The purpose of your puppy’s diet is to provide it with all the nutrients needed to grow and remain active. Puppies require a special diet mix of protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins to aid their physical development, as they grow 20 times faster than adult dogs. Each of these plays a vital role in nutrition and must be supplied in correct amounts in the puppy’s diet.
- Protein – important for growth and to repair damaged tissue, especially muscle. Therefore higher amounts are required in the diets of growing pups and very active adult dogs.
- Carbohydrates and fats – these are the body’s main energy source. Fats provide more energy than carbohydrates and are essential in small amounts for a healthy skin and coat.
- Minerals and vitamins – important in a puppy’s diet but only in small amounts. Puppies and nursing bitches especially require plenty of calcium and phosphorus in their diet.
The number of meals a puppy is fed each day should decrease as it grows older. Up until the age of three to four months (depending on the breed and size), owners should divide their puppy’s daily intake into four small meals and feed them at evenly spaced intervals throughout the day. This will not only give it the energy it requires but will also ensure the pup’s small stomach is not stretched, making the food easier to digest. Its feed should then be reduced to three meals a day until the age of six months and then two meals per day until the pup is at least a year old, if not for the rest of its life.
Owners must be aware that their puppy’s nutrient requirements will change as it matures into adulthood, meaning it will require different diets for each stage of its life.
Other important aspects of feeding include:
- Taking control of meal times – owners should prepare meals in front of their puppy and ask it to perform a simple task before giving its food,, such as a short ‘sit – stay’ command.
- Throwing away uneaten food – any food that has not been eaten after 20 minutes must be thrown away as it can attract flies and other insects. Only fresh food should be provided at each meal time.
- Avoiding variety – feeding a puppy a diet consisting of different types of dog food can cause havoc to its digestion system and toilet training regime.
- Water – owners should make sure that fresh water is always available to their pup. Dogs eating wet food (i.e. canned) will receive moisture through their food and therefore require less water than dogs eating dry food such as dog biscuits.
- Avoiding sudden changes to the diet – a change in food should be gradually introduced over a number of days until that is the only food fed. The same goes for a switch from one brand to another.
- Avoid feeding table scraps – Dogs seem to have a natural tendency to beg for food from the table, but giving in to this will only create behavioural problems.
There are two different types of commercial dog food – complete and complementary. A complete food can be fed as a sole source of nutrition and is available as both tinned and dry food. A complementary food is designed to be eaten alongside the complete food, such as a mixer biscuit, and should not be used as a dog’s only source of daily nutrition. Other options include home-made foods and treats.
All puppies have different tastes and preferences, while some food types might not agree with their stomachs. A simple way for owners to check if the diet their pup is on suits them is by checking its waste. A diet that suits a puppy should be easily digested and produce dark brown, firm, formed stools. However, if the diet causes the puppy to produce soft or light stools or it has wind or diarrhoea, then it may not be suitable and should be avoided. A steady diet is vital for good digestion.
Dry complete diets have a number of advantages for dogs and their owners. They are easy to feed, hygienic and can often be bought in bulk for convenience and economy.
Most manufacturers cater for each stage of a dog’s life by producing a complete range of puppy, junior and adult foods, in a carefully balanced formula. However the quality within this wide range varies widely.
In order to ensure their pup receives the necessary nutrients to aid its development, owners must ensure they only buy food specially designed for puppies. The ‘premium’ dry puppy foods tend to have the best quality ingredients, with the majority consisting of chicken and rice or corn, and suit most puppies really well.
Dry complete foods also benefit a dog’s teeth, as the presentation of the food in the form of a dry biscuit helps keep them clean. Furthermore, any food not eaten within ten minutes can be lifted off the floor and offered again later in the day a lot easier than with moist foods, which are more likely to attract flies.
It is important for owners to remember that some puppies are not accustomed to complete dry foods immediately after weaning but will normally grow to like them with time. To help their puppy get used to a dry food diet, owners can try adding a little warm water to the food to soften or mix in a little tinned food.
The tinned food option remains a popular food type among dog owners. Tinned foods are usually high in protein and are designed to be fed alongside a dry mixer as a source of carbohydrate, providing dogs with a balanced diet.
However, as with complete dry foods, tinned foods can vary in quality. The range of canned foods available for different life stages is not as large as the range of available dry foods, so it is important for owners to make sure their puppy is being fed one of the foods designed specifically for them (i.e. one that is easily digestible and contains all the necessary nutrients.
Some manufacturers are now producing complete canned foods in the same ranges as their dry foods, offering an alternative for dogs which are fussy about eating an all-biscuit food. However, these foods are generally more expensive than dry completes.
Puppies can be fed a home-prepared diet, but owners must first consult their vet to check on the suitability of the diet they are thinking of using. Owners must also take into consideration the importance of providing their pup with the correct nutritional balance whilst they are growing up.
A slight imbalance in their diet may harm their development and growth. For example, too much meat in a puppy’s diet can lead to irreversible bone diseases, while too many carbohydrates can result in obesity. Getting the balance right can prove difficult, so owners are often advised to choose from one of the tried and tested commercial home-made diets.
Giving treats offers a great way for owners to bond with their dog, reward it for good behaviour and encourage dog training.
There are a wide variety of prepared and natural treats on the market specially manufactured for dogs, although the difference in quality is vast. Some treats have been proven to help prevent dental diseases, while others contain large amounts of sugar, colourings, milk products and fat which can harm a dog’s development. Therefore it is important for owners to check the ingredients label to ensure the product is of high quality, i.e. has been developed with dogs dietary needs in mind.
Other ingredients or products to avoid include real chocolate, which is poisonous to dogs and can cause liver damage and even be fatal, and sweet biscuits or sugary treats, which are bad for a dog’s teeth as well as its waistline and can lead to sugar ‘highs’ and ‘lows’.
Dog treats should be kept small and only given as a reward. A general rule for owners to follow is to ensure treats never contribute more than 15 per cent of a dog’s daily calorie intake. A dog that is fed too many treats will quickly become fat and lazy and end up losing concentration.
As with humans, some dogs are sensitive or intolerant to certain ingredients and additives. The most common food intolerances are colourings, sugars, wheat, milk and soya and if consumed can lead to a variety of problems, such as:
- hyperactive or aggressive behaviour
- light to mid-brown loose stools or diarrhoea
- chronic skin and ear problems
- bloating and weight gain or loss
- slime and jelly being passed with the stools and flatulence, and in extreme cases;
- Colitis (slime and blood in the stools!)
Owners that suspect food intolerance should avoid feeding their puppy any foods or treats containing ingredients that they believe are the cause of the problem for at least a month. Each ingredient should then be gradually re-introduced into the dog’s diet so that the cause of any physical or behavioural changes that occur can be identified.