What, when, how much, and how often to feed a puppy can be pretty confusing. Some puppies seem to be hungry all the time while others eat small amounts. Feeding time is a great way to bond with your puppy, but how do you know if you are feeding them enough?
Keep Puppy Feeding Simple
Puppies need either milk, formula (milk replacer), or puppy food. Treats are okay but should not be a large portion of their diet and human food should be avoided. The major reasons behind this are that growing puppies have special dietary needs, especially compared to adult dogs. They need a key set of nutrients and plenty of appropriate calories, all balanced carefully to meet the needs of their growing bodies.
The nice thing about feeding puppy food (or formula) is that it comes with instructions. Most dog food bags and cans have suggested feeding guides on the label, sometimes in chart form or written as a list, that give instructions based on the age range and weight range of the puppy. This is a super easy and convenient way to ensure you are not over- or under-feeding your pup.
Not All Puppy Foods are Created Equal
Some have more calories per serving than others, some have tiny kibbles that make chewing easier, and some puppy foods are formulated based on breed. These are nice because large breed dogs grow at a faster rate than small breed dogs, so having a food balanced especially for their size is helpful.
Premade foods generally come as wet food (in a can or container) or dry food, which have vastly different serving sizes and calorie contents. But again, most come with instructions on how much to feed daily, so you just need to make sure you are aware of the differences.
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What Puppies Should Eat
Puppies younger than three weeks old (i.e. before baby teeth come in) typically only need milk or formula. Once they start developing teeth, the mom will begin weaning them off her milk so they can transition to solid food.
If you are feeding formula, you can transition to solid food by mixing puppy food with either their formula or water so that it is very dilute and mushy. Canned or dry food is fine as long as the end result is very soft. After 1-2 weeks, you can transition to normal puppy food, but make sure there is plenty of water available to drink at all times.
Puppy Feeding Schedule
While there is no set schedule for when to feed a puppy, you may notice that they get hungry at specific times throughout the day. When puppies are very small, it’s easier to break up their calories into five or six small meals throughout the day, or even leave the food out all the time. Leaving out canned food, milk, or softened food isn’t ideal because bacteria or mold may grow in the food but leaving out dry food is okay.
As puppies get older, feeding 2-3 times a day instead of free feeding (i.e. leaving food out constantly) is helpful for training purposes because it teaches them to look to you for their needs and respond to your requests. It also helps with potty training to prevent accidents since eating at set times means they’re more likely to go to the bathroom at set times (most puppies need to defecate 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating).
Pro Tip: If you feed them at set times, remember that your puppy will hit a few growth spurts during their first six months or so. If they seem hungrier than usual, it is okay to add in an extra meal or snack for a bit during these spurts.
Puppies Drink Less Water on Wet Food
If you decide at some point to switch your puppy from dry food to wet or canned food, they may drink less water than usual. Wet/canned food has a higher water content, so they may not be as thirsty. They still need access to water at all times.
Always Change Diet Slowly
Avoid abruptly changing the puppy’s diet from one food to another because it can cause an upset stomach in many pets. To switch dog foods, mix the old food and new foods together for at least several days before transitioning over to the new food completely.
Puppies and Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is a life-threatening condition in which a puppy develops low blood sugar. Your puppy may appear drunk, wobbly, and poorly responsive to their surroundings. This can happen in puppies who are underfed or in puppies that don’t eat often enough.
Smaller breed dogs (e.g. Yorkies and teacup breeds) tend to be at highest risk. To avoid hypoglycemia, make sure you feed them an appropriate number of calories for their age and weight, offer a snack after heavy play or exercise, and monitor your pet’s attitude and movements carefully. Offer food and call your vet immediately if you think your puppy has developed hypoglycemia.
When in Doubt, Ask the Vet
Puppies should get regular checkups (e.g. every 2-3 weeks during puppy vaccine or shot series) as they are growing. Your veterinarian will monitor your pup’s weight and overall appearance at each visit. You vet will likely talk to you about your puppy’s weight but be sure to discuss concerns you have about feeding too much or too little during the visit. Be prepared to answer how often you feed them, what they’re eating, how hungry they seem, and how much playtime they get. Bowel movements and drinking/urination habits are also helpful to know.