Feeding Your Puppy

Bringing home a new puppy is such a fun and exciting time! It is full of puppy licks and cuddles, cute little toys, collar, leash and accessory shopping, and, most likely, a lot of new information.

You’ve extended your family by one new member, so naturally, you want to do what is best for your new addition.

One of the most common conversations we have with new puppy owners is in regards to feeding – What to feed? When to feed? How much to feed? And with all of the information that new puppy owners are receiving, it can sometimes become a bit overwhelming. So, here is a summary about feeding your new puppy! Of course, not every puppy has the same nutritional needs, so it is important to consult your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.


Goals of Feeding

This may seem like an obvious one, but we’ll go over it anyway – aside from keeping your puppy from going hungry, the goal of feeding should be to maintain a healthy growth rate through providing appropriate nutrition. This will also set your puppy on the right path to proper immune function, which should result in fewer health concerns later in life.

Key Nutritional Requirements

There are 4 key nutritional requirements that you need to provide to your puppy in order to make sure they have the best start in life. Those requirements are:

Protein – Protein is very important for a growing puppy and should make up about 25% of your puppy’s diet, depending on your puppy’s breed and energy level. A dog’s body cannot store proteins, so they need to be a part of their daily intake as proteins provide the essential amino acids that your puppy is not able to synthesize on his own. These amino acids are responsible for things like building and repairing various organs and tissues within the body, creating hormones and enzymes that regulate growth (among other things), providing energy and keeping the immune system functioning properly.

Fat – Fat is also a critical nutrient for your puppy and should make up about 8% of their diet. Not only does fat help your puppy’s meal taste even better, but it also provides their body with essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids aid in things like brain, retinal and nerve development, and also help keep your puppy’s skin and coat healthy.

Calcium & PhosphorusCalcium supports the skeletal structure and function within your puppy’s body. It also plays key roles in muscle contractions, nerve signals and blood clotting – to name a few. Calcium is one of the more complicated nutritional requirements as there needs to be an appropriate ratio of calcium to phosphorus. Puppy foods should have a ratio somewhere between 1.2:1 and 1.4:1 of calcium to phosphorous. Phosphorus is a mineral that is pivotal in regulating how the body uses and stores energy.

Grains – Grains are also really important to your puppy’s daily nutrition. Aside from the benefit of providing vitamins and minerals, the fiber found in whole grains are essential to the digestive system. They serve as food for the “good” bacteria in the gut, and they also help the body to eliminate toxins. The soluble fiber from grains help to control cholesterol, maintain proper blood glucose levels and increase nutrient absorption.

Keep in mind that too high or too low of intake of any of these key nutritional requirements can be detrimental to your puppy’s growth and development, and could cause future health problems.

Small breed and large breed dogs differ in some nutritional requirements, so be sure to feed an appropriate diet for the breed of your puppy. If you are treat training, it is also important to note that treats should only account for 10% of your puppy’s daily caloric intake so as not to throw these numbers out of whack.

Choosing a Diet

Choosing a brand of food for your puppy can be an overwhelming experience. There are just so many options. Where should new puppy owners begin?

First, let’s start by looking at where to buy puppy food.

There are three types of locations where dog food can be purchased: grocery stores, pet stores and vet clinics. Let’s just avoid grocery store brands altogether, since our goal here is to allow your puppy to have the best start in life. Grocery store brand dog food is basically the bottom of the barrel. It is cheap, yes, but it is cheap for a reason. The quality just isn’t there.

Next up is retail brands, found in pet stores. These are definitely a step up from grocery store brands, and can be appropriate as long as owners know what to look for. However, pet stores carry both high- and low-quality foods, and it can be difficult to determine what is the most appropriate diet for your puppy. Staff at retail stores also tend to be trained to push certain brands of food, rather than basing their recommendations on the quality and benefits of the foods themselves (I know this because I’ve worked at a pet store).

