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Puppy Nutrition

Get an early start on health and weight.

Deb Buehler  |  Aug 17th 2015


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Roly-poly puppies catch everyone’s eye. We just want to get down on the floor and play with them! And yet, their size may not be so healthy. Getting your new puppy off to a good start means understanding what your puppy’s body should look like (based on its breed) and your puppy’s unique characteristics, then carefully selecting foods and choosing strategies for feeding.

Puppy pat-downs

Now that your new puppy is home, you have plenty of time to observe his body. Your pup’s body will be rapidly changing in the days, weeks and months ahead. As you play with your puppy, feel his toes, paws, legs, belly, back, tail, head and ears. By touching your pet’s entire body, you’ll gain an understanding of it and you’ll also socialize him for future veterinary visits.

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Camille Porres, DVM, at Colorado State University’s veterinary teaching hospital suggests you feel your pup’s ribs, head and pelvic bones. These spots should be covered with a thin layer of fat. As your puppy grows and changes, you will notice differences in the fat layer over these body parts.

“Puppies grow out and then up,” Porres explains. “They will become rounder first. Then, as they begin to gain height, the roundness will disappear.”

Porres suggests that when taking your pup to the vet, ask about a body condition score. Your pup’s veterinarian can provide information about your puppy’s overall health as well as explain how to feel the body and observe growth.

“Puppies are difficult to assess,” she adds, “because they have less muscle, higher body fat and more fluid in their abdomen than adult dogs. These are normal characteristics in a puppy, and your vet can help you identify these details as your puppy changes over time.”

Your vet can help you understand the process of ongoing evaluation and explain how to adjust food volume as your puppy grows. This is an important strategy when it comes to protecting your pet from obesity at a young age.

Choosing your pup’s food

Jennifer Larson, DVM, Dipl. ACVN, a veterinary nutritionist at University of California Davis, recommends feeding a diet intended for growing puppies. These diets are formulated with calcium and phosphorus which are required for bone growth, and they tend to be higher in calories because puppies burn more energy than adult dogs.

Larson notes that puppy owners should pay attention to foods designed for small or large breeds. For example, smaller dogs do not eat a lot of food and need a formula that is more energy-dense than large breeds.

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Small breeds, like Miniature and Toy Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers, need to eat more frequently, Porres says. Between the ages of 8 weeks to 6 months of age, they can have drops in blood sugar that lead to seizures.

Large breeds that may already be predisposed to orthopedic disease — such as Great Danes, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers — need a large-breed food formula. Large-breed formulas have a different ratio of calcium and phosphorus along with a puppy-appropriate level of protein. These variables affect bone growth, helping bones grow slowly to reduce the risk of orthopedic problems in the future.

Portion control

Puppies don’t have to eat all their food from a bowl at a single sitting. In fact, Larson suggests measuring out the dog’s daily food requirement, feeding a small amount in a bowl and using the rest as treats for training or play.

Food stuffed inside a Kong toy is a great form of mental stimulation for a puppy, keeping him busy and active while offering some of the day’s portion, Larson adds.

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It may be tempting to offer your pup treats as incentives for play or training. However, some treats aren’t formulated for growth. Some commercial treats contain a lot of energy without the essential nutrients your growing pup needs, and eating too many treats can contribute to obesity. According to Larson, treats should make up less than 10 percent of any dog’s daily calorie consumption — all the more reason to divide your puppy’s daily serving into portions for his bowl, training and treats.

About the author: A professional writer, Deb Buehler grew up on a hobby farm where there was always a dog rolling in something smelly or sleeping by the fire. Today, she lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Craig. Together they grow vegetables, keep chickens and throw the ball for their Welsh Corgis, Tucker and Fenway.