Puppy Feeding Guide
Just added a new puppy to your family? Congrats! One of the first things you're probably wondering is: how much should I feed my puppy? Figuring out the answer is definitely tricky especially because 80% of puppy feeding recommendations online and in pet stores are inaccurate.
Luckily, you've found expert advice in this guide. Nom Nom's own veterinary nutritionist Dr. Justin Shmalberg DVM, provides insights and guidance on how much to feed our puppies. If you're just here for your dog's daily caloric needs, skip to the calculator or puppy feeding chart.
- Importance of Proper Puppy Nutrition
- How Much to Feed a Puppy By Weight
- Puppy Feeding Chart
- How Often to Feed a Puppy
- Feeding Large Breed Puppies
- Feeding Small Breed Puppies
- Dry vs. Wet Puppy Food
- Kibble vs. Fresh Puppy Food
- When to Switch to Adult Dog Food
Importance of Proper Puppy Nutrition
When it comes to food, you might think "a dog is a dog, right?" But food formulated for puppies is actually quite different than food formulated for older dogs. Puppy nutrition is all about setting up the foundation for proper development. "Brain, organ, and bone development occurs rapidly in puppies and sets up the foundation for normal function and health throughout a dog's life," says Shmalberg.
Essential nutrients are critical to this process and have been shown to have positive impacts on a dog's health. For example, long-chain fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), often found in fish oil, can improve learning and memory in dogs, apparently doing so "by helping the development of the healthy puppy brain," says Shmalberg. The list goes on: young dogs need higher levels of protein, fat, calcium, and phosphorus compared to adult dogs. Keep in mind, there's an ideal window for nutrients.
Too little nutrients can cause deficiencies, but if a puppy gets too much of certain nutrients, that can cause lifelong complications.
Take calcium for instance. "If a large breed dog gets too much calcium, it can cause abnormal bone growth and lead to expensive and painful problems in the future," says Shmalberg.
How Much to Feed a Puppy Based on Weight
Most people worry that they need to change their puppy's calorie and food amount every day because they're constantly growing. According to Shmalberg, that's not necessarily true. "To promote normal growth, most puppies need to be fed the same number of calories, and food, from about 4 months of age to 12 months of age," he says.
"Even though they're getting bigger, they use fewer calories for growth as they age, which takes a lot of energy." The net effect is that if a puppy eats 1,000 calories at 16 weeks, they'll eat around 1,000 calories as a young adult. Keep in mind, this may vary from dog to dog—your puppy should be fed to maintain their body condition rather than just meet some calculated number. (We go into more detail about body condition in the next section below.)
The primary step in figuring out how much to feed a puppy is determining their predicted adult weight. We've included a list of average adult weights of common breeds for your reference, but ask your vet for this number if you're unsure.
Average Adult Weights for Common Large Breed Dogs
|Border Collie||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Doberman Pinscher||85 lbs||75 lbs|
|German Shepherd||75 lbs||60 lbs|
|German Shorthaired Pointer||65 lbs||65 lbs|
|Golden Retriever||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Great Dane||160 lbs||130 lbs|
|Labrador Retriever||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Mastiff||200 lbs||150 lbs|
|Poodle (Standard)||65 lbs||45 lbs|
|Rottweiler||115 lbs||90 lbs|
Average Adult Weights for Common Small Breed Dogs
|Boston Terrier||18 lbs|
|Dachshund / Mini Dachshund||10 lbs / 10 lbs|
|French Bulldog||22 lbs|
|Miniature Poodle||12 lbs|
|Shih Tzu||12 lbs|
|Yorkshire Terrier||7 lbs|
We used the typical breed standards in providing this data. Talk to your breeder or vet as there is a range of sizes for many of these breeds due to some being micro, toy, teacup, mini, and a thousand other sizes. Of course, if you know the size of the same sex parent, that's always the best guide.
Puppy Feeding Chart
The puppy feeding chart below shows how much you should be feeding your little furry friend in terms of calories. Never rely on recommendations like "1 cup" across the board—much like a size 10 differs from clothing brand to clothing brand, 1 cup of one brand of dog food will be completely different than 1 cup of another.
