Puppy food 101: Your guide to getting started

Just brought home your new pup? We know how you feel. That new addition to the pack can completely change your life. You’re probably looking at them, wiggling your finger around as they chase it, thinking, “if anything happens to you, I’ll end up in prison.”

Okay, maybe not that extreme. But you’re probably smitten. 

A new fur baby brings a lot of responsibility. You have to find a vet who understands their breed, sort the insurance, think of all the places you’ll take them, and buy toys, a bed, blankets, a collar, and a lead – the list is endless. 

But there’s one thing we missed: food.

The difference between one puppy food and another could be a happy, healthy upbringing or obesity and stunted growth. Making the right choice is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your pup. So naturally, you’ll want to nail it. And that’s what we’re here to help you with.

If you’re a brand new pawrent, you might be wondering “can’t I just get adult dog food?” Sadly not. Puppies are like babies. Smaller mouths need a smaller bite, and growing bodies need additional nutrients. It would be like giving a newborn child a nice medium-rare steak, chips, and a side of broccoli. Babies have special foods that help them grow into healthy adults, and it’s the same with our dogs. 

So what exactly does a puppy need? Let’s break it down and look at it carefully…

When can a puppy start to eat dog food? 

From 3-4 weeks old, you can start to incorporate puppy food into your pup’s diet. Introduce the kibble slowly over two weeks and, in the beginning, it might be a good idea to soak it in warm water, too. At around 7-9 weeks old, your pup should be weaned off milk entirely and put on puppy food.

Depending on the size and breed of the pup, they can stay on this diet for around one year. Larger breeds tend to mature slower, around two years, and smaller breeds mature in around 6-9 months. So a Newfoundland puppy would likely be on puppy food longer than a Frenchie.

Water

Making sure your brand new fluffy loaf drinks enough might not be the first thought on your mind when you bring them home. But they’re just like us and are mostly made of water, like a walking puddle. And even a 10% loss of body water can lead to some serious health complications.

Your pup needs water for growth and muscle development. It also plays an important role in the metabolic process, which affects brain activity, kidney and liver function, blood flow, digestion, and more. Water is also essential for lubricating their joints, regulating their body temperature, and helps with transporting and delivering nutrients.

Dogs also stay cool by panting. Water helps replace the lost moisture from this, as water evaporates from their tongues, nasal passages, and even their lungs.

All in all, water’s pretty important.

If your puppy becomes dehydrated, the organs can end up damaged. If this goes on, they might even begin to shut down. But a healthy doggo will naturally drink enough water to stay hydrated, so unless they’re ill, this isn’t really a concern. Just make sure they’ve got access to a bowl of the good stuff at all times.

How much water do they need?

A healthy pup should drink around 60-90 ml per kilogram of their weight each day. It might help to work out how much water your pup needs each day and mark it on a measuring jug so you can keep track.

These are only guidelines. So if you have a hyper pupper that does zoomies every five minutes, they’ll likely need more. And if you have a couch potato, they probably won’t need as much.

One handy trick you can use to check for dehydration is gently pinching the skin between their shoulder blades, lifting it and watching how quickly it snaps back into place. It should be pretty instant. If it falls back down slowly, they may need a drink.

Water consumption isn’t something to be paranoid about. Rather, something to be mindful of.

Puppy food 2

Calories

Your little pooch has lots of growing up to do, so they need more calories than an adult dog. They have the entire world at their paws and need plenty of fuel to give them the energy they need to explore everything around them.

But you need to find the right balance.

If your pup eats too many calories, it can lead to a faster growth rate and obesity. Both increase stress on the skeletal system. And a pup that doesn’t eat enough will be lacking in the nutrition they desperately need at that age. 

Interestingly, larger breeds tend to need fewer calories compared to smaller ones. Try to figure that one out! So if you’ve brought home a mini bear, they might not need as much as a little Pomeranian you can fit in a teacup. We all want our pups to be as healthy as possible, so if you need help, check out this puppy calorie calculator.

