this at home, or if you’re unsure how, ask your vet to show you or do it for you during a check-up.
Avoid feeding your puppy immediately before or after exercise, and allow an hour to pass between feeding and activity. It can be a good idea to get your puppy into an early routine of having a rest straight after they eat to avoid the risk of tummy upsets or possibly even a more serious condition, particularly found in large and giant breeds, where their stomach can twist. This is known as called gastric bloat and torsion, and is a medical emergency that requires urgent veterinary attention.
Feed your puppy in a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of the house, where they can dig in free from interruptions. Choose a surface that can be easily cleaned, such as a tiled floor or a feeding mat, and always serve the puppy food in a clean bowl.
Keep children away from your puppy while they’re eating to avoid them bolting their food or getting protective over their meal. If you have other dogs in the house, feed them at the same time, but apart, to avoid fighting and food stealing!
As well as what to feed a puppy, it’s important to consider how to give their food to them.
Wet food is best served at room temperature, as it smells more attractive and is easier to digest. If you store the food in the fridge, remember to remove it an hour or so before meal times. It’s fine to microwave wet food for a short time to warm it through, but make sure that it’s never hot.
While wet food goes stale quickly if left out, dry food will last during the day and won’t spoil. Most puppies like to crunch on their dry food, but if yours prefers it moistened, or there’s a medical reason to avoid hard food, leave the food in a bowl of water for up to 30 minutes before serving. As crunching dry food also helps to remove plaque, you might want to add a regular dental treat to your dog’s diet if they prefer to have their dry food moistened. Just remember to take these treats into consideration with their daily calorie intake.
As your puppy grows bigger, so will their appetite. To give them the extra energy they need to support fast bursts of growth and build up muscle mass, you’ll have to increase the amount you feed them.
Depending on their breed, a six-month-old puppy can require up to twice the daily calorie intake of a two-month-old! As a general rule of thumb, start to increase portion sizes from six months to 12 months for small dogs, after which you can move them on to adult food. With larger breeds you should start increasing meal size at six months old, and then, decrease the amount again at 12 months once their growth spurt is over. These larger breeds move onto adult food later, at about 18 to 24 months.
Puppy dog eyes are called that for a good reason – they know exactly how to get what they want, especially when it comes to begging for more food! If your puppy is going to maintain a healthy balanced diet, try your best to ignore their pleas for table scraps and titbits.
If you do occasionally give in, treats should never account for more than 10% of your dog's total diet, otherwise you risk upsetting the value of a balanced pet food. Also, be aware there are some foods you need to stay clear of:
- Never feed your puppy raw meat. To reduce the risk of food poisoning, kill any bacteria by cooking fresh meat thoroughly. Before feeding, make sure there are no small pieces of bone left, especially brittle chicken and fish bones, as these can damage teeth and cause obstructions in the gut.
- Never feed your dog human chocolate, as it is toxic to them.
- Onions or grapes/raisins can also be highly toxic to dogs.
Read a more comprehensive list of substances that could harm your puppy
Making the change to adult food
Even though your puppy may look fully grown (at between six and eight months for small breeds of dog and around 24 months for giant breeds of dog) they're still puppies on the inside, so don’t be tempted to switch them onto an adult food too early!
Most dogs will still need the extra calories and nutrients that puppy food gives them until they’re about 12-24 months old (even older for large/giant dogs). Only then will they be ready to make the transition to an adult formula. If you’re not sure at what age to switch your puppy, consult your vet.
Your puppy's stomach is very sensitive, and can be easily upset if you change their puppy food suddenly, whether it’s between wet and dry food, to another brand, or from a puppy to adult formula.
If you’ve just brought them home for the first time, it’s a good idea to keep them on the food recommended by the breeder or rescue centre at first, unless there’s an obvious problem. If you do need to change their food, take your time to give their tummy time to adjust. Mix a little of their new food into the old one, gradually adding more and more over the course of 7-10 days until your puppy is just eating the new food.
If you switch from a wet food to a dry food, your puppy may take some time to adjust. They will chew it more actively, may take longer to eat and will certainly require more water. If you’re switching from dry to wet, don’t be surprised if they drink a little less. Again, the texture may seem odd to them so, if they’re used to crunching dry food, you might want to mix in a few biscuits.
It’s worth remembering that a portion of dry food will look smaller than a portion of wet food and, as dry foods are in general more energy-dense than wet foods, your puppy may need to eat proportionally more wet food to gain the same calories.
Following our advice on how to feed your puppy should mean that you have a happy and healthy dog with plenty of energy to play with!