How To Choose The Right Dog Food For A Puppy

According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a puppy's nutritional needs are roughly twice more than adult dogs of the same breed. In particular, their recommended levels of nutrients, including proteins, fats, and minerals should be higher to meet their daily dietary needs. 

Puppies generally also need an adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids, found in things like fish oil and grass-fed lamb, for healthy skin, eyes, and brain development. Calcium is another important nutrient for growing dogs; however, puppies can't control its absorption like adults can. Overconsumption of calcium, particularly in large breed puppies, may lead to abnormal growth, causing orthopaedic disorders such as hip dysplasia.

For these reasons, choosing the right food for a puppy can be tricky. Fortunately, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to help you understand what and how much to feed your puppy to help them become happy and healthy dogs. 

1. Weigh Up Wet and Dry Dog Foods
Both wet, canned puppy food and dry kibble have pros and cons. Some canned dog foods have higher than recommended levels of calories and fats, making them difficult to incorporate in a balanced diet. Moreover, many brands have a high water content, meaning they help hydrate your dog, but their nutritional value for their price is minimal and can cause a serious dent in your food budget.

On the other hand, canned foods are superior than kibble in the fact they feature more meat protein than carbohydrates, and are therefore more appetizing and palatable for your pup. Plus, pets with large appetites can enjoy bigger meals without consuming excessive calories. 

However, when it comes cost-effectiveness and convenience, dry kibble wins the race. When stored correctly, it won't spoil and is great for your dog's teeth. If you're on a tight budget, shopping kibble may be your best course of action. 

As a middle ground, you consider mixing both wet and dry options to concoct a yummy meal for your pup. Consult a vet before hedging your bets in the battle between wet food vs dry food for dogs, as some breeds are more suited to one diet than the other. 

2. Consider Breed Size
Whether you have a giant-breed puppy, such as a German Shephard, or smaller one, you must make sure you're buying food geared towards your pup's size.

Many studies show that the incidence of developmental disorders in large-breed puppies is significantly higher. Bones and joints can be especially affected if their nutrition isn't kept in check, and negligence can lead to the development of conditions like hypertrophic osteodystrophy and osteochondrosis dissecans. On the contrary, smaller dogs have a faster metabolism, and require a diet with nutrient-dense food. 

You need to make sure your puppy's food is consistent with breed size—particularly in their first 12 months—and continue to feed them accordingly as they age. An inadequate diet at a young age can lead to future developmental disorders.

3. Balance Macronutrient Content And Digestibility 
Both macronutrient content and digestibility are important factors in selecting food for your puppy. You shouldn't just increase their consumption of nutrients like protein beyond recommended levels, as this may result in a pot-bellied appearance, obesity, gas, and vomiting. Furthermore, an improper diet increases the likelihood of developmental diseases, such as canine elbow dysplasia.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are associated with improved heart, brain and eye health, and a host of other physiological benefits. 

Natural food sources rich in DHA and EPA, such as salmon, butterfish, and cod liver, need to be present in your puppy's food to aid healthy growth.  Alternatively, you can also compensate with supplementation if DHA and EPA rich foods are not easily accessible or expensive. 

4. Check Puppy Food Labels
Aside from using ratings and reviews from other pet owners to select food for your puppy, be sure to examine ingredients. Find food that's free from any harmful additives, such as sweeteners, colours, and preservatives. Also, verify the shelf life by making sure the label includes a use-by date.  

Some companies employ shady marketing tactics and plaster their labels with terms like premium, natural, holistic, and organic. These aren't typically defined by food authorities or backed up by science, so it's best to look past branding. 

Once you choose a brand and start feeding it to your puppy, monitor their health. Do they have soft tools or gas? Is the puppy's coat shiny? There's no one-size-fits-all food for puppies, so you have to take these factors into consideration and make changes until you find a diet that suits. 

5. Research Dietary Requirements
Puppies require nutrients in specific amounts, just like humans and adult dogs, to sustain proper growth. As we've touched on, overfeeding and malnourishment can cause developmental issues. Here are some dietary factors to be aware of:

  • Calories: Recommended calories will vary depending on the puppy's sex, weight, and breed. Upon reaching the age of 6 months, many vets believe puppies require only 20% more calories than an adult dog. Large-breed puppy owners should take extra care when feeding their pets because of their rapid growth rate and increased susceptibility to bone-related diseases. As a general recommendation, have your vet assess your puppy's caloric intake to make sure you're making the right food choices.
  • Calcium: While a diet lacking in calcium and phosphorus can cause skeletal and growth conditions, along with spontaneous fractures, one that's too high in calcium is believed to cause orthopaedic problems, inhibiting cartilage and bone growth. Thus, it's vital that the calcium content in your pup's diet is balanced.
  • Protein: Young puppies require high amounts of protein for optimal growth, but this amount steadily declines as they age. The general recommended range of protein cited by vets is 22-32% for puppies, but it's best to consult a vet for exact percentages ideal for your dog's breed.
  • Fats: Growing dogs also require a higher proportion of fat in their diets as compared to adult dogs. They help with growth and vitamin absorption. However, too much fat means your pup will need to eat more food to get sufficient nutrients, leading to weight gain and potentially, obesity.

Final Disclaimer
When food shopping for your puppy, there's a lot of factors you need to take into consideration, from nutrient profiles and breed size to ingredients and digestibility. Failure to do so may expose your loved pet to developmental disorders, such as skeletal abnormalities. By feeding them a balanced diet and monitoring their growth, you'll ensure your puppy's health remains in great shape.

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