Weaning starts when puppies are 4-5 weeks old so when your puppy comes home, they should have already been weaned! Once weaned, puppies should begin eating puppy food that is specially formulated to help them grow and has all the supplements they need. There are also some brands that have different puppy food formulas by expected adult size. This ensures a steady growth toward adulthood at the right pace. Large and giant breeds don’t reach adult size until after their first barkday, while small breeds can reach their adult size in 9-12 months. Additionally, small breeds can only eat small amounts of food, so they need nutrient dense options.
When your puppy first comes home, continue feeding them the brand they were being fed before they came home. If you wish to change to a new brand, start about 1-2 weeks after they are home so they have had time to acclimate to the new environment. Then gradually change their food over the course of a couple weeks. To do this, begin to mix their new brand with their old brand (25% new, 75% old) and feed for 3-4 days. Then increase to a 50/50 split for 3-4 days. And finally, 75% new/ 25% old for the last 3-4 days. This will help get your puppy’s stomach used to the new food and help prevent an upset stomach.
As a rule of thumb, until your puppy is 6 months old, try scheduling three to four meal times a day. This will help you track how much food they are eating (as opposed to grazing) and will help you potty train them by regulating their systems. Additionally, ask your vet during your first visit for food recommendations for your breed and proposed feeding schedule to ensure there are no special considerations for your puppy. Some special considerations could be if your puppy is currently underweight and needs extra calories throughout the day, if your puppy is extremely active and needs extra calories to sustain the activity, or if you have a breed that is prone to low blood sugar levels.
The quantity you feed your puppy is extremely important. You want to make sure your puppy has the nutrients to grow up healthy and strong, while not becoming overweight. Once you’ve chosen a food brand, the packaging will have a suggested amount by dog weight on the back. Note, in most cases for puppy food, the amounts are categorized by expected adult weight so make sure the breeder or shelter has given you a weight estimate for adulthood. Once you’ve decided on an amount, use a measuring cup to make sure you’re not under or overfeeding your puppy. We recommend leaving a measuring cup inside the food bag at all times so you can measure out the right amount each time.
When you go into your first vet appointment, make sure to discuss nutrition so that your vet is aware of what you’re feeding and how much you’re feeding your puppy. They’ll help you course correct as needed. Additionally, your vet will likely bring up a body conditioning score program to help you better understand what a healthy weight looks like for dogs. Purina’s 9 point score is widely used, and the ideal weight is a 4-5 score:
We know first hand how hard it is to say no to puppy eyes staring at you, but once you build this habit, your growing pup will expect food every meal time. Table scraps build a bad habit for your dog, and can easily lead to unwanted weight gain. While your puppy will likely love any food given off of your plate, this is not nutritionally balanced for puppies. After all, you’re tracking their kibble caloric intake, not the piece of chicken they ate off your plate.
When you are eating, try putting your puppy in their crate or gate them in another part of your home. If they learn that begging at the table works to get them yummy food, you will have a hard habit to break on your hands. It also becomes nearly impossible to take them out to a restaurant patio, imagine them begging everyone for food?!
This varies by size of your breed since small and toy sized dogs reach adulthood much younger (9-12 months), while some giant breeds are puppies until 18 months or older! You should consult with your veterinarian on the timing and your plan to switch over your dog to adult food.