Everyone will have their own recommendation for the best food to feed a puppy. Some people will only use one brand of puppy food, others favor dry food over wet, or raw over cooked. There are some that even feed their puppy a vegetarian diet. So, to find a path through all these different suggestions, let’s take a look at exactly what a puppy needs to grow and flourish.
Balanced Nutrition is Vital
These days most people understand the need to eat a balanced diet to ensure for themselves good health, protect against illness and maintain a high level of energy. Our needs change with our age, stage of development and activity levels. And it’s the same for your puppy.
The main components of a healthy canine diet are protein, fat, micro nutrients, fiber and water.
Protein is essential to provide the amino acids the body needs to build and repair body tissue: produce body chemicals; carry nutrients to the body cells; and help regulate body processes. It is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. The main source of protein is meat or fish and we tend to think that every meal we give our puppy should contain one of these, but there are plenty of vegetable sources of protein too, such as broccoli, chickpeas, quinoa, sweet potatoes, oats and wild rice, so we can ring the changes or even provide our puppy with a wholly vegetarian diet.
Fat supplies calories for energy and insulates the body against the cold. It is an important source of the essential fatty acids that your puppy needs for brain development; keeping skin and coat healthy; controlling inflammation and blood clotting. Fatty acids are also involved in controlling a range of problems from allergies to arthritis; flea bite sensitivity to kidney disease, and even cancer. Fat plays a role in transporting vitamins A, D,E and K around the body. Good sources of fat are meat, oily fish such as mackerel or tuna, olive oil and avocado. Fat can also be found in vegetables such as pumpkin, cauliflower, broccoli and soy beans.
Vitamins and minerals are often referred to as micro nutrients because they are needed in such a small quantities. They perform hundreds of roles in the body such as converting food to energy, creating proteins, nucleic acids, hormones, genetic material and lipids, and getting rid of waste products. There are 13 essential vitamins and 16 essential minerals which all play their part in maintaining healthy bones, teeth, skin, fur, nerves, water balance, blood, cells and the immune system, and help prevent some diseases. The main source of vitamins in the diet is fruit and vegetables, and minerals in meat, fish, dairy and natural spring water. Micro nutrients are easily destroyed during cooking or food-processing so the best source of micro nutrients is through fresh, natural foods, preferably eating raw.
In the wild, a dog would usually gain fiber in its diet when it consumes the fur or stomach contents of its prey. Fiber is important as it stimulates the production of saliva and gastric juices, helps clean the bloodstream of excess fat, and helps to prevent diabetes, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. Good sources of fiber to give your puppy are rice and cooked vegetables as these slow down the digestive process allowing more time for the absorption of nutrients and keeping your puppy satisfied for longer. Fiber such as oats, bran, root vegetables and barley, are fermentable. This will encourage the growth of good bacteria in the intestines and inhibit harmful bacteria. Too much however may cause excessive wind and some bloating.
Water makes up nearly 80% of a dog’s body and is essential to maintain the integrity of cell structure; cushion joints and facilitate the body processes and organ functions. Without consuming any water, either directly or through food, a dog will last for a maximum of 3 days so it is important to give your puppy access to water at all times to avoid dehydration.
How Much Food Should I Give?
In the wild, there are no pet stores for a dog to buy food and there is no guarantee that the pack will be able to catch a wholesome meal every day, enough to satiate every appetite. As a result, puppies have a hardwired instinct to always be hungry. That’s why they’ll beg for food when given the chance and gobble down their meals as soon as the bowl hits the floor and compete with other animals in the house at feeding time. It’s important for you to understand this basic instinct and control how much your puppy eats to avoid the risk of obesity and all the problems that come with it.
The exact number of calories your dog should have will depend on his size, breed, age and activity. These needs will change as he moves through the different stages in life and will be affected by the climate. Dogs living outside in cold weather may need up to 25% more calories. As a puppy, your dog needs a lot of energy in order to grow and mature so his diet should contain around 22% protein and 5% fat. It’s important to not to exceed this to avoid obesity in later life. The remainder of his food should comprise micro nutrients and fiber. Puppies should be fed 4 times a day in the first half of his growing period which should be reduced to twice a day for the second half.