Finally, there are veterinary brands of pet food, found at – you guessed it – your vet clinic. It is these types of food that come the most recommended by your veterinarian because vets and staff at clinics receive regular nutritional training, so we understand how these foods work and why they are superior to other types of foods found at the retail or grocery store level. Veterinary diets are backed by numerous clinical trials and have a higher nutritional density. They typically also come with a 100% money back guarantee, which is always a bonus.

If you are planning to purchase your puppy’s food at your veterinarian’s office, here are a few brands that we recommend:

Purina Veterinary Diet

Essential Care Puppy and Large Breed Puppy, comes in both dry and wet formulas

Hill’s Prescription Diet 

Healthy Advantage Puppy and Large Breed Puppy, comes in both dry and wet formulas

Royal Canin

Canine Development Small, Regular and Large Breed Puppy, and Gastrointestinal Puppy, comes in both dry and wet formulas


Feeding & Portion Sizes

When deciding how much to feed your puppy, refer to the guide that is included with the food. Just be sure to keep in mind that this is a guide only, and your puppy’s individual needs may vary. You may need to adjust accordingly if your puppy seems very hungry, or if food is being left behind. A good way to determine if your puppy is getting enough food is to refer to their Body Condition Score (BCS). Check out our blog called Is My Pet Fat? for more details on how to score your pet using this system.

Two terms that you may notice on the feeding guide on your puppy’s bag of food are “optimal growth” and “maximal growth.”

Basically, you should be aiming for optimal growth, which means that your puppy is growing and developing at a slow and steady rate. Maximal growth means that your puppy is growing as fast as possible, which is not recommended. This growth method is usually achieved with over- or free-feeding a high fat diet, which can ultimately damage their health in the long run.

Once you’ve established how much to feed your puppy, you need to decide when you are going to be feeding your puppy. Ideally, meal times should be consistent so that your puppy can get into a good daily routine.

It is best to feed puppies 2-4 smaller meals per day, rather than 1 large meal.

Take the total amount of food they should be getting per day and divide it by the number of meals you are going to feed. Scheduled meal times are much preferred over free-feeding. Free-feeding can lead to higher levels of body fat and can even cause skeletal abnormalities in large breed pups.

What’s Next?

So, you’ve spoken to your veterinarian and picked up a great, nutritionally balanced puppy food that is appropriate for the breed of your new addition. Your pup has been eating well and growing at a steady pace with no health concerns. You are doing a great job so far!

Now, at what age should you transition your puppy to an adult food? 

The answer to this question varies greatly and is dependent on the breed of your puppy. If your puppy is a small breed dog (such as a maltese, shih tzu or yorkie), they mature to an adult dog around 9-12 months. If your puppy is a medium breed dog (such as a boxer, Australian shepherd or husky), they mature to an adult dog around 12 months. If your puppy is a large breed dog (such as a German shepherd, golden retriever or rottweiler), they mature to an adult dog around 12-15 months. And finally, if your puppy is a giant breed dog (such as a great dane or mastiff), they mature to an adult around 18 month-2 years.

When your puppy has reached adulthood, you will notice that they are not growing taller or longer, but beginning to fill out around the middle and put on more muscle mass. This is a good indication that they can be transitioned from their puppy food to an appropriate adult diet. If you aren’t sure of when to transition from a puppy to an adult food, or what kind of food to transition to, consult your veterinarian’s office.

Congratulations! You  have taken the first step towards ensuring your puppy will become a healthy adult dog by becoming well informed about what to feed your puppy!


Hopefully this summary has made some sense of all of the information new puppy owners can be bombarded with when it comes to choosing the right puppy food. Just remember that a properly balanced, nutritionally dense food is an investment into your puppy’s future health as an adult dog. It requires some education and consideration to make sure you are doing justice for your new furry family member. Happy feeding! 🙂

Thank you for reading,



For any additional questions, check out the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) FAQ section, or feel free to contact Snelgrove Vet Services at 905-846-3316.

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