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How long should a puppy eat puppy food?

October 08, 2021

Puppies grow oh-so-quickly. But not all puppies reach full maturity at the same time, which begs the question, how long should your puppy eat puppy food?

The answer depends on the breed. Large and giant breeds reach full maturity in two years, while a toy breed can be fully grown in as little as seven months. Knowing your pet’s anticipated full-grown size is the best place to start when it comes to planning your puppy’s meals.

With the help of this guide, you can plan a balanced diet for your puppy and know when they’re ready to make the switch to adult food.

How many times should a puppy eat a day?

By six weeks of age, puppies should be weaned from their mother’s milk, and fully transitioned to a kibble or wet, canned food — either a puppy formula or an all-stages formula. Once they’re eating their kibble four feedings a day, you’ll eventually phase that back to three feedings a day and ultimately two.

As a rule of thumb, this timeline shows how many meals a day puppies need:

  • 6-12 weeks: Four meals a day
  • 3-6 months: Three meals a day
  • 6-12 months: Two meals a day
  • 12 months or older: Two half portions a day

How do I know if I’m feeding my puppy enough?

Watch their eating habits

As puppies enter new growth stages, their calorie needs will automatically adjust and you should see this showing up in their appetite levels.

If your once-ravenous four-bowl-a-day pupper is almost three months old but has lost momentum in the “clean bowl club,” their body may be ready to transition to three meals a day.

Keep treats in mind

Treats are another thing to consider when right-sizing your pup’s meals. If you’ve had a busy day of training, and you’ve doled out many treats and rewards, you’ll want to adjust the mealtime accordingly. Consider how many calories they’ve consumed, and put a little less in the bowl.

Keep an eye on their size and weight

The puppy pudge and potbelly should be gone by the time your young dog reaches one year old. At the same time, they shouldn’t look too skinny or underweight.

Generally speaking, you should see a dip between the stomach and hips if you’re looking at your puppy from the top down. It’s OK if their ribs are showing, you just don’t want their skin to look sunken between them. They should be lanky, not emaciated.

How many cups of food should I feed my puppy?

The amount of food your puppy needs will depend on their age and weight. Small-breed puppies will have different calorie and mineral needs than large-breed puppies. To stay on track and in balance, here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Follow the feeding directions on the bag

There’s no universal portion that will meet the needs of every pup. Whether you’ve opted for a puppy formula or an all-stages formula, follow the feeding directions provided by the brand to guide you. High-quality brands, like NutriSource, are dense in calories and nutrients, which means you’ll need to put around 30 to 40% less food in the bowl than you would, say, a supermarket brand. Using your puppy’s age and weight as a guide, you can adjust the portion as they grow.

2. Do regular weigh-ins

Every couple of weeks or so, have a quick weigh-in with your pup. This will help you see if your dog’s growth is on schedule — not too little, not too much. You don’t need any special equipment to weigh your dog. All you need is your bathroom scale.

How to weigh your puppy at home:

  • First, weigh yourself.
  • Then, pick up your puppy and step back onto the scale.
  • Subtract your weight from the combined weight, and you’ll have your pupper’s metric.

3. Keep a calendar

It’s easy to lose track of time. To help you anticipate important changes in your puppy’s feeding schedule, mark their upcoming milestones in your calendar: three months, six months, one year and so forth.

When can I switch my puppy to adult dog food?

When it comes to choosing the right puppy food, size definitely matters. Smaller dogs can transition to adult food earlier than large and giant breeds.

Finding the balance

Making the switch from puppy to adult dog food is something of a balancing act. While you don’t want to remove the food too early, waiting too long can give your best friend a calorie surplus.

As a result, your dog could end up carrying a few extra pounds. While a little puppy pudge sounds cute, even one pound of excess weight can cause stress in the joints, and lead to health issues for your pup.