Once your puppy reaches adulthood, you should reduce his meals to once a day and provide him with 18% protein and 5% fat to provide his energy needs.
Many pet dogs are in fact obese, so keeping a strict control on his diet and not feeding him endless tidbits is important for long term health, putting a stress on bones and joints, and the cardiovascular system. Obesity may also lead to diabetes.
Working dogs who are highly active may need 11/2 to 2 times as many calories as more sedentary pets, but these additional calories should reflect the style of activity they do: dogs that work in short sprints benefit from increased carbohydrate, whereas endurance dogs need more fat.
Sexual activity or pregnancy won’t affect your dog’s calorific needs very much, but neutering will and to prevent weight gain after their operation you may need to reduce their food intake by as much as 20%.
As dogs reach old age, their activity level reduces and food should also be reduced to reflect this. Loss of teeth or underlying medical conditions that often come with age may cause you to adjust the diet and you may need to supplement with additional vitamins and minerals to help boost immunity and keep the skin and gut healthy.
Exactly What Should I Feed my Puppy?
Perhaps the easiest way to feed your puppy is with dry or canned/foil wrapped puppy food that has been carefully created to give a balanced diet which is age appropriate. This type of food is convenient and easily stored at home so can be bought in bulk to reduce overall cost. It also takes little or no effort to prepare, it’s simply a matter of opening a can/packet or bag and piling the right amount into a bowl.
Personally, I don’t like this convenience food for a number of reasons:
- Some form of preservative is necessary to keep the food fresh.
- The manufacturing process can destroy essential micro nutrients. Whilst good manufacturers will add vitamin and mineral supplements back into the food, not every manufacturer does and you will need to check the labels on the packaging.
- Wet foods will go off quickly if not eaten straight away.
- Wet foods will not help gums and teeth.
- The food is always cold and with dogs having a sensitive nose, you take away the pleasure of smelling the aroma before eating and some satisfaction of consumption.
I prefer where possible to cook meals for my dogs at home, but it does take a lot more effort to make the food and to ensure that the recipes have the right nutrition.
If you plan to give your puppy home cooked food, there are a few pointers for you to remember to ensure he gets a balanced diet:
- Dogs eat meat AND vegetables! Feeding your dog on a meat-only diet will deprive him of the essential vitamins A and D, and calcium. Adding brown rice into your dogs diet will ensure he gets the essential micro nutrients he needs. And why not add some sweet potato, carrot or broccoli. Most dogs enjoy these tastes and they are packed with nutrients.
- It’s okay to give puppies milk as they are still able to digest it, but by adulthood many dogs are no longer able to do this. The only real reason to consider giving milk is to provide calcium, but there other ways you can do this: natural spring water, tinned sardines, or lactose-free milk.
- Protein rich plant sources, such as tofu and beans, should be avoided as they will cause gas to accumulate in the stomach. This may result in unsavory flatulence or even in stomach bloat (dilatation volvulus) which is a life threatening complaint requiring surgical procedure.
- Bones provide a good source of protein, fat and micro nutrients and help to keep your dog’s teeth clean, but they can also splinter and damage teeth. If you want to include bones within your puppy’s diet, start when he is young to encourage responsible bone eating, and always give hard bones, like beef bones, that will not shatter when chewed.
- Carbohydrate is not a natural food for dogs and should generally be avoided to prevent unnecessary weight gain, but there are exceptions when your dog needs an extra energy boost: sprint exercise, pregnancy and lactation. If you want to give carbohydrates use a starch such as cooked potato or sweet potato, which is easily digested.
Can I Give my Puppy a Vegetarian Diet?
Yes, you can. But he won’t thank you for it. Although your dog can survive on a well-balanced vegetarian diet, he will find it unsatisfying and against all his natural instincts. You will need to select his food ingredients carefully to ensure the right balance of essential nutrients or seek out a high quality manufactured vegetarian ready-meal.
How do I Start to Make My Own Puppy Food?
Simple, explore this section on healthy eating and you will find recipes that give you the best food to feed a puppy.