To calculate how much to feed your puppy, first use the feeding chart below to see how many calories you should feed your puppy each day. Then, look at your dog food packaging to see how many calories are in each serving. For example, if your puppy will weigh about 40 pounds as an adult, then you should expect to feed 1,013 calories per day if feeding kibble. If the bag's serving is one cup and each serving is 400 calories, then you should feed your puppy roughly 2.5 cups per day (1,013/400). "If there's a generic feeding chart on the package, don't always trust it," says Shmalberg. "Some companies use old information that over-calculates how much to feed. Again, it's important to feed to maintain the condition of your puppy rather
Bookmark this page for our how much to feed a puppy chart, or better yet, print it for reference. As always, consult your vet if you're unsure about anything.
How many calories should you feed your puppy daily?
|Estimated Adult Weight (lbs)||Dry Food||Canned Wet Food||Other Fresh Food|
How Often to Feed a Puppy
The first question on the minds of new dog owners is usually: How often should I feed my puppy?
Puppy feeding schedule for the first 3 months
A puppy's first few months are all about rapid growth, so making sure they have enough food is critical. Most people get their new dog after it's been weaned, or moved from mother's milk or milk formula to solid foods. But many puppies (and wild canids, like wolves) can start trying semi-solid food as early as three weeks. Often dogs are able to regulate their own intake fairly well during this period. That means you can try putting food out to let your pup graze freely all day (note, wet or moist foods may dry out if left out too long). If you sense they're overeating, try instead putting out food at frequent intervals; Shmalberg suggests four times a day to start.
Puppy feeding schedule for months 4 to 6
Around 4 months, most puppies can go to
What's most important during this period is monitoring your puppy's weight. "Dogs will grow quickly between 4 and 6 months, but can also become overweight if overfed," says Shmalberg. "Overweight puppies, especially large breeds, have a predisposition toward orthopedic (or bone) problems, so although an overweight puppy might be considered cute, it's a health risk." Thankfully, it's pretty easy at this age to use
If your puppy isn't gaining weight in spite of eating the right amount of food, Shmalberg suggests talking to your vet. "Some medical conditions show up at this age which can influence the
Between months 4 and 6, puppies still eat a lot—they typically eat about twice as much per pound as compared to an adult dog of the same weight.
Puppy feeding schedule for months 6 to 12
When you're wondering how often to feed a puppy, your first instinct might be "twice a day," which is the pace most people think of when feeding pets. And between 6 and 12 months—you're right! Your pup has reached the point where twice daily feeding should generally suffice.
It's also between 6 months and 12 months that some pups start eating adult dog food. Small breeds may finish their growth during this period, which means they're ready to make the transition. Large breeds, on the other hand, will continue to grow. That means you want to give them food with controlled amounts of calcium, which is generally either a large breed puppy food or an 'all life stages' food that says it's "appropriate for large size puppy growth."
Once again, monitoring your puppy's body condition closely is critical. "Both small and large breed dogs will start to become obese even at this age if they are overfed," says Shmalberg.
Dog feeding schedule for months 12 to 18
By now, your puppy is more or less a grownup. From their first birthday to the 1.5-year mark, twice daily feeding should still be the standard. The only difference at this stage is that, if your pup has become a bit of a couch potato at this stage and starts to get chubby, then you may need to reduce portions even though you're feeding twice a day.
The larger the adult size of the dog, the longer the growth period extends. For example, Great Danes may continue to grow even at age 2. Although their growth rate does slow, in such cases, you'll want to continue feeding large breeds puppy food for proper nutrition.
Small or medium-sized dogs can be switched to
3-4 months: Try putting out food to let your puppy graze. If you sense overeating, put out food in intervals four times a day.
4-6 months: Put food out three times a day and monitor weight. Change to two times a day if they seem to be gaining too much weight.
6-18 months: Feeding twice daily should be sufficient at this stage.
How Much to Feed a Large Breed Puppy
A large-breed dog such a German Shepherd, Labrador Retrievers, and Siberian Huskies have different nutritional needs than a small-breed dog. This is especially true for puppies, whose systems are rapidly developing over the first year of life. Large breeds comprise those dogs who, in adulthood, weigh 70 pounds and up. They grow more slowly than small breeds and may take anywhere from 15 to 24 months to reach their full size.
