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Feeding Puppies: What, When, How

by Marty Smith, DVM and Race Foster, DVM
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.

Puppyhood is a time of rapid growth and development. As such, puppies require nearly double the amount of nutrients per pound of food than do older dogs. Puppies need higher levels of nutrients that are not available in regular dog food. Because of their special nutritional needs, your puppy should only receive puppy food for the first year. Most dog food manufacturers offer a special formula for puppies that is higher in protein (28%-30%), and enriched with the fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, minerals, fats and other essentials your growing puppy needs.

Feeding the first few days
For the first few days, it is a good idea to continue feeding the same type and brand of puppy food and use the same feeding schedule the puppy was on before he came to you. Then you can slowly start using the food you have chosen based on information you received from the breeder and veterinarian. A pet needs to be switched to a new food slowly to prevent intestinal upset. By "slowly" we mean over the course of 7-10 days go from feeding 100% of the previous food to 100% of the new food. For example, make a mixture that contains 25% of the new food and 75% of the old food and feed that for several days. Then make it 50-50 for several days, then 75% new food to 25% old food for several days. Then you can start feeding 100% new food. If at any time you puppy starts vomiting, or has loose stools or appears constipated, slow the rate at which you are switching him over.

Type of food
We never recommend canned food or the semi-moist fake meat burgers. Canned foods are typically higher in calories and fat and are usually 80 to 83 per cent water. That makes them pretty expensive if you squeeze out the top 4/5 of the can. The semi-moist foods are about 55% water and use high salt or sugar levels for preservation. Again you are paying too much for water and puppies don't need the salt and sugar. Dry foods are only 9 to 11 percent water and are made of the same quality ingredients as the other types. They are more economical, easier to use and, in our opinion, better for your dog.

Dogs on dry foods typically have fewer intestinal upsets, either diarrhea or constipation. They have fewer problems with unwanted weight gain. We see no advantage as far as hair coat or skin quality is concerned with those on canned foods. Probably the most important advantage of using dry foods and feeding them dry is that the abrasive action of eating them is good for the dog's teeth and gums. Dog's that constantly eat any of the softened foods always have more dental problems ranging from tarter and plaque build up, abscesses, tooth loss and gum disease. Any or all of these cause bad breath.

The only thing we dislike more than canned or pre-moistened foods for dogs is table scraps. We strongly recommend never starting because once you do, it never stops. Most nutritionists believe that dogs that are on a good quality commercially prepared dry food are nutritionally better off than their owners are. This has been shown in many studies. Table scraps are usually higher in calories and certainly aren't balanced. Neither are they fortified with the vitamins and minerals that dogs require.

There are three forms of commercially produced dog foods: dry kibble, semi-moist (sealed packages) and moist (canned). Most trainers and veterinarians recommend dry kibble food that has a meat protein source as one of its first two ingredients. Dry food is the only food choice that helps control plaque while it is being eaten. It's also the only food that helps satisfy your puppy's need to chew. In addition, dry food is easy to store, less expensive than alternatives, more conveniently served, palatable and has less odor.

With dog food, you pretty much get what you pay for. Economy brands are cheap and are made of the cheapest ingredients available. As such, their energy values are lower, they use poorer-grade proteins with lower digestibility which means much of the food passes right through their system and is not absorbed. Premium brands, which include those classified as Super Premium and Performance, use higher quality ingredients from sources with higher biological values. Because better quality ingredients mean better digestibility, your puppy does not need to eat as much and less waste is produced (which means less to pick up in the yard). Regular brands, as you could guess, fall somewhere in between. The brands we recommend, and which meet the requirements of our puppy contracts are listed here. If you want to see a comparison chart of cost per feeding and ingredients we did, click here.

Remember, the back of the dog food bag doesn't tell the entire story, including important information like percent digestibility--how much of the food your puppy's body will actually use. Talk to your veterinarian or a professional breeder about the best food for your breed.

Table scraps are a No-No
Young puppies should not be given table scraps because their digestive tracts are not fully developed and table scraps could cause diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems. Table scraps fill them up but do not provide the nutrients their rapidly growing bodies need. Feeding them from the table teaches them the bad habit of begging; this may make house training more difficult for you.

Table scraps should never account for more than 10% of your mature dog's diet. No chocolate, no bones that splinter easily, and keep your dog away from high-fat, greasy foods.

