Choosing the right diet for your puppy

Author: The Vet Shed   Date Posted:13 August 2018 

Newborn puppies receive nutrition entirely from their mother’s milk until they are around 4 weeks old. After this, solid food is gradually added to their diet until they are fully weaned at about 6-8 weeks.  A puppy’s nutritional requirements are more demanding than those of an adult dog; within the first few weeks of life, a puppy’s body weight doubles. During this critical formative stage, puppies exert tremendous amounts of energy in growth and play, yet their stomachs are still relatively small, therefore it is essential to give them the very best nutrition available.


Research shows that puppies need twice as much energy as adult dogs. Dramatic growth at this stage means your puppy requires an energy-rich, nutrient-dense, complete and balanced diet. Puppies also require more protein than adult dogs. High-quality, animal-based protein will help your puppy create new body tissue.

Selecting the right puppy food

It is important to provide your puppy with a highly digestible, nutrient dense, 100% complete and balanced premium formula designed for growth. And because growth rates differ among breed sizes, it is vital to choose a puppy formula tailored to suit your puppy’s breed size.  

Small breed puppies (<10kg at adulthood)

Due to their small mouths and stomachs, and their rapid growth rate, it’s important to pack lots of energy and nutrition into a small amount of food to ensure the healthy growth and development of small-breed puppies. A poor-quality diet will fill a puppy's stomach before enough food can be eaten to satisfy their nutritional needs. The result can be improper muscle and skeletal development and growth impairment.


Small breeds should transition from puppy to adult food at 9-12 months of age.

Medium breed puppies (10-25kg at adulthood)

Medium breed puppies require a complete and balanced puppy formula with moderately high levels of energy and other essential nutrients.


Medium breeds should transition from puppy to adult food at 12 months of age.

Large (25-40kg at adulthood) and Giant (>40kg at adulthood) breed puppies

Although large-breed dogs have bigger bones than medium or small breeds, large-breed puppies do not need more calcium. University studies have shown that:

Rapidly growing, large-breed pups are more inclined to exhibit developmental bone problems. Controlling the rate of growth is more beneficial than promoting rapid growth.

Moderating calcium, phosphorus and calorie levels in their diet promotes normal skeletal development.

Overfeeding and weight gain can actually contribute to developmental bone problems. This makes managing food intake very important to monitor. Research has shown that puppies are at increased risk for developmental bone problems if they are overfed.

Controlling the rate of growth to promote normal development is another reason to feed a large-breed diet. A formula with reduced fat and calories promotes optimum growth.


Large breeds should transition from puppy to adult food at 12 months of age.


Giant breeds should transition from puppy to adult food at 18-24 months of age.

Some tips to keep in mind when feeding your puppy

  • Feed a complete and balanced formula and don’t add any supplements unless prescribed by your vet. Supplements can adversely affect a diet that’s 100% complete and balanced. Adding commercial dietary supplements or ‘people food’ such as hamburger, eggs, cottage cheese or cow's milk is unnecessary and may even do more harm than good.
  • Use the feeding instructions on the pet food bag as a guide to work out the amount to feed your puppy each day. Divide the daily amount into the number of meals you plan to feed your puppy.
  • Don’t forget fresh water! Ensure your puppy has clean, fresh drinking water at all times.
  • For very young puppies, it may help to soak dry food in a little warm water for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve the food at room temperature. Any moistened food remaining uneaten should be discarded within a few hours.
  • At four months of age, transition your puppy to a twice daily feeding schedule.
  • To tell if your dog is at a healthy weight, move your hands along their sides. If you can feel their ribs, they’re about right. Or, look down at them from directly above. You should be able to see a waistline. If they’re gaining or losing a lot of weight, slightly decrease or increase their daily intake and weigh your puppy again in another week. If you have specific concerns about your dog's weight, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can assess your dog's needs and make a feeding recommendation.

Changing your puppy’s diet

Changing over to a suitable commercially prepared food should be done gradually to avoid any stomach upsets. Each day replace about one fifth of the old diet with the new one. Mix well and offer to the puppy. By the fifth day you will have successfully switched over.

If you notice any loose motions during this period, be aware that it is probably due to the change process rather than the ingredients in the new diet. If loose motions persist you may need to talk to your veterinarian. This may be due to parasites, stress, dietary change or some other problem requiring treatment.

Won’t my puppy be bored eating the same thing every day?

No. Boredom with food is a human trait. Dogs are creatures of habit and are usually happy with one food. If their diet is constantly changed, they can develop digestive upsets or become finicky eaters.

Should I be feeding both canned and dry food?

It is not necessary to offer canned food. Canned food is often more than 80% water, so the nutrients are very diluted.  Puppies tend to do better on a nutrient-dense, premium dry food diet. If you wish, use canned food as a treat.

What about table scraps?

Feeding from the table should be discouraged.  It encourages your dog to become fussy, induces begging and may cause digestive upsets. Ideally your dog should not be in the room at mealtimes or when preparing food.

Isn’t a homemade diet better for my dog?

Feeding a home diet means guesswork. A complete premium food provides everything your dog needs in the right proportions. Dogs are not ‘little humans’, and have different nutritional requirements to us. Although home-prepared diets can be formulated to meet a dog's nutritional requirements, it is quite a difficult procedure with deficiencies and imbalances occurring fairly commonly. Premium prepared foods provide more reliable, balanced nutrition.

The Value of Premium Foods

Low-cost food may be less expensive, but it isn't always a bargain and may not provide optimum nutrition. Premium food makes sense both nutritionally (because of consistent, high-quality ingredients) and economically because it provides:

  • 100% complete, balanced nutrition
  • High nutrient and energy density, which translates into smaller feeding portions
  • A stable ingredient profile.

High nutrient and energy density

The investment in a premium food may initially cost more per bag, but because these high-quality formulas are high in nutrient density, your dog may need less food, which can offset the higher cost per unit of weight. On a cost-per-feeding basis, look at how much you feed each day as opposed to how much the bag costs, because nutrient and energy density will generally be lower for a low-cost food compared with premium foods.

Premium foods (such as Hill’s Science Diet, Eukanuba and Advance) are fixed-formula foods as opposed to budget-priced formulas (eg. Dog foods found in the supermarket). Fixed formulas have a "stable ingredient profile." That means the recipes formulated to be 100% complete and balanced do not change with the cost of ingredients.

With budget-priced formulations, the emphasis is on production and ingredient costs. Two bags of the same least-cost formulated food can have different ingredients and/or levels of ingredients. Plus, those ingredients may vary significantly in digestibility—this means simply that you may need to feed more just to equal the nutrition offered by a smaller amount of a premium dog food formula.

What premium foods provide

High-quality, complete and balanced premium dog foods such as the Hill’s Science Diet, Eukanuba or Advance brands are the best you can buy. They are specifically designed to provide your dog with a food that has:

  • High-quality ingredients
  • High total diet digestibility
  • Balanced, optimal levels of protein, fat, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which make costly nutritional supplements unnecessary
  • A nutrient-dense formulation appropriate for a particular life stage
  • Consistent, high-quality ingredient recipes that do not change with manufacturing costs
  • Calibrated fatty-acid ratios to help maintain healthy skin and coat
  • Great palatability—taste—based on feeding trials
  • Product guarantees

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