There are a few important things to remember about large breed puppy nutrition, according to Shmalberg:
- Keep an eye on your puppy's body condition score. (See our chart above for more information). Make sure you can feel the ribs with little pressure and that there's a visible abdominal tuck, or waist, from the side and above.
In short, in order to figure out how much to feed a large breed puppy, you'll have to—as we mentioned above—determine their predicted adult weight. Your vet can help you land on the correct number. Check out our puppy feeding chart, which is organized by weight.
But, "don't feed according to any chart exclusively. Use the condition of your dog as a guide. Even within a breed, metabolism and energy needs may vary by up to 30 percent, and you'll likely need to adjust feeding portions accordingly," says Shmalberg.
How Much to Feed a Small Breed Puppy
Adult dogs who weigh less than 20 pounds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Shih-Tzus are generally considered small breeds. As puppies, they grow quickly and may reach adulthood as soon as the age of 9 or 10 months.
Shmalberg recommends portioning based on your puppy's body condition score, consulting both our body condition chart above and your vet as needed. It's also a good idea to figure out your puppy's predicted adult weight; check out our puppy feeding chart.
Aside from that, here are Shmalberg's pointers about small breed puppy nutrition:
Closely monitor portions
Small breeds become adults faster and may see their metabolism slow more quickly than large breeds (especially if they're being carried everywhere, which we know happens).
Try not to overdo the treats
Some designed for average dogs could contribute as much as a quarter of your little puppy's caloric needs for the whole day, and therefore could alter the balance of the diet and not provide enough of essential nutrients.
Use the parents' weights as a guide
There are some significant differences in sizes from breeder to breeder with small-breed dogs.
Dry vs. Wet Puppy Food
When it comes to feeding a puppy wet/canned food vs. dry food, what are the pros and cons? This is yet another mystery that baffles many new dog owners. To answer the question, it's helpful to first have a better understanding of the options.
Wet food or semi-moist food usually comes either in cans, pouches, or single-serving packets, and is typically the most expensive. Unsurprisingly, your dog will probably find it much
Dry food, also known as kibble, is often the cheapest option. You can scoop and serve it to your dog straight out of the bag or moisten it a little with water or canned food (the latter doesn't do much other than make it more appealing to your pup).
During weaning, Shmalberg notes, a puppy should get moist food, either wet or semi-moist food, or dry food that's been moistened with a little water.
When to start feeding puppies wet food
Aside from how much wet or canned food to feed a puppy, the real considerations are when to start feeding puppies wet food—and how. In short? Carefully, in order to avoid gastrointestinal issues. But don't worry, dogs will naturally make the transition.
"In general domestic and wild dogs will start to mouth (even unsuccessfully at first!) food at about 3 weeks of age," says Shmalberg. Here are some of his other do's and don'ts regarding puppies and wet or canned food.
Do pay attention to size. Most puppies can eat unmoistened dry food at about 6 weeks of age, but the kibble size should be appropriate for the breed of dog. Smaller kibbles are available for small breeds (and many "all life stages" foods have kibbles fit for smaller breeds).
Don't forget to add water. You can feed puppies dry food earlier during weaning, as long as the kibble is thoroughly moistened. For smaller dogs, you may have to mash it all together with a fork first.
Do make sure your pup has plenty of fresh water. This always true, but especially for those on dry food, since they're not getting much water from the food itself, as they would with fresh, raw, or canned food.
How much dry food to feed a puppy
The amount of dry food your pup needs will largely depend on their breed and weight (check the feeding chart to get started). That in mind, here are some things to keep in mind about kibble, according to Shmalberg.
- Dry kibble often contains 3.5 to 4.5 calories per gram, or about 100 calories per ounce, which equals out to 350 to 450 calories per cup on average. This is roughly three to four times the calories of wet food.
- Dogs seem to be more likely to become overweight on kibble because it's so calorie-rich, and pet parents may underestimate how many calories they're giving. Carefully portion control and monitor your pup's body condition.
- Puppies who are on dry food but appear hungry all the time may benefit from food with lower calories or more fiber. Many large-breed puppy foods have fiber and/or are lower in calories for this reason.
- Over time, the main thing to consider is feeding frequency as your pup grows—starting with free-choice feeding initially to three times a day to twice a day. The amount of food you feed a dog should remain constant after 16 weeks of age for most breeds.