Cow's milk can cause problems
By the way, when it comes to pets, we consider milk just another table scrap. Cow's milk has the sugar lactose. Dogs do not have the enzyme lactase that is necessary to digest it. That is why they often develop diarrhea or softer stools when given it. Most humans produce this digestive enzyme. Those that don't are said to suffer from milk intolerances or allergies. When you see milk or milk by-products listed as ingredients in pet foods, lactose bacteria have been used to break down the sugar into easier digestible forms. Dogs do not need fresh milk!

Feeding schedule
The puppy's feeding schedule will be somewhat dictated by your own personal schedule. We don't want to leave food out for the puppy so that it can eat it whenever it wants. You need to be there for the feedings because you want the puppy and its entire body on a set schedule. This is best accomplished by feeding the pup what it will eat at specific times on a specific schedule. Puppies under six months of age should be fed three times daily; between six and twelve months old, two times daily; and once per day after twelve months of age. Puppies maturing into adults will naturally decrease the number of feedings per day on their own.

By feeding on a set schedule, the dog will then go to the bathroom on a more set schedule and make housetraining easier and faster.

Make it a habit to give the puppy some quiet time after the meal. Don't let the children romp and play with it for the first hour to an hour and a half after eating. This can lead to some stomach upsets that can sometimes be very serious. The puppy will probably need to go to the bathroom, however.

Amount to feed
The amount of food given with each meal should never be dictated by what is on the back of the dog food bag. From our experience, these people obviously want to sell a lot of food. With our own pups, we place an ample amount of food down for them and then after 10 to 15 minutes it is picked up. You'll soon learn to judge how much they need and, depending on how fast they clean it up, when they need more. Remember to have water available with or immediately following the meal.

One of the biggest complaints that veterinarians hear from dog owners, especially those with animals less than 18 months of age, is that they never eat enough. The owners feel the dog isn't putting on weight or growing as fast as they think it should. They are tempted to somehow encourage their animals to eat more. Don't do it. The growth rates and appetites of young animals on a good quality food are primarily dictated by their genetics. Don't try to make your dog grow faster than it should or into something it isn't. This will only cause problems. Artificially accelerated growth leads to bone and joint disorders. Feed them the amounts they want and let their bodies dictate their needs.

Treats should never account for more than 10% of your puppy's caloric intake (which isn't much in Toy breeds). Your puppy's food is its sole source for the nutrition it needs so don't "fill up" your puppy on treats before meal time.
Liver products are great treats because they provide nutrients your puppy is unlikely to obtain from any other food source.

Hard chew treats keep your puppy entertained and improve dental health by exercising the gums and scraping the teeth. It also satisfies your teething pup's need to chew.

Treats can be used during training to reward good behavior, but be careful not to overdo it.

Rawhide bones
Pet owners have a lot of questions about rawhide. The first question commonly asked is about quality. Better quality white rawhide bones generally come from the United States or one of the beef producing South American countries. However, country of origin is no guarantee of quality. There are some bones made in the USA that we refuse to recommend. We have confidence in the bones we recommend only because we have inspected the factories that produced them. We have witnessed the manufacturing process, have seen the methods used to treat the hides, and observed each step in their production. This has given us the assurance to confidently stand behind the bones we recommend.
The second question is whether or not chewing rawhide is healthy for puppies. A few years ago, one of the major medical schools in this country conducted a laboratory test to answer this question. The results showed that in groups of test dogs, even in those fed an almost exclusive diet of rawhide, there were no ill effects. On the other hand, the chewing of rawhide had the beneficial effect of removing plaque from the animals' teeth and keeping them cleaner. This is significant because periodontal disease is a real problem in many adult dogs.
Therefore, buy quality rawhide from a source you can trust. It will not only satisfy your pet's natural urge to chew, it will also help keep him healthy.

Puppies may seem to drink large quantities of water. They need it and it cannot be deprived of it. A dog or cat can starve and lose almost all of its body fat and half of its protein mass (muscle) and still survive. However, if this same patient loses 15% of its body water, it will die. Water is the most important nutrient of all.

For dogs of any age that eat dry food, water will be needed to rehydrate it in their stomachs for digestion. Puppies also need more water per pound than adults do because they are growing. Growth comes through very active metabolism at the cellular level. These processes produce many wastes and by-products that are excreted into the blood. It requires plenty of water to carry these substances to and be flushed through the kidneys. It is okay to schedule when your puppy drinks, but on a daily basis you must allow them to consume what they want and need.

Providing fresh water is important. Infectious agents and diseases such as leptospirosis, Giardia, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium can be transmitted through contaminated water sources. Providing fresh water greatly reduces the risk of disease and therefore keeps your pet happy and healthy.

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