How Long Should I Feed My Dog Puppy Food?

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Many parents lament the fact that their children grow up so quickly and the same can be true for puppies. In a matter of months, your puppy could go from a cute and cuddly 10 pounds to strong and sturdy 50 pounds. In order to fuel your puppy’s healthy growth and development, you need to make sure that his nutritional needs are being met and the best way to do that is with a high-quality puppy food. But how do you know when to switch to an adult recipe and how do you make the transition?

What is the Difference Between Puppy Food and Adult Food?

Unless you understand the difference between puppy food and adult dog food, you may not see why it is necessary to make the switch at all. Dogs of all ages require a diet that is rich in protein (particularly animal protein) because it plays a role in building your dog’s cells, tissues, and organs – it also helps to support your dog’s immune system, reproductive function, and tissue repair. Proteins are made up of 22 different amino acids. Your dog’s body is capable of producing (or synthesizing) 12 of these, but the other 10 must come from his diet – these are called essential amino acids. One of the reasons animal protein is so important for dogs is that things like meat, poultry, eggs, and fish are considered “complete proteins” which means that they contain all 10 essential amino acids. Plant proteins may contain one or more essential amino acids but they are generally not complete proteins which makes them less biologically valuable for your dog.

While protein is essential for fueling your puppy’s healthy growth and development, fat is primarily valuable as a source of concentrated energy. In order to grow properly, your puppy’s body needs a lot of energy – that is where fat comes in. Protein contains 4 calories of energy per gram but fat contains 9 calories per gram. If you want to know the specifics, puppies need a diet that contains at least 8% crude fat (more is generally better) and 22% crude protein. Adult dogs have a minimum requirement of 5% crude fat and 18% crude protein. So, the main difference between puppy food and adult food is in the protein and fat content, as well as the calorie density. Puppy foods tend to be higher in both protein and fat to support your puppy’s rapid growth and healthy development. Adult dog foods should still be high in protein (to support your dog’s lean muscle mass) but are generally more moderate in fat content which helps to lower the calorie content and to prevent unhealthy weight gain and obesity.

When Should You Make the Switch?

There are a number of “rules” out there regarding when to make the switch from puppy food to adult dog food, and recommendations vary depending on your dog’s breed size. Some say that you should switch your puppy to an adult recipe when his growth in height starts to slow down. Even once your puppy reaches his adult height, he may continue to fill out a little in terms of muscle mass but he won’t need quite so much energy. For small-breed puppies, this usually happens between 8 and 10 months of age and, for large-breed puppies, somewhere between 12 and 24 months. Another rule you may have heard is the 80% rule – that you should switch your puppy to an adult recipe when he reaches about 80% of his expected adult weight. Again, this will come sooner for small-breed puppies than for large- and giant-breed puppies. Your veterinarian can help you guess at your dog’s expected adult weight.

Tips for Transitioning Your Puppy onto Adult Food

When you are ready to switch your puppy over to an adult recipe, you need to be careful about how you make the transition. Dogs are notorious for reacting poorly to sudden changes in diet. If one day you give your dog a bowl of puppy food made by Brand X and the next day you give him a bowl of adult dog food made by Brand Y, you shouldn’t be surprised if your dog spends a lot of time in the backyard for the next few days – you may even have some messes to clean up inside the house. The best way to avoid this unpleasantness is to transition your dog slowly from one product to the next. Here is a simple formula to follow when you are ready to make the switch:

  • Day 1 – Mix 75% of your puppy’s current food with 25% of the new food.
  • Day 2 – Mix 50% of your puppy’s current food with 50% of the new food.
  • Day 3 – Mix 25% of your puppy’s current food with 75% of the new food.
  • Day 4 – Give your dog 100% from the new food.

If at any point during the transitional period your puppy develops digestive issues, your best bet is to go back one step and keep feeding your puppy that ratio until the digestive issues go away. Then, move to the next step and stay there for a few days before you move on. If your puppy’s digestive issues do not go away after a few days on the new food, it could be more than just a matter of changing diet – he could be allergic or intolerant to one of the ingredients in the new food. You can try choosing another product that is made with a different source of protein and carbohydrate, but still follow the formula provided above when making the transition.

Choosing a high-quality diet for your puppy is extremely important for his healthy growth and development. The importance of a healthy diet doesn’t decrease as your dog gets older, but his nutritional needs will change a little bit so you should make the switch to an adult diet when your puppy is ready. As long as you select a quality product and make the transition slowly, your puppy shouldn’t have any issues.

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