Kibble vs. Fresh vs. Raw Puppy Food
Now that you know all there is to know about kibble vs. wet food, what about kibble vs. fresh puppy food? Or even raw food? First things first: Fresh puppy food like Nom Nom is different from traditional wet
Kibble calories compared to fresh food calories
Not all calories are created equal. One kibble calorie is not equal to a fresh dog food calorie, so these large variations in how much you should feed your puppy of different kinds of food don't actually mean your dog will eat less food. Fresh dog food is often much more digestible than processed kibble, or even processed wet food, so your dog can get more energy and nutrients from "less."
High-quality fresh dog food is more digestible and allows your pup's body to better absorb nutrients.
"Some foods may be more digestible than others and have calories which are more accessible because they're broken down better during digestion," explains Shmalberg. The quality of ingredients, method of cooking, and amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates all affect this. "Both fresh and kibble foods vary widely in ingredients and in fiber content," he says, "but cooked foods are likely more digestible." On the other hand, higher-fiber foods will be less digestible and produce more fecal material.
For those curious to know how this translates to actual calorie counts, it all comes down to how The Association of American Feed Control Officials—or AAFCO (the group that designs pet food guidelines)—says calories should be calculated. With kibble diets, AAFCO says that food should be calculated with carbs and proteins at 3.5 calories per gram, and fat at 8.5 calories per gram.
Of course, this is very different than how we calculate calories from human food, and veterinarians and researchers say that fresh food diets should use a modified factor much closer to human calorie factors, since dogs and humans have similar digestive systems, and can unlock the same value from the same food. At these values, used for fresh dog food, carbs and proteins are 4 calories per gram, and fat is 9 calories per gram.
Put simply, if you use a recommended calorie amount from kibble for a fresh dog food diet, your puppy will likely pack on excess weight, because they're actually able to digest and use much more food from every gram. And you certainly don't want that.
If you're interested in how much kibble to feed a puppy, check out our handy feeding chart. And remember, there are alternatives. Nom Nom recommends high-quality fresh dog food because it's more digestible and allows your pup's body to better absorb nutrients.
How much kibble to feed a puppy
Puppy owners often ask, "How much should I feed a 3-month-old puppy?" or, "If my puppy's 6 months old, how many calories should he eat in a day?" Turns out focusing on age is the wrong way to think about your puppy's nutrition.
"There aren't really different nutritional needs in terms of fat, protein, carbs, or minerals at these different month intervals, which is why we can feed our puppies the same food—and portions—through the growth period," says Shmalberg.
To determine how much kibble to feed your puppy; determine their estimated adult weight; refer to our chart below to find their daily caloric needs, and then look up the "calories per serving" on the nutrition facts label on your kibble. Then you'll be all set.
What exactly is kibble?
Not everyone knows how their pet's food is made, especially when it comes to kibble. To produce kibble, a mixture of carbs, plant or animal protein, and fats of various quality *and unspecified sources) are mixed into a paste. An extrusion process uses a machine to force these ingredients together and processes them into nuggets to create the shape that we associate with kibble. After these nuggets are made,
Another thing to be aware of with kibble is that the quality varies quite a bit from brand to brand, depending on the quality of meats and "meals" inside. Here are AAFCO definitions for common meat and meal ingredients, if you've ever been curious about what those mysterious-sounding items you see on kibble labels actually mean:
Non-rendered (or subject to cooking or processing before it's cooked again in the food), non-meat (that is not muscle meat) including, but not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, and stomach and intestines (without contents of the stomach and intestines); should not include hair, horns, teeth or hoofs.
Rendered product from mammal tissues without hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably.
Combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone; derived from parts of whole carcasses but without feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. This is a high-moisture ingredient, whereas poultry meal will be similar, but considered a low-moisture ingredient.
Non-rendered parts of carcasses, such as heads, feet, and viscera, free from fecal material.
Poultry by-product meal
Ground and rendered parts of the carcass, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, but without feathers.
Dry rendered product of flesh and skin with/without accompanying bone, derived from parts of whole carcasses but without feathers, heads, feet, and entrails.
