Updated - Feb 28th, 2022
New puppy parents, this might sound familiar. You open a bag of kibble – or open a can of dog food – and your pup flies into the kitchen, jumping, whining, and barking. You put the bowl on the floor and they’re in attack mode, their kibble devoured in less than a minute. If so, it makes sense that you might wonder how much and how often to feed your ravenous pup.
While not all dogs are this enthusiastic about food, chances are that your new puppy is ready to eat all the time. After all, they’re growing and changing every day. Those first months of a dog’s life take a lot of calories, for small breeds and large breed dogs alike.
How much is enough? We’ve got you covered.
Puppy Feeding Schedule
Typically, your puppy needs three mealtimes a day. You can plan these around your own mealtimes for simplicity. It’s also helpful to connect feeding times to a potty training schedule. So, as soon as your puppy eats and drinks, take them right outside for potty time.
You can create a puppy feeding chart that includes time slots for meals, exercise, playtime, crate time, and house training.
Here’s an example feeding schedule for your growing puppy:
- 7 am: Wake up and cuddle (an important step!)
- 7:30 am: Morning meal
- 8 am: Potty break and playtime
- 12 pm: Lunchtime
- 12:30 pm: Walk and playtime
- 5 pm: Dinner
- 5:30 pm: Walk and playtime
As for the amount of food to give your puppy, this depends on their weight and their caloric needs. You’re safe following the instructions on the label of your chosen pet food, generally speaking.
But to break it down a little further, let’s take a look at a common puppy feeding chart. These guidelines take into consideration your puppy’s predicted adult weight.
For example: toy breeds (who don’t get larger than about 12 pounds) need just 0.5 to 1.5 cups of food per day after they’re 6 months old, and less than that before they’re 6 months old.
On the other hand, large breeds expected to weigh 76-100 pounds at maturity need more food. Natch. At 6 months of age, these puppies should eat between 4 and 7 cups of food per day.
These are general guidelines, so if you’re unsure, check with your veterinarian.
Pro tip: While their food intake needs will change over time, your dog will always need access to plenty of fresh water throughout the day. Try putting water bowls in a couple of different locations to encourage your pup to stay hydrated.
Introducing a New Food to Your Puppy
If you’re changing the food that your puppy was eating at the shelter, breeder, or foster home, be sure to introduce it slowly. That way, you can watch for any changes in your dog’s digestion, preferences, or behavior that might be food-related.
Give your pup their new food over the course of five days. Start by mixing 1/4 cup of the new kibble or canned food in with 3/4 cup of their accustomed food. Then gradually increase the amount of the new food until you’ve replaced the old diet entirely by the 4th or 5th day.
Puppy Nutrition and Development
Puppies get all their nutritional needs met by their mother’s milk in their first weeks of life. By eight weeks of age, they’ve typically finished weaning. If you’re caring for a weaning litter, experts recommend slowly introducing the puppies to pet food, starting around three weeks.
Weight gain will vary depending on the breed. A tiny Maltese puppy isn’t likely to tip the scale beyond seven pounds! Smaller breeds often attain their adult size sooner than larger dogs.
A large breed puppy takes up to a full year to gain their full height and weight. They grow rapidly, from one pound at birth to up to 150 pounds after their first birthday. As adult dogs, they can suffer from orthopedic problems, obesity, and bloat, all of which are influenced by their diet. That’s why it’s especially important to start them off with the right pet food.
For these big dogs, look for large breed puppy food. It’s formulated to help them develop properly. Larger breeds can grow too quickly due to overfeeding. That’s why their food is lower in fat, calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus than regular puppy food.
Choosing the Right Dog Food
Meeting your puppy’s nutritional needs is easy enough, as long as you purchase a commercial dog food. Why? Commercial pet food companies must meet standards for the right balance of nutrients in their food.
That said, it can be tough to know which type of food is right for your furball. Dry food or wet food? Grain-free, high-performance, or food for sensitive stomachs?
Your vet or breeder can be a great source for food recommendations. In general, look for a quality protein source as the first ingredient, rather than a grain, a meal, or byproducts. If you’re worried about your pup’s digestion, check with your vet first. They can suggest different types of food if your dog seems to have food sensitivities.
Puppy Food vs. Adult Dog Food
You can give your dog food that’s designated for “all life stages.” Feeding puppy food is generally not recommended beyond the first year of life.
Switch to adult food at or after their first birthday. For most breeds, including Labs, golden retrievers, collies, and shepherds, you can transition to adult dog food at 12 months of age. Some giant breeds keep growing for up to 18 months, such as Great Danes and mastiffs, so you can feed them large-breed puppy food well into their second year.
Meeting your Puppy’s Needs
Your growing puppy needs more than just the best food, of course. Give them lots of playtime, love, and structure. Your pup looks to you for attention and advice – even if it might not seem like it when they’re ignoring your command to “come, now!” at the dog park.
Enjoy this first year, when the two of you are forming an unbreakable bond. It’s just the beginning.