With so many choices in the dog food aisle, selecting the right food for your puppy can seem like a gargantuan undertaking. Here’s a guide to help you establish the perfect feeding routine for your pup.

While your puppy’s eyes may say, ‘Sure, I can finish off that ice cream cone for you!’ it’s your responsibility make sure your puppy eats a nutritionally balanced diet so he can develop into a healthy, happy adult. You have a number of important choices to make when it comes to your puppy’s diet but with a little planning and advice, you’ll find that meeting your growing puppy’s nutritional needs is as simple as following some basic guidelines.

Ask a Vet For Advice

In literally every situation regarding your puppy’s health, your vet is the best source of expert advice. Establishing a healthy eating routine is no different. On your very first visit, be sure to ask your vet which puppy food, feeding times, and portion sizes are a good match for your pup.

Selecting a Food

By the time your puppy is ready for adoption, he should be completely weaned and ready for solid food. Growing puppies need a diet made up of the proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and, of course, plenty of water.

The easiest way to provide this is to select a puppy food that meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). You can do this by checking for the phrase “Complete and Balanced” on the food’s packaging. Foods that meet AAFCO standards won’t require supplements in order to fulfill your pup’s dietary needs. Once again, your vet may have additional dietary advice designed specifically for your pup.

Consider How Big Your Puppy Will Grow

It’s important to get a general idea of how large your puppy may eventually grow so you can feed him properly. Picture a Chihuahua standing next to a Great Dane for a moment. This is a pretty good illustration for how radically different the nutritional needs can be between large and small breed puppies.

  • Small breeds mature faster. Not only do smaller breeds have smaller mouths and teeth, but they typically have faster metabolisms than larger puppies. A food designed for small dogs will be easier to chew and more energy-dense to keep up with their high activity levels. Toy and teacup breeds may need to eat more often.
  • Large breeds need slower growth formulas. Food designed for large breed puppies is typically less energy-dense to promote slower-paced, healthy growth. Large breed puppies are more likely to develop joint problems if they are overfed, so it’s important that you encourage slow and steady growth.
  • Consult your vet. Every dog is different, so it’s best to talk to your vet about specific recommendations for your puppy.

Make a Feeding Schedule

Sticking to a daily feeding routine will help you keep up with your puppy’s voracious little appetite and prevent upset stomachs. Puppies under 12 weeks of age need to eat as often as three or four times a day. One he’s reached three months, you can step it down to two or three times a day.

When it comes to how much food to serve up, consider the guidelines listed on the puppy food bag as a starting point. If your puppy is leaving food in his bowl after each mealtime, or he’s looking a little pudgy, it’s very likely that you’re feeding too much. In contrast, if your puppy seems lethargic or too thin, you may be feeding too little.

In any event, your puppy’s dietary needs are a moving target for the first few months. Younger puppies tend to be fed, more often. As puppies age, they gradually need fewer feeding times.

Feed by the Puppy, Not the Package

Remember, the directions on the puppy food label are a starting point. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet that could possibly cover all the needs of all the world’s puppies. The three best ways to ensure that your puppy is getting the proper nutrition he needs are to consult an expert, educate yourself about good puppy nutrition, and carefully monitor his progress.

Keep Track of Body Condition

Studies have shown that dogs that maintain a healthy bodyweight live up to two years longer than those who qualify as overweight or obese. One of the best ways make sure your puppy’s on track to becoming a healthy adult is to learn how to measure his “body condition score.”

On each visit, your vet will weigh you dog and take a series of measurements to determine if your dog is overweight, underweight, or just right. These body condition tests are relatively simple, so ask your vet to instruct you on how to perform them at home.

Here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind when deciding what is a proper weight. First, it’s best for both puppies and adult dogs to be on the slightly lean side, as opposed to slightly overweight. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs when you run your hand down his side, but not see them. In addition, your dog should have a well-defined waistline when viewed from above.

Read the Labels

Since the FDA requires that all dog food, including food for puppies, display a label with a list of ingredient you can begin researching what kind of food might match your vet’s recommendations. 

This article was reviewed by a Veterinarian.