When New York City resident Diana Lambert was readying her home for her soon-to-arrive dachshund puppy, food was often on her mind. “She was just being weaned, and I wondered how I was ever going to give her as much in terms of nutrition as her mother had,” remembers Lambert. “I was going to be responsible for this little living creature, and I wanted to make sure she was getting everything she needed to grow up healthy.”
According to Dr. James Cook, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Lambert needn’t have been too concerned. A quick trip to her local pet store to pick up a puppy-specific formula could have saved the day. Says Dr. Cook: “The pet food companies do a remarkable job with products that address overall nutrition. The science that goes into commercial pet foods these days is remarkable. It’s great as a veterinarian because it makes advising our clients what to feed that much easier.” Here’s what the perfect puppy food should contain, and everything that your pup needs to grow into a healthy dog:
A puppy needs up to twice as many calories per pound as an adult dog. That’s why feeding a food especially formulated for pup needs is key. “Puppy diets support growth,” says Dr. Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists. Too much growth, though, isn’t necessarily a good thing. “We don’t care how rapidly small-breed dogs grow, but we do want to slow down the growth of large-breed dogs because rapid growth puts them at risk for orthopedic problems [difficulty with the skeletal system or associated muscles, joints and ligaments] down the line.”
Choosing the right formula, then, becomes not only about age but also about size. Look for small-, large- and giant-breed puppy foods on pet store shelves. And go in armed with the following knowledge: A small-breed pup is one that will reach up to 20 pounds at maturity, while large- and giant-breed puppies are those that will ultimately reach 50 and 90 (or more) pounds respectively. Ask your veterinarian or breeder if you are unsure about your dog’s future goal weight.
Beyond the Basics
Puppies need a high-quality source of protein. The first ingredient listed on the product’s label should be a straightforward protein source, such as chicken. Try to avoid foods with artificial preservatives, as they may be harmful to dogs over time.
Growing dogs also require a whole host of essential vitamins and nutrients, but that doesn’t mean you should start stocking up on canine vitamin supplements. According to Dr. Sally Perea, veterinary nutritionist and professor at the University of California, Davis, a commercial food with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval will keep your furry friend vitamin-rich. “Complete and balanced commercial dog foods provide the needed vitamins and minerals, so additional supplementation is not needed,” she says.
Another important ingredient for your new love? The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils. “[Omega-3] is especially essential for puppies, because these fatty acids are important for normal brain and retinal development. [Omega-6] is important for skin and coat health,” notes Dr. Perea.
When and How
Of course, once you’ve chosen a formula for your puppy, the next thing you have to do is feed it. Your little one should be fed between three and four meals a day until it is at least 8 months old. Consistency of both time and location are important. Your pup should be fed in a cool, dry area that is ideally free of foot traffic -- especially of the young child variety. Choose a ceramic dish over a plastic one, as plastic can breed bacteria. The dish should ideally be cleaned daily or even after each meal. And fresh water should be available 24-7.
One last thing to remember: While puppies need a lot of food, they don’t need too much food. According to Dr. Joyce, obesity is a growing problem in dogs, and it’s easier to prevent than to fix. Follow the portion recommendations on the label of your dog’s food, and whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of feeding table scraps. “I’m pretty strict about not feeding people food to dogs,” says Dr. Joyce. “It contributes to obesity as well as other health problems.”
As for Diana Lambert’s dachshund, Frida, she appears to be thriving on her small-breed puppy kibble. “She gobbles up each meal in, like, two minutes,” says Lambert. “I think she must like it as much as what her mom used to make!”
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