The Definitive Guide to How Much You Should Feed Your Puppy
80% of puppy feeding recommendations online and in pet stores are inaccurate.
To truly know how much a puppy should eat is a challenge. Owners understandably stress about how much to feed from one day to the next because, unlike with older dogs, their puppy's body weight is changing rapidly. So we sat down with NomNomNow's own veterinary nutritionist Dr. Justin Shmalberg, DVM, to get a clearer idea of 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 Based on Weight
- How Often to Feed a Puppy
- Puppy Wet Food vs. Dry Food
- Kibble vs. Fresh Puppy Food
- Feeding Large vs. Small Breed Puppies
- When to Switch to Adult Dog Food
- Puppy Food Calculator
- Puppy Feeding Chart
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.
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
Adult and senior dogs are fed based on their current body, activity level, and body condition, and calculating their calories is pretty straightforward. 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, he'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 his body condition rather than just meet some calculated number. (We go into more detail about body condition in the next section below.)
So, the primary step in figuring out how much to feed a puppy is determining his 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. Then, at the bottom of this page, you'll find a chart with daily caloric needs by estimated adult weight.
Average Adult Weights for Common Large Breed Dogs
|Labrador Retriever||75 lbs||65 lbs|
|Golden Retriever||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Doberman Pinscher||85 lbs||75 lbs|
|Rottweiler||115 lbs||90 lbs|
|Poodle (Standard)||65 lbs||45 lbs|
|German Shepherd||75 lbs||60 lbs|
|Collie||70 lbs||60 lbs|
|Great Dane||160 lbs||130 lbs|
|Mastiff||200 lbs||150 lbs|
|German Shorthaired Pointer||65 lbs||55 lbs|
Average Adult Weights for Common Small Breed Dogs
|Shih Tzu||12 lbs|
|Miniature Poodle||12 lbs|
|Dachshund / Mini Dachshund||10 lbs / 10 lbs|
|Boston Terrier||18 lbs|
|Yorkshire Terrier||7 lbs|
|French Bulldog||22 lbs|
Talk to your breeder or vet as there are a range of sizes for many of these breeds due to some being micro, toy, teacup, mini, and a thousand other sizes. We used the typical breed standards in providing this data. Of course, if you know the size of the same sex parent, that's always the best guide.
How Often to Feed a Puppy
Dogs will grow quickly between 4 and 6 months, but can also become fat if overfed.
Feeding Schedule for 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 he's overeating, try instead putting out food at frequent intervals; Shmalberg suggests four times a day to start.
Feeding Schedule for Months 4 to 6
Around 4 months, most puppies can go to a three times daily feeding schedule, and from there, most will work down quickly to twice-a-day feedings.
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 fat if overfed," says Shmalberg. "Fat puppies, especially large breeds, have a predisposition toward orthopedic (or bone) problems, so although a fat puppy might be considered cute, it's a health risk." Thankfully, it's pretty easy at this age to use body condition scoring to make sure your puppy is at the right weight; consult our chart below to evaluate your pup's body condition score, and follow up with your vet if you have any questions.
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 absorption of food, like parasites, congenital issues, and so forth," he says.
Between month 4 and 6, puppies still eat a lot—typically eat about twice as much per pound as compared to an adult dog of the same weight.
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.
Feeding Schedule for Months 12 to 18
By now, your puppy is more or less a grownup. From his 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.
Although a fat puppy might be considered cute, it's a health risk.
Puppy Wet Food vs. Dry Food
When it comes to feeding a puppy wet 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 more tasty than dry food.
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 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 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 his 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 a 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 Puppy Food
Now that you know all there is to know about kibble vs. wet food, what about kibble vs. fresh puppy food? First things first: Fresh puppy food like NomNomNow is different from traditional wet food, and very, very different from kibble. And, as you'll learn below, a lot of it has to do with calories.
Kibble Calories vs. Fresh Food Calories
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 how much kibble to feed a puppy, check out our handy feeding chart. And remember, there are alternatives. NomNomNow 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 his estimated adult weight; refer to our chart below to find his 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.
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:
- Meat by-products: Nonrendered (or subject to cooking or processing before it's cooked again in the food), nonmeat (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.
- Meat meal: 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.
- Poultry: 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.
- Poultry by-product: 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.
- Poultry meal: 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 ‘byproducts' 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 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 his 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.
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:
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 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 NomNomNow, 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.
Feeding Large vs. Small Breed Puppies
If you ask us, all puppies are equally adorable, no matter their size. Even so, a large-breed dog has 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. Adult dogs who weigh less than 20 pounds are generally considered small breed. As puppies, they grow quickly and may reach adulthood as soon as the age of 9 or 10 months.
Knowing all of that, it's not hard to see why large breed puppies and small breed puppies have totally different feeding requirements.
How Much to Feed a Large Breed Puppy
There are a few important things to remember about large breed puppy nutrition, according to Shmalberg:
- The effects of too much calcium and too many calories are most pronounced in large breed dogs. So it's critical to feed large breed puppies appropriate food and closely monitor their calorie intake.
- Your puppy's body condition score is really important (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 his predicted adult weight. Your vet can help you land on the correct number. Then scroll to the bottom of this page, and 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
All of the above also applies when you're determining how much to feed a small breed puppy, too. 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. Then, scroll to the bottom of this page, and 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 guidance for how much your puppy should weigh. There are some significant differences in sizes from breeder to breeder with small-breed dogs.
When to Switch to Adult Dog Food
At this point, 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? 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 an adult food. This usually happens around the 12-month mark, though it can be earlier, especially for small breeds. Also, many vets recommend puppies eat puppy food until the age of 12 months. Your vet can advise what's best for your puppy, based on his breed, weight, and condition. Here's some more info about how to switch, and why it's important.
Nutritional Differences Between Puppy and Adult Dog Food
According to Shmalberg, there are a few factors that make puppy food puppy food:
- Puppy foods often are higher in protein to support normal muscle mass, with specific attention paid to increased amounts of amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Each amino acid, not just the total amount of protein, must be present in sufficient quantities for optimal puppy nutrition.
- Puppy foods are also formulated with carefully targeted amounts of essential fatty acids for normal development and slightly higher levels of some vitamins and minerals.
- Calcium is controlled in large breed puppy foods, as calcium above the amounts suggested for larger dogs can cause abnormal bone growth. (Adult dogs with fully mature skeletons, on the other hand, can tolerate pretty high amounts of calcium.)
- 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 Switch 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.
- Mix the two foods. Over the course of about a week, gradually add in the adult food, and reduce the amount of the puppy food. So on day one, you'll have mostly puppy food with a bit adult food; at the midpoint, you'll have about half and half; and at the end of the week, mostly adult food with just a bit of puppy food. "Just try to keep the overall portion size relatively consistent, although a small variance in total calories won't be a huge deal over a week," says Shmalberg.
- 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.
Puppy Feeding Chart
Now, we're going to use that estimated adult weight and put it to use! 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.
Some dog food brands will tell you (down to the gram or calorie) how much to feed, which is ideal. If they don't, it's fairly easy to calculate this yourself as every dog food should provide information as to how many calories it contains per gram (and then you can determine how many grams your dog should eat per day, and translate that into cups or another measurement you prefer). "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 to meet some preset number."
Bookmark our how much to feed a puppy chart, or better yet, print it for reference, and you'll be good to go. As always, consult your vet if you're unsure about anything. That's what they're there for!