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Puppy Nutrition

Feeding your dog well from the start can lead to a long, healthy life

By Lisa Karr-Lilienthal

Puppies grow rapidly during the first six months of their lives and have a large demand for nutrients to meet their changing needs. Feeding them correctly during this time is critical.

When bringing a new puppy into your home, make sure you find out what food the shelter, breeder, or previous owner used so you can decide whether to continue to feed this food or transition the puppy to a new diet. If you choose to feed a new diet, the new food should be introduced gradually and no changes made until after the dog has adjusted to your home for a few days.

This is a time of increased stress for your puppy, and rapid diet changes will only increase the stress on its gastrointestinal tract.

Ask the previous owner to provide a small amount of its current diet to allow for a smooth transition. After a few days in your home, you can gradually increase the proportion of the new diet so that your dog is consuming that diet after five to seven days.

The length of time you’ll keep your puppy on puppy food is directly affected by how fast it grows and how large it eventually will be.

Smaller dogs whose adult weight will be less than 20 pounds should be fed puppy food a shorter length of time — eight to 12 months. Medium dog breeds from 20 to 50 pounds should be fed a puppy food for about 12 to 18 months.

The general recommendation for feeding puppy food for 12 months is based on the weight range of average-sized dogs, but this recommendation is not accurate for large or giant breed dogs. These dogs, which weigh more than 50 pounds, should be fed puppy food for 18 to 24 months. By the time your dog reaches its adult body weight, it has increased its weight from birth by 40 to 50 times.

During the rapid growth phase — until your dog reaches 50 percent of its mature body weight — feed your puppy three to four meals per day. Feeding several small meals ensures that the puppy is capable of consuming all of its required nutrients and decreases risk of gastric upset.

Once your puppy’s growth slows, you can decrease the number of feedings per day to two. In some smaller breeds of dogs or dogs that may be prone to low blood sugar, you may want to continue providing three to four per day.

Treats should be limited during growth. No more than 10 percent of the animal’s daily intake should be provided as treats. Table scraps or other human foods also should be limited to avoid nutrient imbalances.

By choosing a high-quality diet designed specifically for a growing puppy, you’ll have a healthy puppy and, as it grows, a healthy dog.