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How to Feed a Puppy – A Complete Guide

Nuala McHugh


Nuala McHugh
Nuala McHugh

Nuala McHugh

Content Writer

Nuala began her writing career when she studied English at Queen’s University Belfast and later earned a Master's degree in PR and Communications.

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Updated: December 22, 2023

Verified by Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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Laura Ward

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A new puppy is a wonderful thing but also a big responsibility. And the most important thing you need to do is feed them. But how do you feed a puppy? What’s the best puppy food? How much do you feed them? When do I feed my puppy? How often do I feed them? What not to feed your puppy and so on. 

Perhaps they’re your first dog or maybe it’s just been a while since you’ve had one so small and helpless, but it can be stressful getting everything organized and you’ve probably heard many different things about how to take care of your new arrival.

Your head might be spinning with thoughts so we’re here to make life a little easier (well as easy as it can be with a hyper new pup) with a guide on everything you need to know about feeding your puppy.

How much do I feed my puppy? 

There are a lot of variables when it comes to feeding your puppy. A Bernese Mountain puppy for example is going to differ from a Chihuahua.

There are three key things to take into consideration when feeding your puppy:

  • Age
  • Breed
  • Size

It’s essential to feed your puppy the right amount of wholesome food from an early age. It protects them from developing common health problems later in life by being overweight or eating the wrong ingredients. 

Puppies’ nutritional requirements change as they grow and develop. Providing food to supply these nutrients is crucial for healthy development, but overfeeding can upset stomachs and lead to obesity.

Don’t be tempted to overfeed them no matter how cute their big eyes are. It can cause too much pressure on their stomach and lead to weight gain. Read the instructions on the food label as a starting point and make adjustments to the quantity you feed based on your puppy’s body condition score. 

How often do I feed my puppy? 

Before your puppy arrives at their new home, they will have gone through the weaning stages and most likely have been fed around four to six times a day. 

You will be bringing the puppy home between two to three months and it’s advised to keep them eating four meals a day until they develop a little more. They will also be nervous in their new home so it’s good to keep things as normal as possible for them.

Puppies require multiple small meals because when they are small,  they struggle to regulate their blood sugar. So, food little and often stabilises their blood sugar which means they can eat enough to supply their huge nutritional requirements for all the growth and development that is happening during this time.

As your puppy progresses to around four to six months, bring their meals down to two to three a day. Finally, when they’ve hit their half-year birthday (six months), throw a little party because it’s now time to feed them just like an adult – usually twice a day.

Can my puppy eat treats?

Around the age of eight weeks, you can start giving your puppy a treat or two. It’s best to introduce one with simple ingredients to begin with as any new dietary addition can be overwhelming for puppies, especially those with sensitive stomachs.

It’s best to pick up some treats that are specific to puppies and have high-quality ingredients. It can be good to get your pup used to treats with healthy ingredients from the onset.

How many treats can I give my puppy?

You’ll soon realize that treats are an essential part of training your new puppy and that’s okay. Dog treats should be used as rewards for good behavior but it’s important that they only make up 10% of their daily calories. It’s best to set aside some time for training and limit the treat intake so they are still receiving a complete and balanced diet.

Treats at this age are ideally tiny morsels of something irresistible to your puppy. By using only tiny morsels your puppy won’t be getting full and you can keep their attention on their training.

What is the ideal diet for a puppy?

A puppy’s food must be easily digestible and nutrient-dense, to supply all of the nutrients they need for this phase of growth and development, through only a small portion. 

High-quality ingredients help nutrients to be available to the puppy during digestion.

There are many different diets to choose from so you will find a suitable option for you and your puppy including fresh, wet, dry, raw, cold-pressed, air-dried, and more.

It is incredibly easy to undersupply nutrients for a puppy or provide nutrients in incorrect ratios, which can affect their development. If you are making home dog food, seek advice from a vet or nutritionist to ensure you’re puppy is getting the essential nutrients and correct portions.

If you are buying commercially made food, it’s important to get a life-stage food that clearly states that it’s made for puppies. Also, look out for these words on the label 1 

  • “Complete and balanced nutrition”
  • “Meets the nutritional requirements of puppies established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)”
  • “Complete and balanced nutrition for puppies based on AAFCO feeding trials”
  • “Complete and balanced nutrition for growth”
  • “All life stages”

If you still feel overwhelmed, take a look at our list of top puppy foods for inspiration.

What nutritional requirements do puppies need?

If you choose a food with the above labels, you won’t have to worry too much about your puppy receiving essential nutrients as they will have everything they need to thrive.

Specially formulated puppy foods are the ideal diet as they contain the essential nutrients for a puppy to thrive.

Opting for puppy food is important because:

  • Puppy food is more nutrient-dense to supply what they need in a small portion. 
  • It must be highly digestible to make the nutrition within the food accessible to the puppy.
  • It comes in smaller pieces. 
  • The protein and fat are higher, because of all the development and growth happening
  • Calcium, and calcium to phosphorus ratio is lower in puppy foods, to ensure the strong growth of the bones and skeleton. Providing too much calcium can cause bones to grow too quickly, be weak, and with abnormalities. Do not add calcium supplements to puppy foods2, however.

When should you switch puppies to adult dog food?

It’s critical not to switch your puppy to adult food too soon. The best time to switch your puppy to adult food depends on your puppy’s breed type:

  • Small-breed dogs that weigh 20 pounds or less when fully grown are usually ready to eat adult food at 9 to 12 months of age. 
  • Medium-breed dogs that weigh between 20 and 50 pounds as adults normally mature at 12 to 14 months of age.
  • Large- and giant-breed dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds when fully grown might not be ready to switch to adult food until they’re 12 to 24 months old.3 

When you are transitioning, ensure to do so gradually by mixing puppy food in until their tummies get used to the new food.

Do puppies need supplements?

There’s normally no need for extra supplements or pieces of human food – they should receive everything they need in their dog food. Do not give additional calcium or vitamin and mineral supplements with a balanced diet, as these unbalance the diet and can lead to health issues.

However, if you are giving your puppy homemade dog food or think they require extra supplementation, speak to your vet first as it can be harmful to give them extra vitamins. 

What foods should you not give a puppy?

It is advised to only feed your puppy suitable food and treats but there are especially some foods to stay clear of. 

Here are some things you should never feed a puppy:

  • Raw meat (Unless, in the case of raw feed puppies, and it should still be a complete and balanced food.)
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Grapes/raisins
  • Avocados
  • Sugary foods and drinks
  • Caffeine 
  • Alcohol
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Bones

There can be a lot to think about when getting a new puppy so it’s important to do your research and make sure you are ready to welcome a bundle of energy into your home.

Young dogs need to intake essential nutrients so they can live a long and happy life with you.

What’s the best puppy food?

There are plenty of great foods out there for puppies. You can take a look at our pick of the Best Puppy Foods here:

Final word

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Article reviewed by
Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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