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Puppy Food -- Types, Feeding Schedule, and Nutrition

From homemade puppy food to store brands, WebMD helps you choose the best food for your puppy’s nutritional needs.
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How much should I feed my puppy?

Puppies need to take in a lot of calories to fuel their rapid growth. At the start, that means about twice as many per pound as an adult dog of the same breed. Puppies grow the fastest in their first five months.

Look for feeding charts on commercial puppy food labels. You can use them as a guide. They provide recommended amounts based on a puppy’s age and weight. Adjust as necessary to keep your puppy in the best condition, something you may need to do weekly.

How do I know if my puppy is eating the right amount?

Veterinarians evaluate dogs using a body conditioning score, which ranges from one for emaciated, to five for obese. It's normal for very young puppies to have some baby fat, but after the first 8 to 10 weeks, "puppies should be a two", Buffington says.

You can learn to assess your dog at home. At a score of two, which is relatively thin, a puppy’s ribs may be visible. The tops of the back bones will generally be easily seen. You shouldn’t be able to feel any fat on its ribs. You should see a waist when looking down at your puppy and an abdominal tuck when looking from the side.

By five months, your pup should look lean as it starts to wrap up its most rapid growth period.

Does my large-breed puppy need a special food?

Large breeds such as Great Danes, Labrador retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers are more likely to develop skeletal and joint problems, including hip dysplasia. Although these conditions are primarily triggered by inherited factors, overfeeding can worsen the situation.

Large-breed puppy foods are designed for controlled growth and may be lower in calcium and phosphorus than other puppy foods. Excess levels of calcium and phosphorus can contribute to skeletal problems. Large-breed puppy food also may contain more fiber to add bulk to the diet without calories.

Large-breed dogs are more likely to develop chronic joint or skeletal problems when they get older if they are overfed, according to several studies. In one study that followed Labrador retrievers for 14 years, dogs fed a balanced diet with 25% less food than their littermates were less likely to develop hip joint arthritis. Dogs on the calorie-restricted diet also showed signs of arthritis at an average age of 12 years rather than six.

Buffington tells WebMD that keeping your large-breed puppy at a body condition score of two out of five will help ward off the excess weight that can cause orthopedic problems in later life.

What about organic puppy food?

There is no official definition for organic pet food yet, although you may see some pet foods labeled this way. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, which regulates the use of an “organic” label, is weighing a November 2008 recommendation from its standards board and is expected to issue rules soon.

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