A new puppy is a great addition to any family. If this is the first cuddly addition to yours, congratulations! Life with a new puppy is a rewarding and exciting experience. But alongside that excitement comes some serious responsibilities.
The stages of puppy growth consist of:
Neonatal period (0 to 2 weeks)
Transitional period (2 to 4 weeks)
Socialization period (4 to 12 weeks)
Ranking period (3 to 6 months)
Adolescence (6 to 18 months)
These developmental stages are incredibly important to the growth of a new puppy. They can define and influence your new puppy’s behavior towards its surroundings and the people and animals that inhabit that environment.
During each growth stage, there’s going to be an adjustment period for all involved. Your lifestyle and schedule will change as your puppy transitions to adulthood. Some periods will be inexplicably challenging, but rewarding.
Ensuring your puppy is healthy during each of these developmental stages starts with observing the right nutrition, which involves providing top-quality dog food.
Preparing for a New Puppy
The dog accessories you should buy before your puppy arrives at their forever home include:
Food and water bowls, preferably non-tip stainless steel
Collar and leash (a four- to six-foot leash)
Brushes and combs suited for your puppy’s breed
Toys, particularly chew toys to ease teething
Stain and odor removers
Once these supplies have been taken care of, let’s look at the right food and treats for your new puppy.
The Importance of Investing in Proper Nutrition
Like any baby, puppies demand a lot from their food.
Nutrition, particularly during a puppy’s first two years, determines wellness and behavior. The food they consume must be nutrient-dense and optimally balance a combination of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Water is also essential to a new puppy as their body consists of over 80% water.
It’s important to note that not all dog food is created equal. Don’t be tempted to buy adult dog food for your new puppy simply because it’s cheaper. A new puppy cannot eat adult dog food and be expected to grow properly.
Differences between adult and puppy food
Unlike an adult dog, a puppy is still developing. Their bones, muscles and organs are going through significant changes that require special nutrition. Their jaw and stomach are also much more sensitive when compared to an adult dog.
While adult dog food is still nutrient-dense, adult dogs are fully grown, meaning their food does not carry the same ingredients that promote growth and development.
And unlike puppies, adult dogs have strong jaws that have no problem consuming the much larger and much harder kibble found in adult dog food.
If a puppy were to eat the same adult dog food, a whole host of problems could occur.
As their jaws are still developing, they could break their teeth or dislocate their jaw while chewing on the adult dog food. And if he can digest it, digestion problems could occur, which could stunt development and lead to health complications later on.
Puppy food is specifically designed to be softer and smaller to account for a puppy’s growing body. What’s more, puppy food carries specific essential nutritional components that promote optimal growth and development.
To ensure your puppy has a long and prosperous life, proper nutrition is a must early on. Making an investment in feeding your puppy only the highest quality puppy food possible can make a significant difference in how your puppy grows and develops.
Dangers of Puppy Malnutrition
Poor nutrition can have serious consequences. Like any other developing animal, humans included, a puppy that doesn’t get the essential nutrients it needs during its developmental stages cannot sustain normal body functionality.
There are many reasons a puppy may be malnourished.
New pet owners may lack the experience and education to understand the severity of malnourishment. Other puppies could be intentionally abused by their owners. And others still could be malnourished because they have parasites.
Regardless of the reason, a malnourished puppy will suffer from underlying health issues that may not be visibly present until it’s too late. Rapid changes occur during the first six months of a puppy’s life. This period of growth makes him especially sensitive to dietary deficiencies.
The symptoms of malnutrition can best be seen through the symptoms below.
Symptoms of malnutrition
A puppy’s physical appearance is an immediate sign indicating malnourishment. And one of the most obvious signs is serious weight loss. Puppies expend a lot of energy. This requires them to be properly fed with a high-quality diet that’s nutrient-dense. Malnutrition makes a puppy incapable of maintaining a healthy weight.
Another physical sign of possible malnutrition is your puppy’s gastrointestinal system. During a dog’s puppy years, its gastrointestinal system is at its most sensitive. Dietary deficiencies will result in digestive issues such as inconsistent bowel movements, diarrhea, and excess gas.
Alongside this, pay close attention to your puppy’s scent, specifically, their breath. If there is a change in your puppy’s breath odour that has you recoiling from him, this could be a sign of malnutrition. Look for a pungent or foul breath that doesn’t resolve itself quickly.
Dogs are also only capable of maintaining a beautiful, shiny coat when they get enough vitamins and minerals through their food. A puppy that has a dull and brittle coat may be malnourished.
Other changes to your puppy’s coat that may indicate malnourishment include:
Excessive hair loss
Abnormal skin conditions (patchy skin, red, irritated skin, and flaky skin)
These abnormalities to your puppy’s coat could also be symptoms of other underlying health conditions. And just like your puppy’s coat health, digestive issues and its oral hygiene can be caused by other health conditions.
The best way to confirm that these are symptoms of malnutrition is to visit your local veterinarian.
Challenges of Feeding a New Puppy
An immediate challenge of having a new cuddly bundle of joy is feeding time.
Feeding challenges will differ according to family dynamics and the breed of the puppy. But more often than not, and regardless of breed, when it’s time for feeding, puppies erupt with an uncontrollable emotional pulse.
This is due to the fact that acquiring food is an essential survival instinct for any dog. New puppies who have yet to be trained and properly socialized with their surroundings may become possessive during meal times.
A possessive puppy may guard the food bowl.
For a multi-dog home, a possessive puppy can become problematic. If fed in the same room as an adult dog, your new puppy may try to eat the other dog’s food. This could be an issue if the other dog in your household is being fed adult dog food.