At the same time, you want to make sure your puppy is getting the right proportion of nutrients to grow and develop normally. It’s OK to provide puppy food longer than needed, just to be on the safe side. But if your young dog is still carrying that puppy pudge, you can scale back a bit on the portion — and keep an eye on the number of treats they’re getting.

Small to medium breeds

For many small to medium-sized dogs, the rule of thumb is your dog will be cutting back on calories sometime in the 5- to 7-month range. At 12 months, you may notice your pup’s calorie needs have scaled back again. At that point, when they’ve reached full size, that puppy is ready to make the switch from a puppy formula to an adult formula.

If you’re feeding an all life stage food as opposed to an adult-specific food, you can safely switch a small to medium sized dog at any point.

Large and giant breeds

If their adult weight is projected at 55 pounds or greater, that puts your puppy in the large-breed category. Larger breeds grow more slowly than medium to small breeds. They won’t reach physical maturity at the age of 18-24 months. This means the bigger breeds have different nutritional needs than those of their smaller-sized counterparts. Because they’re maturing at a slower rate, you want to make sure you don’t overdo it on minerals such as calcium.

Puppy formulas for small to medium breeds pack in more calcium than large-breed puppy formulas. If you offer the large breed the wrong puppy formula, the overload of calcium can lead to too-rapid bone growth, causing problems in adulthood. They run the risk of developing a weaker skeleton and joints as well as developmental orthopedic diseases, according to VCA Hospitals.

How to transition from puppy formula to adult formula or all-life-stages (ALS) formula

When that one-time ball of fluff is done growing, it’s time to transition to an adult formula. Sudden changes in food can be upsetting to a dog’s gastrointestinal system. For that reason, many brands recommend a phased approach, starting with a small ratio of adult food to puppy food, and gradually increasing that adult ratio.

However, if you’re feeding your puppy NutriSource brands from the start, the phased approach isn’t necessary. in particular NutriSource chicken and rice recipes transition exceptionally well from puppy to adult formulations.

If you’re feeding your dog a brand that does require a phased approach, here’s a basic formula to follow:

  • Day 1: 80% puppy formula to 20% adult formula
  • Day 3: 50-50 mix of puppy and adult formula
  • Day 5: 20% puppy formula to 80% adult formula
  • Day 7: 100% adult formula

Is it OK to feed my puppy an all-life-stages diet?

An all-life-stages formula can provide a convenient but still nutritionally sound option. All-life stages appeal to pet parents with more than one dog in the house, or for those who want to take the guesswork out of transitioning to an adult formula.

What is an all-life-stages (ALS) diet? The Association of American Feed Control Officials sets nutritional guidelines for pet foods. There are three main diets under AAFCO:

  • Puppy (growth/reproduction)
  • Adult (maintenance)
  • All-stages (growing and adult dogs)

An all-life-stages diet is a diet that is formulated to meet the needs of puppies as well as adult dogs. For NutriSource, formulas labeled as adult food are also considered all-life-stages formulas.

If your puppy is a larger breed, it’s critical to read the label before offering an all-stages diet, explains Tufts University. What you’ll want to look for is AAFCO’s qualifier for nutritional adequacy statement. It will tell you whether that all-stages formula meets the standards of larger breed puppies. In particular, the formula should have a roughly 1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorous to support healthy bone growth.

The best puppy diet for a healthy start

Give your puppy a strong start in life with NutriSource puppy diets, formulated for small- and medium-breed puppies as well as large-breed puppies. Healthy foods are the foundation for strong healthy teeth, proper nutrient absorption and solid stools (AKA good gut health!). After all, no one wants a puppy with diarrhea!

Not only does NutriSource offer optimal nutrition in the right-sized bites, NutriSource formulates all foods with its innovative Good 4 Life® system. Good 4 Life has the probiotics and prebiotics that optimize your pup’s development because they help pup’s body absorb minerals and other nutrients. With less going to waste, you’ll have fewer messes to pick up in the backyard.

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