How to Feed Your Dog from Puppy to Adult

Meeting your dog's nutritional needs is not only good for their health but also makes for a happy animal. Whether you've recently adopted a new canine or just want to be sure you're feeding your beloved pet the right way, here are some general rules to follow from puppyhood throughout the adult years. 

General Rules for Puppies

Puppies need to be trained on good behavior so they respond to their owner's commands. And part of this training, believe it or not, is how to eat. From the very beginning, hand-feeding your pup teaches them that you're the provider of food. Hand-feeding can also reduce the risk of food aggression, a behavior that could cause injury to other pets and owners. Hand-feeding is also somewhat of a bonding mechanism, allowing your furry friend to get to know you and build up a sense of trust.  

Be sure to feed dogs less than one year of age a brand that specifically targets puppies, as their nutritional needs are different than that of adult dogs.

Feeding Schedule 

Once your pup has gotten used to you and its surroundings, you can transition to a bowl. Be sure to pick a feeding schedule and stick to it, leaving their food out for a limited amount of time. After 20–30 minutes (or some other reasonable length of time), pull up the bowl, even if it still contains food. With consistency, they will learn that when the bowl goes down, it's time to eat.

One of the benefits of a feeding schedule, as opposed to free feeding (leaving food in their bowl all day for them to graze) is that it can make potty training much easier. Most dogs go to the bathroom soon after eating, and when you know what time they ate, it's easier to get them outside in a timely manner so they can eliminate waste.

Free feeding can also lead to possible health problems, like obesity. Some owners tend to overfill food bowls, especially if they worry that Fido will get hungry while they're at work. Not only that, but if you have other pets in the home, there's no way to be sure they're not sneaking off and eating their sibling's food when you're not around.  

Feeding Frequency

Puppies should eat more often than adults because of their rapid growth and a need for more frequent nutrition. So when puppies are 6 to 12 weeks old, feeding four times a day is recommended. Between 12 and 24 weeks, you can reduce this to three times a day. When puppies hit six months of age, you should be nearing the time for them to get spayed or neutered. Once that happens, their metabolism diminishes, and cutting back to twice-daily feedings should be integrated and maintained for the duration of their lives.

Some owners prefer to feed just once a day, and some professionals claim that this is actually better for their digestive system, arguing that animals go long periods without eating in the wild. However, some pets will end up begging for the next meal all day, and pet owners should weigh the discomfort with the possible health benefits down the road. At the end of the day, you should do what works best for your schedule and what produces a happy, healthy pet.

Feeding Amounts

Feeding your four-legged friend the right amount and keeping their weight down can help prevent a host of illnesses, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, pancreatitis, cancer, and joint issues. Canine feeding charts are available virtually everywhere, and your veterinarian is always the best source for the final word. But one place to start is the bag of dog food itself. It should let you know how many cups or kibbles to feed based on the dog's weight. Be sure to read the label correctly and divide the amounts up as needed. In other words, if the chart says to feed a 40-pound dog 2 cups, that usually means per day. So if you're feeding twice a day, you'd give 1 cup in the morning and 1 cup in the evening, not 2 cups at each meal.

Keep in mind that feeding charts are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Some pets are more active than others and might need a few extra kibbles in their bowl while others eat the recommended amount and still gain weight. Cutting back is usually sufficient to shed those extra pounds. But if not, you should have your dog checked by a veterinarian, such as one at Clayton Veterinary Associates, to rule out any health problems.