Four young puppies standing with their front paws over the edge of a fence.

Proper Puppy Nutrition Is One Key to a Lifetime of Good Health

You’ve just brought home an extremely adorable and energetic puppy, and you want to make sure you’re starting him or her off on the right paw. You know proper nutrition is one of your pup’s most basic needs and one of the best ways to keep your dog healthy. But with the dozens of dog food choices available, how do you know which one is right for your puppy?

If you’re wondering why you should feed a puppy food or all-life-stages food, read on.

Puppies grow fast

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth saying: Puppies and adult dogs have very different nutritional needs. Why? Puppies grow rapidly. In fact, a puppy’s most rapid growth period occurs during the first three to six months of life. Growth rate patterns vary among breed sizes, but with the exception of giant breed dogs, most puppies reach 80 percent of their adult weight between 4.5 and 8 months of age. That’s a lot of growth going on!

In contrast, adult dogs are maintaining their bodies (unless they’re having puppies, of course). They need enough nutrients to satisfy normal tissue repair and physical activity. Any extra energy (calories) that goes unused will be stored as fat.

Growth increases nutrient requirements

Growing puppies require more of all nutrients compared with adult dogs. And just like adult dogs, your puppy’s health depends on receiving the correct amounts and proportions of essential nutrients. Special attention is given to several nutritional factors when feeding puppies, including energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and antioxidants.

Energy fuels growth — and all other body functions

Regardless of a puppy’s size or breed, the amount of energy needed for growth is greater than for any other life stage except lactation. In fact, once they’ve been weaned, growing puppies require about twice as much energy per pound of body weight as adult dogs of the same weight. Energy requirements start to decline as growth rate decreases, which often begins around 6 months of age.

While it’s important to meet the energy needs of growing puppies, it’s equally important to not overfeed them. The goal is to feed for optimal growth, not maximal growth. Too many calories not only can lead to increased growth rate but also leads to overweight or obese puppies who then may become overweight or obese adult dogs.

Protein is needed for more than strong muscles

Growing puppies require more protein than adult dogs simply because they’re growing. Protein is important for building and maintaining muscles, bones, cartilage, skin and various organs. Protein can be found in every cell of the body, which makes it vital to good health.

The food you feed your puppy should be made from high-quality, highly digestible, protein-containing ingredients. This helps ensure that all essential amino acids will be delivered to the puppy’s body for use in growth and development. Protein-containing ingredients can be “muscle meats,” meat meals, eggs, fish and even ancient grains such as grain sorghum, quinoa and chia seed.

Calcium and phosphorus are essential for a healthy skeleton

The minerals calcium and phosphorus work together to make healthy bones and teeth. Up to 99 percent of the calcium and about 85 percent of the phosphorus in the body can be found in the skeleton and teeth. The remaining calcium can be found in body fluids, while the balance of phosphorus can be found in soft tissues.

Calcium and phosphorus levels are slightly higher in puppy foods to promote skeletal growth at a rate appropriate for a puppy’s size. Large and giant breed puppies are especially prone to developmental bone issues if the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio isn’t appropriate, which is why you’ll find foods especially for large-size puppies such as Diamond Naturals Large Breed Puppy Lamb & Rice Formula.

DHA supports brain and vision development

Studies have found that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is necessary for normal brain and vision development in puppies. Research has also shown that adding DHA to puppy foods improves trainability.

Antioxidant nutrients support the immune system

Puppies enter an “immunity gap” when they’re between 1 and 3 months old. During this time, the antibodies that puppies received from their mother’s colostrum (first milk) begin to decline, but their immune system isn’t fully developed. So even if puppies are first vaccinated against key diseases at 6 to 8 weeks of age, they usually aren’t fully protected after just one dose. That’s part of the reason why veterinarians recommend vaccine boosters within three to four weeks of the first vaccine dose. “Antioxidant nutrients” such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and selenium in puppy food help support your puppy’s developing immune system and may help your puppy’s immune system respond to vaccinations.

If you have questions about what and how to feed your puppy, be sure to talk with your veterinarian. Next to you, your veterinarian will know your puppy best as he or she grows into adulthood. And be sure to check back here for more information about dogs, cats and their nutrition.

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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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