It’s also a good idea to feed puppies in smaller doses more often to keep them going. This should look something like this:

  • 2-3 months old: 4 meals a day
  • 3-6 months: 3 meals a day
  • 6-12 months (up to 24 months for the biggest bois): 2 meals a day

What about treats?

As you’re training your new pup – going through all the classics like pooping outside, not hopping into bed with you, and stopping at the road when on walks – you’ll probably use treats to help them learn.

Many treats are packed with calories and dodgy ingredients that could contribute to your pup piling on the pounds. If you think they’re eating too much, you can cut or tear treats to make them smaller or change the way you reward them. Instead, you could give them their favourite toy or a good rub behind the ear. They just love the attention, the little divas.

Protein and fat

So we know that puppies need more calories than adult dogs because they have so much growing to do. But they also need a significantly higher amount of protein, too. Especially during the rapid growth phase, up to 14 weeks old.

The symptoms of a protein or amino acid deficiency are different depending on which amino acids your pup isn’t getting enough of. Generally, a protein-deficient puppy may experience weight loss, poor coat and skin, reduced growth rate, anaemia, and a change in mood.

If you feed them dry food, it should be 22-32% protein. So check the label before you choose your puppy food. You want the first ingredient on the list to be a quality protein source. This means it should be an actual meat, not soy-based. This way, their food really packs the punch it needs to.

Keep an eye out for any signs of an allergy – you’re more likely to notice symptoms on their skin or in the consistency of their poop. We know, it’s not the nicest topic to talk about, but it’s essential. Meats that could flare up their allergies include pork, beef, or chicken.

As an important source of energy that fuels your puppy’s growth, fat is important too. But, like protein, too much can result in obesity and other health problems, such as developmental orthopaedic disease. It’s recommended puppies on kibble have a diet that contains between 10-25% of fat.

It’s also estimated that fat has around twice the amount of calories as protein and carbs. This makes a perfect addition to puppy food, but watch out for treats with higher fat contents, as the calories will quickly add up.

Vitamins and minerals

As your pup is growing, it may be tempting to give them supplements. We understand. You want to give them the best start to life. Supplements can be a great idea if their food doesn’t already give them enough of a certain vitamin. But it’s possible for them to get too much of a good thing.

Calcium, for example, is needed for strong bones. It’s why we’re told to drink our milk. But too much calcium can cause problems. Puppies can’t regulate how much they absorb like adult doggos can. If they absorb too much, it could lead to skeletal malformations and deficiencies in other essential nutrients, such as phosphorus. This one works with the calcium to create strong bones, but the two must be at the right ratio to do their job. 

If you’re concerned about nutrient deficiencies, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lacklustre coat
  • Depression 
  • Bald spots (also could be a sign of an allergy)
  • Skin infections (also could be a sign of an allergy or a bacterial infection)
  • Dodgy poops, including unusual colour, consistency, coating, or content

Depending on the deficiency, the symptoms will differ. But these are just some common ones to bear in mind.

But supplements are a roundabout way of solving the problem. Look for complete food that has everything they need. One point to remember, though, is to always check the label. A “complete” dog food isn’t always the best. It could still contain dodgy cuts of meat, such as beaks, bones, and veins, artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives, and other less-than-wholesome ingredients.

We know giving your pup the best start to life possible can be a difficult job. There’s just so much you need to get right. If it’s your first pet, you might have that dawning realisation of “oh god! I’m looking after another living thing!” And that can put a lot of stress on your shoulders. It doesn’t help that dog nutrition isn’t exactly the easiest topic to get to grips with. 

But if it benefits our fur babies, we’re happy to take the time to start to understand it. Hopefully, you feel more confident about your pup’s nutrition and have an idea of what to look out for and how to choose the best food. Before you know it, they’ll be grown up doggos taking up half the sofa while they sleep.

Looking for the perfect puppy food? Look no further… Swagwags has two delicious, nutritious puppy foods to choose from. Both have an Omega-3 supplement to help support cognitive development and heart health, and a joint care pack to give them an extra boost. Buy their new favourite kibble today.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!