How should my dog’s diet change as they grow?

As we grow and develop, our diet and nutritional needs change. It’s why you won’t see a six-month-old baby going to town on a bacon cheeseburger. At least, we hope not. But anyway, our pups are no different. 

Throughout the key stages of life, a dog’s diet has to change. Whether they’re a puppy, adult, pregnant, or ageing, they’ll need different nutrients to help them stay happy, healthy, and zooming around the living room. It’s not as simple as keeping them on the same kibble from when they’re first weaned off mum’s milk to when they’re greying gracefully.

But what exactly do they need at each stage of their life? Let’s jump right in and find out…

Puppies

Puppies are little balls of energy. They’re constantly playing, charging around the house, and you look away for two minutes and they seem to have grown another two inches. They need a high-energy, nutrient-rich diet to match. 

To support their high activity levels, puppies need more calories than adult dogs. A lot more. They’ll also need additional nutrients such as protein (amino acids, specifically), fats, and enzymes to support their rapid growth. This is why puppy-specific recipes exist. They’re formulated precisely to assist in this core development stage. 

But within the vast array of puppy recipes out there, the key is to find well-rounded, complete ones. Recipes that combine all the essential nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. As well as providing the extra energy and building blocks your pup needs to grow. Omega-3 fatty acids are an invaluable nutrient to look out for, helping support brain development, strengthen immunity, and promote better heart health.  

When it comes to how much you feed your puppy, it depends on their size and breed. For any dog, you want to know exactly how much they’re eating. So try and avoid leaving their food out all day. Instead, measure out their food according to the label or your vet’s advice and maintain 2-4 consistent meal times a day. By six months, this can drop down to just two.

Larger breeds will require some extra caution. They might not reach full maturity until two years old. This extended puppy diet – without proper portion control – can put them at risk of excessive weight gain. 

With small breeds, the size of their kibble matters. Small pups have small mouths. So bite-sized kibble will be best.

dog's diet 2

Adult dogs

When your pooch hits a year old (keep in mind the advice above – larger breeds can take longer to reach full maturity), it’s time to switch up their food. This should be done carefully though. Any sudden switches risk upsetting their digestion. Start by mixing a little adult food into their puppy recipe. Then gradually increase the proportion of adult food over time.

An adult dog’s diet is less about growth, and more about maintenance. They’ll need protein, calories, and nutrients in varying amounts to maintain their weight, support their lifestyle, and stay healthy. How much they need comes down to a few factors: their size, weight, breed, and average activity level.

Feeding recommendations on dog food can be a great place to start when figuring out portions. But they require some adjustments depending on your individual pooch. For example, if they’re overweight or underweight, you’ll have to decrease or increase their daily calories to suit. Similarly, if you have a super active dog, the feeding recommendations might be too low to support their normal activity level. Or if they can’t imagine anything worse than going outside, less food will be required to keep them at a healthy weight.

The best way to know if you’re feeding them enough (or too much) is to look out for visual signs that they’re underweight or overweight. Is there no layer of fat over their ribs? Or can you not see or feel their ribs at all? Can they keep up with their usual activities or are they snoozing more than usual?

Again, your adult dog will benefit most from complete, nutritionally rich recipes that use high-quality ingredients. 

Pregnant dogs

When it comes to pregnant pups, their diets aren’t too dissimilar from puppies. To keep herself and her litter growing, pregnant dogs need more food. This is especially true from around week four, where weight gain begins. 

As the pregnancy continues, the amount of food they need will only increase. By weeks six and seven, their food consumption should be up by around 25%. And, like puppies, pregnant dogs need a lot more protein and fats to maintain the demands of pregnancy. 

How often you feed a pregnant dog depends on the size of their litter. A larger litter leaves less space for their stomach to expand, which can impact their appetite. If this is the case, smaller, more frequent meals will be the best way forward.

After birth, their increase in calories can continue for a while, gradually tapering off after a few weeks. After all, lactating dogs continue to burn through large amounts of energy.

dog's diet 1

Older dogs

As your pup gets older, they’ll begin to slow down. Their walks might become shorter, they’ll nap more, the zoomies will become few and far between. It’s only natural. And while it’s difficult to see your pup getting old, it’s important to take stock of any lifestyle changes.

They begin to use less energy and their metabolism slows down, so your dog’s diet needs to adapt. Otherwise, there’s a risk they’ll become overweight. You want to decrease their daily calorie intake depending on how much less exercise they’re getting. It might be a gradual process over a few months or years. While conditions such as arthritis can have a more sudden impact on their activity levels and diet. Either way, you want to stay cautious of any signs they’re becoming overweight.

To make it easier for an older pooch, opt for recipes high in fibre to boost digestion. As well as high-quality protein sources for easy digestibility.

As your pup progresses through the different life stages, your dog’s diet will inevitably have to change. Growing and developing, maintaining their weight and activity levels, having puppies, and getting older will all influence the amount of food they should eat and what nutrients they need most. And to help them every step of the way, they need some fantastic meals to match.

Looking for complete, nutritious, and delicious kibble recipes to support them throughout their life? All Swagwags’ recipes are fully transparent, well-balanced, and feature quality protein sources. Have a browse of our adult and puppy flavours today.

To be even more informed of what your pup needs, our sensitivity tests let you know exactly what might be triggering them. You can get your results in as little as 72 hours – buy your pain-free test here.