Welcome to your new home!
Puppy feeding is just a part of having a new puppy in the house. Getting a new puppy is a very exciting time! However it can also be a bit daunting if you are a first-time puppy parent. Whether you have adopted an older puppy from a rehoming centre or brought home a brand new 8 week old puppy, there is a lot to learn:
- How do I toilet train?!
- When can my puppy go for a walk?
- Can I over exercise my puppy?
- Should my puppy sleep in my bedroom?
Not least of these questions is how many times a day should your puppy be fed?
The number of meals per day you feed you puppy will primarily depend on their age. Whilst there can be certain health factors that also determine puppy feeding frequency (intestinal issues etc), I am focusing on age for this article. Broadly speaking from a puppy feeding point of view, feeding frequency can be broken down as follows:
- 8 weeks – 16 weeks = 4 meals per day, spread throughout the day
- 16 weeks – 6 months = 3 feeds per day, spread throughout the day
- 6 months onwards = 2 feeds per day, normally morning and evening
I say ‘broadly speaking’ as I have found a number of exceptions to this rule. Over the years I have had the pleasure of helping thousands of new puppy parents find the best puppy food for their new addition. Often new puppies will come from the breeder on a good quality food with accurate feeding information. However this is not always the case despite the breeders best intentions. Incorrect feeding information can lead to growth issues and bodyweight issues. Lethargy and excessive behaviour are some examples of other related problems.
When should puppy feeding be 2 meals a day?
Firstly, lets go back to the feeding frequency guide above. The first 6 months of a puppies life are when the most amount of growth and development takes place. The digestive system also grows and adapts in this time. Initially, when your new puppy is brought home, their digestive capacity is small. They can only fit a certain amount of food in their bodies at one time. As a result, breaking the daily food amount into 4 portions fed throughout the day, allows their body time to process each feed. This means their digestive system is not overloaded. Therefore your puppy can digest their food efficiently. As a result their body can absorb all the nutrients required for growth.
If however you only feed the same 8 week old puppy twice a day, the portions will be double in size! This is where problems can occur. Problems I have unfortunately seen too often over the years. In young puppies, large feeding portions can overwhelm their digestive system. This leads to less effective digestion and absorption of nutrients. It will also result in more poo. Lots more poo… If excess food is not getting absorbed, it has to go somewhere!
Digestion and growth
The problem doesn’t end there though. Less effective digestion means that their body is not getting all the nutrients it needs for healthy growth. The result can be a young puppy that is being fed the right daily amount of food but is struggling to put on weight. Or even worse, the puppy is underweight. That puppy will be very hungry throughout the day if the two feed times are at either end of the day. This hunger can cause unwanted behaviour such as scavenging, begging or even snatching food from your hand. In extreme cases, your puppy may even eat it’s own poo! All because it is genuinely hungry.
To conclude the first feeding stage of your new puppies life: 4 meals a day will ensure they receive the right portion size. This will also allow their digestive system to efficiently digest and absorb nutrients to support growth and development.
Puppy feeding 3 times a day
At 4 months old your puppy has done a huge amount of growth. Sometimes before your very eyes! But there is still more to come, much more. That said, their puppy growth will not continue at the same rate indefinitely. Their growth curve will change in time. There are stages to puppy growth. Changing their puppy feeding frequency can help allow for these changes.
From 4 months old, puppy feeding can be changed to 3 feeds a day. Normally morning , afternoon and evening. Your puppy will be bigger and stronger now with an increased digestive capacity. Their ‘digestive flora’ (good bacteria, fungi etc) will also be more established. All this means they can digest these larger portions which will keep them going that bit longer till their next feed.
2 feeds or not 2 feeds? That is the puppy feeding question!
At 6 months old, some puppies can be moved to 2 feeds per day with no problems. However, some may not do so well on 2 feeds a day at this age. Some are still too young and still growing. It very much depends on breed and also the individual dog.
