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How to feed a puppy – the most important rules

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Puppy nutrition is an area that comes up very often in my dietary practice. Many conscious dog owners want to take proper care of their pet’s diet from the very first moments together.

How long does a bitch feed puppies?

Feeding puppies can be divided into stages depending on the age of the animal. The first stage is the period of feeding exclusively with the mother’s milk. This is the period when puppies are fully dependent on their mother for both nutrition and care, including providing warmth and hygiene.

The next stage is the period when the puppy, in addition to consuming mother’s milk, also begins to eat solid food, and initially semi-liquid food. This happens around the 3rd or 4th week of life and is the perfect time for the pet’s owner to start introducing the puppies to a new diet.

Then we have the weaning stage, which ends around 6 – 8 weeks of the puppy’s life. Then the puppy stops being fed by the bitch and switches entirely to solid food.

At the age of 8 – 9 weeks the so-called behavioral weaning, is when puppies leave their home and go to new owners.

female dog feeding puppies

How to feed puppies

There are situations where puppies become orphans. Usually, the reason why animals are orphaned is the death of their mother, a disease such as mastitis, or the rejection of the puppies by the bitch.

Feeding orphaned puppies is quite a challenge for the guardian, as it requires both knowledge and a lot of time commitment. This is because, during the first week, the female dog feeds the puppies up to 6-12 times a day. Later, the frequency of sucking is reduced to 4 – 6 times a day.

The best solution for orphaned puppies is to find a wet nurse, i.e. another nursing female dog. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and then we are left with a properly balanced milk replacer. There are many ready-made products available on the market, but unfortunately, they are not always good in terms of composition. Therefore, a good alternative is often a milk replacer prepared on your own. However, this is not an easy task and it is worth seeking advice from an animal dietitian or a veterinarian specializing in dog dietetics. Please remember that bitch’s milk is different from cow’s milk, which is most often the basis of milk replacer.

We also have two methods of using milk replacer. The first one is administration using a bottle, syringe or pipette. Please remember that the dish should be adapted to the size of the puppy. An orphaned puppy is fed in the sternal position or standing position with the head raised. Make sure your pet does not swallow air while eating.

The second method is feeding using a pediatric gastric tube. This is a more advanced method because it involves inserting a tube into the puppy’s digestive system. This is a method that prevents food from entering the respiratory system.

An important issue when feeding newborn dogs is to gently massage the abdomen and perineum after each meal. In this way, the body is stimulated to urinate and defecate.

Bottle feeding your puppy

Feeding puppies from weaning

During this period, the puppy is fully fed on solid food. Here we have ready-made commercial foods or homemade diets, e.g. cooked diet the BARF raw diet.

Due to the fact that puppies are rapidly growing animals, it is important to remember that the meals are fully balanced and cover the demand for individual nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. I often hear the opinion that veterinarians advise against using homemade diets such as BARF or cooked diets in puppies. The argument is that such a diet cannot be balanced, which is true, not true. Such a diet can be balanced, and even more importantly, it can be individually tailored to the needs of our puppy. However, it should be borne in mind that a home diet for puppies is more complicated, and requires more knowledge and more frequent changes depending on the animal’s growth rate. An inherent element of using a diet for puppies is the observation of the guardian and, on this basis, drawing conclusions and making appropriate changes.

A home diet cannot be based on the so-called leftovers from the table and must contain appropriate proportions, including supplementation. These are very important parameters in the nutrition of puppies calcium and phosphorus and the ratio of these two elements to each other. Both calcium and phosphorus take part in bone growth, which is a very intensive process in the life of every puppy.

As puppies grow, meals should have the highest possible biological value and digestibility. Caloric value is also very important because the energy needs of puppies can be very high.

Puppy feeding rules can also be distinguished depending on the size of the breed.

Puppy

Feeding puppies of small breeds

The nutrition of puppies of breeds such as Yorkies, Shih Tzus, and French Bulldogs will differ from the nutrition of large breeds. This is because, above all, smaller dog breeds have a faster metabolism. Therefore, their energy needs may be higher and it is advisable to eat more meals a day, sometimes even 5.

Energy demand is also closely related to the speed of reaching the target body weight, which is faster in smaller breeds of dogs, usually around 8-10 months of age.

Nutrition for large breed puppies

The feeding of puppies of breeds such as the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Labrador will differ from the feeding of puppies of small and miniature breeds. Puppies of larger breeds usually reach their target body weight around 18 – 24 months of age. Sometimes it happens faster and is related, for example, to the animal’s genetics.

Puppies of large and giant breeds are also often susceptible to skeletal problems. It is then worth considering additional supporting supplementation, but the most important issue is the appropriate ratio of calcium to phosphorus, which in the case of larger breed dogs, due to the high risk of developing osteochondrosis, should not exceed 1.54:1.

How often to feed a puppy

This is one of the most common questions I encounter. First of all, the most important thing is to observe our pet and, based on this, adjust the number and times of meals during the day. However, depending on the stage of life, there are different recommendations.

It is assumed that puppies from 6 to 8 weeks of age should eat 4 – 5 portions a day. From 8 weeks to 6 months of age, it is best to eat 3-4 meals a day. After 6 months of age, you can limit the dosage to 2-3 servings a day. From the age of 7 months, you can switch to feeding twice a day.

I always follow the rule that the minimum is to feed the dog 2-3 times a day.

Can a puppy eat adult dog food?

This is one of the aspects that I decided to discuss in this article. Very often I get asked whether a puppy can eat adult food and the answer is – it depends. It all depends on the composition of such food, including the amino acid, mineral, and vitamin profile. There are foods for adult dogs that meet the needs of puppies, but require an appropriate daily dose of food. However, this requires knowledge of reading food labels. If we are not sure or the food manufacturer does not provide information that it is a product dedicated to dogs at every stage of life and development, it will be safer to choose food for puppies.

Puppy feeding chart

When analyzing our puppy’s need for individual nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, we should refer to nutritional standards. The nutritional standards applicable to food producers in Poland are those of the European Federation of the Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF).

a – For puppies of dog breeds with an adult body weight below 15 kg, during the entire late growth period (≥14 weeks).

b – For puppies of dog breeds with an adult body weight over 15 kg, until they are approximately 6 months old. Only after this time, the calcium content can be reduced to 0.8% DM (2g/1000kcal or 0.48g/MJ), and the calcium to phosphorus ratio can be increased to 1.8/1.

Summary

Knowing how to properly feed a puppy is important for every pet parent. How we take care of our pet in its youth can have a positive impact on its health and development in the following months or years. An important issue is also the fact that the way a puppy is fed from weaning to approximately 3 months of age largely determines the dog’s preferences already in adulthood.

A common problem with puppies is eating feces. Therefore, be sure to read the article: “Why does a dog eat poop?”.

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