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A question frequently asked by owners of new puppies is “What should I feed my puppy?” This is a very good question, but doesn’t always have a simple answer. Puppies grow extremely rapidly from conception to around 6 weeks, when the rate of growth steadily declines as full size is achieved at 6-18 months according to breed. What this means with food is that, not only do we need to provide enough food, but the food needs to contain the correct nutrients in the correct proportions. A deficiency of, say, calcium from 6 to 10 weeks of age, can be corrected, but the puppy may never attain quite the size and bone strength that it could have had with correct feeding.

Millions of dollars have been spent on research over the years into just which nutrients, in which proportions, are necessary for optimum growth of dogs at various life stages. The end result of this research (which is ongoing) is the huge range of prepared dog foods on the market today. Some people dislike prepared foods, claiming that they are not “natural’ food for dogs. It is true that the wild dog did not evolve to eat pelleted food (dog biscuits). However most would agree that it is not practicable or desirable, for dogs to hunt or scavenge fresh carcasses for food, as nature intended. At the risk of being rude, I would also point out that nature did not intend for many modern dog breeds to be the shape and size they are, either!

Formulated dog foods fill a definite need in today’s busy world. The protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral needs of the canine have been enclosed into biscuit form. Protein is protein, whether it comes in a biscuit or as a sheep’s leg. In the 1980’s (and before), disease of puppies and kittens due to dietary deficiency was common. Today it is rare, and this is due to the advent of high quality formulated dog and cat foods. Of the prepared foods, you definitely get what you pay for. Dry food is best value for money, as you are not paying for much water. Canned foods are 70% water on average. Especially for dogs under increased demand, eg pregnancy, lactation, showing, growth, traveling, look for AAFCO approved foods. This is a standard set by the American Association of Feed Controls, and means that the brand of food has been tested in food trials, and found to supply all nutrients required by a dog in that life stage (eg puppy food for puppy).

AAFCO approved foods are known as “premium” foods. Brands you will be familiar with include Eukanuba, Proplan, and Hills Science Diet. Non-premium foods, eg some dog rolls, are not suitable to feed as a sole food. They will be fine if fed with a premium food as part of the diet. The premium foods, however, guarantee to provide all the nutrients needed by a dog, without any other food added. My advice in general would be, that where there is increased demand (as above), at least half the dietary calories should be in the form of a premium food (eg lactating bitch would require puppy food, which has extra protein and calcium compared to maintenance food).

Foods to avoid in all cases are: very fatty foods eg mutton flaps; all bones, uncooked sheep offal.

As the puppy grows older, people often ask “How much should I feed my dog?” You should feed your dog as much as needed to maintain the optimum weight. If the dog is gaining weight, feed less. If the dog is losing weight, feed more. (If it still loses weight, take it to your vet). With premium foods, the amount needed is often very small, eg 1-2 cups (100-200gms) for a 30kg adult dog.

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