Bringing home a new puppy is a rewarding and exciting experience. What a lot of people don’t talk about is how it’s also confusing, especially if you’re a first-time puppy parent. Most common puppy care questions will hit you as you’re pushing your cart down the pet aisle. You’ll see tons of different dog foods and each one claims it’s the  best. You can’t simply feed a puppy any dog food; their stomachs are sensitive and some puppy foods aren’t made with quality ingredients. Not only that, but puppies require a different diet than adult dogs. Puppy food has nutrition that encourages healthy growth. Not only do you need to pick the right brand, but you’ll need to figure out your puppy’s feeding schedule. Starting your puppy off with the right nutrition will help prevent health issues down the road.

What Has Your Puppy Been Eating?

Unless you want your puppy to get the Hershey Squirts, you don’t want to start them off with a different brand of dog food on their first night home. If you got Fido from a breeder, ask them what they have been feeding the litter. Start off feeding your puppy the same brand of puppy food and slowly start incorporating your chosen brand. Suddenly changing his brand of dog food will upset his stomach, probably giving him diarrhea, and he’s already stressed out from leaving his mother and litter mates. Using the same dog food as his breeders will help your puppy transition into his new home without feeling sick.

Puppies Eat Puppy Food — Not Dog Food

Adult dog food doesn’t have the nutrients puppies need for development. Puppies need food with more protein and a higher fat content which will support their growing bodies. The protein helps with bones, joints, muscles and the immune system. The high fat content gives your puppy the calories he needs to power his body through his rapid growing stage. That being said, you shouldn’t feed adult dogs puppy food. The fat content may cause them to gain weight.

Kibble vs. Canned Puppy Food

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While walking down the pet food aisle, you’ll see canned/wet food and kibble/dry food. Canned food is easier to chew and digest. Manufacturers often package wet food by the serving (so one can equals one meal). It costs more than dry food and often contains more protein, less carbohydrates, and less preservatives. But not only is dry food less expensive, but it also lasts longer in the dish and helps clean your puppy’s teeth.

Many new puppy parents will start their puppy off on wet food and slowly start mixing in dry food until they make the switch. Puppies should be fully switched over to dry food by 9 or 10 weeks.

Set a Feeding Schedule

Once you’ve decided on a brand, you’ll need to know when to feed them. Simply leaving food out 24/7 will only cause problems. Puppies don’t always know when to stop eating and will over eat if given the chance. Young puppies need more food to support their growing bodies. Feed them 3-4 times a day depending on the puppy’s size. As he gets older, cut back on feedings. A 6-12 week puppy should have 4 feedings a day; puppies 3-6 months need about 3; dogs 6-12 months only need 2.

Your puppy’s feeding schedule and portion sizes will depend on his metabolism — and every dog is different. Watch your puppy’s body. He’ll start to lose his pudginess around 12 weeks. Around this time you can start cutting back on feedings. If your puppy starts to pick at food or skip feedings, cut back; you might be giving him too much.

Prevent Bad Eating Habits

dog stealing food off table

Feeding puppies food from the dinner table creates bad habits. It teaches your dog to expect food whenever you eat. A crying dog begging for your food will easily become an annoyance, especially for your guests. Your dog may also become more brazen and eventually start stealing food off tables and counters when you’re not looking. If you plan on sharing food, don’t let your puppy know it’s coming from the table. Put it in their food dish after they’ve eaten their own dog food. Be careful what you share, what’s healthy for you might not be healthy for him.

Off-Brand Dog Foods

Off-brand dog foods, although cheaper, often lack complete nutrition and contain harmful additives and preservatives that may end up giving your dog health issues down the road. As long as you stay away from off-brand dog foods, your puppy should grow to be a healthy, happy dog.

Figuring out what to feed puppies is a lot easier than figuring out how to train them. For some tips on house-training your new four-legged family member, check out our article on How to House Train a Puppy.