A possessive puppy who resource guards their food can show serious aggression to other dogs and family members in the household. This can escalate to potentially serious tussles between your household dogs.
If this territorial aggression is not addressed with immediate effect, it can result in a potentially dangerous household.
Portion control is another serious challenge to feeding that must be curbed immediately.
A puppy that’s being overfed can develop serious health complications later on. An overfed puppy can grow too quickly, resulting in skeletal development issues. This is particularly true in large breed puppies who are already prone to bone growth problems.
Being overfed can also result in your new puppy ingesting excess protein and calcium. When this happens, your puppy has a higher risk of developing hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).
But being overfed is not just a matter of portion control. If your household has young children, they can also be a contributing factor to your puppy continuously overfeeding.
Now that feeding challenges have been addressed, let’s look at some feeding tips to help you ensure your puppy develops perfect table manners.
Ideally, feeding your new puppy should start after it is finished nursing from its mother. Weaning should happen after the first six to eight weeks of your puppy’s life. This is a good time to introduce your puppy to high-quality dog food brands.
Your puppy’s breed will determine if you should free-feed or portion control its meals. Smaller breeds are best fed with the free-feeding method. Larger breeds should be put on a portion-control method as they can easily develop bone growth problems if they overfeed.
1. Feeding volume and frequency
Your puppy has high nutritional demands during its first year. This is an important time of your puppy’s life as each stage of its first year has specific nutritional needs. Below is a general timeline that will help ensure your puppy is being optimally fed.
If you’ve received your new puppy after it's been weaned from its mother, start giving it semi-solid foods to feed on. Feeding frequency during this development stage should be four times a day. But this will be determined by your puppy’s breed.
If your puppy is on the free-feed method, be careful around wet or moist food. If left out too long, it could dry out.
• Months 4 to 6
Your puppy should be losing its roly-poly pudginess around this period. At this point, most breeds can transition from four feedings a day to three. Puppies on a free-feed method should transition to a regulated feeding schedule to avoid overfeeding.
• Months 6 to 12
After month 6, your puppy can be put on a twice-daily feeding.
Your puppy’s breed will also influence whether or not they can transition from puppy food to adult dog food during this period. Smaller breeds will be ready for adult dog food at this point, while large breeds will need to be kept on puppy food as they will still be growing.
Like in months 4 to 6, closely monitor your puppy’s body condition to prevent your puppy from becoming obese due to overfeeding.
• Months 12 to 18
At this point, your puppy has more or less reached full adulthood. Feeding frequency shouldn’t change during this development period. The only difference that should be considered is your puppy’s energy level.
Your puppy’s energy levels should dictate its portion sizes, particularly if your puppy has developed a penchant for being a couch potato. This will help reduce your puppy’s risk of obesity.
2. Other feeding tips to consider
With your puppy’s nutritional requirements covered, let’s move on to other important feeding tips.
When your puppy transitions between developmental stages, don’t abruptly change its diet. Changing from semi-solid food to solid food abruptly can add stress to your puppy’s feeding experience and upset its digestive system.
When introducing new food to your puppy’s diet, do so gradually, preferably over a few days. This is also applicable to changes in commercial pet food brands. Mix the old with the new to ensure your puppy gets used to the new commercial pet food.
Food should be served at room temperature to ensure vitamins, nutrients, and minerals are optimally absorbed. Likewise, fresh water should always be readily available in a clean bowl.
Your puppy should be fed in an area of your house where it can’t be bothered by activity. Distractions may contribute to your puppy losing its appetite. This can, of course, result in your puppy not getting the essential nutrients it needs to grow.
What about treats, you ask?
While there is nothing wrong with giving your puppy treats, it should be done sparingly. As your puppy is still growing, it should be getting most of its nutrients and calories from its diet rather than dog treats. Treats should amount to no more than 5% of its diet.
3. Choosing the right puppy food
When it comes to commercial pet food brands, pet owners are spoiled for choice. Whether it’s wet or dry puppy food, when choosing a commercial pet food brand, look for one that is grain-free, wheat-free, and preservative-free.
Try to pick a commercial pet food brand that mimics a dog’s natural biological diet. This means your puppy food should be rich in meats and proteins as well as formulated with the essential vitamins and minerals your puppy needs to grow.
For puppies with special dietary needs, there are specific dog foods available such as sensitive digestion dog food to ensure optimal nutrition.
Always aim to buy premium puppy food as its ingredient profile has higher nutritional density.
4. Foods to avoid
Avoid feeding your puppy a raw diet as this can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses in your household. While dogs are immune to Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, two types of bacteria present in raw meat, humans are not.
Eating raw meat can make your puppy a carrier of these disease-causing bacteria, which can be easily transferred to other dogs or humans it comes in contact with.
A raw meat diet may also not contain all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your puppy needs, such as calcium and Vitamin D.
Other common foods your puppy should avoid include:
High-fat foods (bacon, ham, meat trimmings, etc.)
Salty foods (French fries, popcorn, etc.)
Grapes and raisins
Foods sweetened with xylitol
If your puppy has ingested any of the food in the list above, immediately consult your veterinarian.
Final Puppy Food for Thought
The popular saying “you are what you eat” is especially true when it comes to puppy nutrition. The first two years of a puppy’s life is a crucial time in fostering a healthy puppy. No other time in a dog’s life is as nutritionally demanding as puppyhood.
But like anything else, feeding success is not an overnight endeavour.
A whole host of issues will crop up from time to time as your puppy transitions into adulthood. This will require considerable patience. But, by following the guide above, feeding times will become a smooth and rewarding experience.
Ready to feed your puppy right? Shop for dog food smartly with our expert-approved, pet lover-tested list of trusted pet brands here.