This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
For you veteran puppy raisers out there, feeding a puppy has probably become second nature to you. You’ve done it so many times it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought and you’re comfortable they’re getting what they need to thrive. For the infrequent or new puppy owners, though, this can be a lot more challenging. One of the most common inquiries we receive as a manufacturer is how to determine what to feed a new puppy. Here’s why it can be a little confusing and why so much of what we tell people is in generalities rather than specifics.
Puppies Needs Vary Significantly
Manufacturers provide feeding guideline ranges and these ranges can be fairly broad. The reason for the wide range is because there can be such a surprising difference in the metabolic needs of one puppy versus another. This isn’t only true from one breed to another, but even with two puppies from the same, or similar, types of breeding. What works for one puppy may be quite low or quite high for another puppy. Every puppy truly has different requirements so a firm numeric recommendation would be wrong more often than not.
Adult Guidelines on Puppy Formulas
Many manufacturers, and we do this ourselves, start out from an adult feeding range and then providing multiplying factors, such as two to three times the amount, for use with puppies. We start off with an adult feeding recommendation for a couple reasons. First, there are a large number of people who prefer to feed adult dogs a puppy formula. Sometimes this is due to the size and shape of the kibble being preferred by their dogs.
In addition, most puppy foods are suitable for all life stages and there are often higher levels of things like protein, fat and DHA in a puppy food that are beneficial to older dogs as well. We start with an adult feeding guideline as a base because, if an adult dog is fed using a puppy feeding guideline, we would likely end up having a whole bunch of people angry with us about their incredibly obese dogs.
Guidelines Are Only a Starting Point
The feeding recommendations you see on your puppy food, and dog food in general, are really only intended to be a starting point. We cannot accurately predict what is going to be correct for each individual puppy. You should start somewhere in the middle of the recommended range to get the process started. After that, it is essential that each puppy is fed according to the pup’s body condition. This may include frequent adjustments as the puppy grows based on watching the pup’s body condition changes and adjusting accordingly. This is always going to be the best indicator because each puppy has unique requirements is not exactly like any other dog.
The Best Guidelines Are Your Eyes
While it may seem to be an oversimplification, the best tool for determining your pup’s optimal feeding levels is your personal observation. Keeping a close eye on things like body condition, stool consistency, energy level and feeding desire give you a unique insight into how well the needs of your puppy are being met. As a manufacturer, we can give you a good idea on where to start but your personal observation is going to be the best way to refine and adjust your puppy feeding program.