According to Shmalberg, though, some ingredients may remain mysteries. "If an ingredient is specific, such as ‘beef meal' or ‘chicken,' it should contain only that ingredient," he says. "But some studies have found unlabeled ingredients—other meats, for example—that weren't listed on the packaging. And you may see unspecified ‘by-products' listed too."
How much raw food to feed a puppy
Raw dog food—usually a mix of raw meat, bones, organ meats, and perhaps some fruits and veggies—has been something of a fad diet in the dog world over the past few years. Raw foods are moist and have the calorie density similar to or just slightly higher than that many canned foods and also fresh foods—about 1.5 calories per gram, or 45 calories per ounce, according to Shmalberg. As always, check the label, and determine your puppy's meal portions based on their weight (see the puppy feeding chart), the manufacturer's recommendation, and your vet's advice.
Like any popular human diet, there are pros and cons to be aware of before you consider feeding your puppy raw food.
The pros and cons of feeding raw
First, the pros:
- Raw dog food is certainly minimally processed food—something we believe all dogs deserve.
- It also may be more digestible than kibble in some cases, based on the ingredients used and the type of cooking involved in making kibble (a process called extrusion).
And then there are the cons:
- Some vets refuse to treat raw-fed pets. Much of this has to do with the risk of bacteria spreading (see above two bullets). Still, many veterinary nutritionists work with both raw and fresh diets, agreeing that high nutritional value (and a lack of low-quality, processed ingredients) can be found in both.
Fresh dog food lets you and your pup reap all the rewards of raw dog food, with none of the cons.
Overall the health benefits of feeding your puppy raw dog food that's free of harmful bacteria and a fresh-cooked dog diet are roughly the same. Cooking food, though, generally reduces the bacterial risk. By ditching less digestible, more processed, or unbalanced food and switching to a fresh diet, owners often report many differences in their puppies, including a shinier coat, smaller stools (due to increased digestibility), improved appetite, and a general boost in overall wellness. "This again may be because the dog's body is able to better unlock the nutritional potential of the food, and due to the reduced fiber content or lower-quality ingredients," says Shmalberg.
Yet, as far as we know, no evidence suggests that one diet has more health benefits than the other. Owners report the same benefits with each diet, and no studies have been done to detect a difference in positive results between the two. And in terms of digestibility, raw foods are about comparable to kitchen-cooked foods like Nom Nom, says Shmalberg.
For more on the risks vs. benefits of raw dog foods, check out this article from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
When to Switch to Adult Dog Food
You may be wondering how long to feed puppy food—when to stop and when to switch to adult dog food. A good rule of thumb is to check with your vet, and then make the switch at or around your puppy's first birthday.
Once a puppy reaches about 80 percent of its adult size, its growth rate slows. That's a good time to shift to
Nutritional differences between puppy and adult dog food
According to Shmalberg, there are a few factors that make puppy food puppy food:
- Some puppy food is higher in calories and fat to support development. Remember, adult dogs gain weight if they eat such puppy foods in amounts that aren't carefully portion-controlled.
Adult dogs, on the flip side, have wider tolerances for what they can eat and nutrient requirements, assuming they don't have a medical condition. "Adult dogs can be fed puppy foods, assuming they're healthy," says Shmalberg, "but they may not need these levels of nutrients. Puppies, however, should not be fed adult foods unless they're formulated for "all life stages" and/or large breed growth, if applicable.
Large breed dogs have specific needs. If your puppy is in this category, and you're using an "all life stages" food check the label, and make sure it's marked for all life stages including the growth of large-size or large-breed dogs. "Unfortunately, some breeders and dog owners continue to use old information in advising clients or feeding puppies," says Shmalberg. "A recent study found that many breeders use inappropriate diets for puppies, or that they make their own foods, which may or may not be appropriate depending on the recipe."
How to transition to adult dog food
Good news: making the transition from puppy food to adult food isn't complicated, and it doesn't take long. In fact, Shmalberg recommends just two steps here, done over about a week.
- Pay attention to your puppy's poop. If you do notice a change in the quality of the stool, e.g. it's runny or discolored, it's likely due to variable amounts of fiber or different nutrient levels. You may slow the transition and most dogs will adapt just fine. "The bacteria in the large intestine have to get used to any new food, as they also contribute to the breakdown of food (especially certain types of fiber)," says Shmalberg.