Puppy breed and size
As a rough guide, the smaller the breed of dog, the sooner they can be moved to 2 feeds a day. The larger the dog, the longer they may need to stay on 3 feeds a day. It all comes back to growth. Small dogs grow quickly over a short period and reach physical maturity sooner than larger dogs. For instance, a Jack Russell Terrier would generally be considered a fully grown adult by one year old, often sooner*. Whereas an English Mastiff will not reach full maturity till about 2 years old and can even continue to grow after that!** Growth requires energy. Energy comes from food through digestion and absorption of nutrients.
This is why puppy feeding should not automatically drop to 2 feeds per day at 6 months old. Moving a larger puppy onto 2 feeds a day too soon may cause some of the issues previously mentioned. Hunger, scavenging, snapping at food in your hands or poo eating. For these larger puppies, keeping feeding frequency at 3 meals per day can help avoid these problems. In time, as the puppy develops at their own rate, you may find that their appetite starts to dwindle. I often have customers coming into the shop looking to change their puppy’s food. Phrases like ‘I don’t think my puppy likes there food anymore’ are very common. Don’t worry though, this is normal and is all part of their natural growth and development.
Puppy feeding for an older puppy
As your puppy grows it is moving closer to adulthood each day. There will come a point in your puppy’s growth where the rate of growth begins to slow. As I have said above, this will be at a different age for different breeds. For a medium sized dog, this will be around 7-8 months. Larger breeds will hit this point around 9-10 months. Puppy feeding now needs to be adapted to account for this slow down in growth.
It can be a bit counter intuitive though. Your puppy is getting bigger and heavier but you need to reduce the amount of food you are feeding! This is because their growth curve is beginning to level off. In the early months of a puppies life the growth curve is steep. The puppy is growing quickly. As they mature, their rate of growth slows and so the growth curve starts to level off. When they reach adulthood, the growth curve will have flattened off. It is around this point that your puppy can be moved from their puppy ‘growth’ diet onto an adult ‘maintenance’ diet.
Initial effects of overfeeding
If your older puppy’s daily feeding amount is not reduced accordingly at this stage, you may see some of these issues:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive pooing
- Softer poo
- Fussy eating
- Weight gain
These can all be caused by simple overfeeding. The puppy feeding portions you have been providing up till now were servicing their growth. That growth is now starting to slow down. As a result they do not need as much food. Reducing daily feeding amounts by between 5%-10% will usually be enough to get your puppy back on track. Before you know it, you will be moving your little puppy onto adult food! Enjoy puppyhood while you can!
Puppy feeding frequency and digestive issues
Before the end of this article, I want to touch on an issue that I had with one of my dogs. This is to demonstrate the importance of feeding frequency. Puck is a French Bulldog. As with Bull breeds in general, they drew the short straw when it comes to digestive issues! When Puck was a puppy at around 7 months old, I moved him from 3 feeds a day to 2 feeds a day. As you have read above, this would be about the right time for his size. However in the space of a week he lost 10% of his bodyweight! This was not good. All I had changed was the number of meals in a day. The daily feeding amount was the same.
To counter this weight loss, I moved Puck back to 3 feeds a day. The daily amount of food was unchanged. Within a few weeks he had recovered the lost weight. I tried again, every few months to reduce him to 2 feeds a day. Every time I did, he lost weight. For Puck’s individual reasons, his body could not cope with the larger feeding portions of 2 feeds a day. As a result he stayed on 3 feeds a day till he was over 2 years old. Only then could his body accept 2 feeds a day.
I hope you have found this article interesting and I have answered any questions you may have had on puppy feeding. As always, I have tried to give a general overview on the topic. Keeping things simple and in plain language. I have avoided as much technical jargon as possible. It is impossible to address every query on puppy feeding in one article. There is so much more to tell! If you have further questions please do pop into the shop for a chat. If you’re not local, just give me a call or drop me an email! Cormac.