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Nutritional needs of a growing puppy

Updated on January 6, 2018

The nutritional needs of the growing puppy are greater than those of the mature adult dog. Puppies rapidly grow from birth through approximately 8 months. Most large breeds of dogs reach their mature body weight by 18 months of age, and many small breeds will reach adult size by 8 to 12 months. The average 50 lb dog will have increased its body weight by 50-fold at maturity. This is a tremendous rate of growth, and occurs in a relatively short period of time. A balanced, high quality diet during this rapid growth stage is very important for proper bone, cartilage, and muscle development.

To grow, a puppy requires more energy (calories) than an adult dog of the same weight. Until the puppy reaches approximately 40% of its adult weight, it will need almost twice the calories of an adult dog of the same weight. Since puppies have smaller stomachs, a highly digestible, energy dense puppy food is recommended so that the growing puppy can easily consume the quantity of calories he needs. After reaching 40% adult body weight, its calorie needs reduce to approximately 1.5 times the calories needed for maintenance. At about 6 to 8 months of age, the energy requirement drops to approximately 1.2 times the amount of calories necessary for maintenance. After reaching mature adult body weight, the puppy's needs reduce to maintenance levels.

In addition to increased calorie needs, the growing puppy also requires a higher level of protein. Food designed for the growing puppy should have protein levels slightly higher than foods designed for adult dogs. This is necessary to provide the higher levels of certain amino acids that are required by the growing puppy at an increased level. Protein levels do not need to be exceedingly high, since an extremely high level of protein only contributes to added calories. For large breed puppies especially, the overfeeding of calories from an excessive level of protein can be detrimental. Protein sources in puppy food should be highly digestible, to provide high levels of digestible amino acids. A dried chicken by-product meal, chicken meal, or lamb meal are highly digestible sources of protein, and should be listed as the first ingredient in a dry puppy food. Egg is often included in puppy foods, since the amino acids in egg are highly digestible. If whole chicken (a wet meat source) is listed as the first ingredient, a dried poultry meal should be the second ingredient to actually provide the majority of protein from the poultry source. If whole chicken is listed as the first ingredient, and the next several ingredients are corn, corn gluten, or other grain ingredients, the majority of the protein in that product is not being supplied by a meat source.

Even though puppies are developing bones, cartilage, and muscle, an excessively high calcium intake is not necessary. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet is very important, and therefore puppy foods should be formulated to provide a balanced ratio of calcium to phosphorus. As long as a high quality, nutritionally balanced, highly digestible puppy food is being fed, there is no need for any additional calcium supplementation of this diet. Calcium supplementation is not necessary, and may be harmful. Excessive calcium supplementation especially of large breed puppies may contribute to the development of skeletal abnormalities. For these reasons, calcium supplementation is not recommended in the growing puppy. Also, homemade diets are not recommended for growing puppies, since it is difficult to maintain a proper amino acid and mineral balance without repeated analytical testing of the homemade mix.

Multiple feedings throughout the day are best for the growing puppy. Since their stomachs have a limited capacity, a highly digestible, energy dense puppy food should be fed. For puppies up through 6 months of age, the daily quantity of food should be split into three feedings. After approximately 6 months of age, feedings can be decreased to twice daily. Free-choice feeding is not a good idea for growing puppies after approximately 7 to 8 weeks of age. Many puppies will overeat if given the opportunity, since most puppy foods are very palatable. Overfeeding during the growth phase contributes to accelerated growth rates, especially in large breeds of dogs. Accelerated growth rates do not result in optimal skeletal development, and contribute to skeletal developmental problems, such as osteochondrosis, and hip dysplasia. Controlled feeding of puppies to attain a moderate rate of growth does not adversely affect skeletal development, nor does it adversely affect final body size. With a moderate rate of growth, development will be a little slower, and the puppy will reach its adult body weight at a slightly older age. If free-choice feeding is desirable by the owner, free-choice feeding should not start until after the puppy has reached its final adult body size. The dog's body weight and condition should be closely monitored during free-choice feeding, to determine whether or not it is overeating and gaining weight.

In addition to proper feeding, a regimen of exercise should also be followed with the growing puppy. About 20 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise per day is sufficient for proper muscle development, and helps maintain a lean body condition. Excessive exercise with repeated concussion to the joints is not recommended, since injuries may occur, especially in large or giant breeds of dogs. Also always provide your puppy with a source of clean, fresh water at all times. Good nutrition, exercise, and proper socialization will result in proper development, and a winning attitude.


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