The answer to this question may seem a little obvious: a puppy needs puppy food, and an adult dog needs adult food. But, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.
When is your dog no longer a puppy? Is it when she has lost all of her puppy teeth? Is it after she’s been housebroken? Also, a large-breed puppy is a puppy for much longer than a small-breed puppy, so that’s something to consider as well.
If you are caring for a puppy or plan to do so in the future, you have to know when puppy food is needed to ensure healthy growth. So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips for making the transition from puppy food to adult food an easy one.
Special Focus Is Required for Large and Giant Breeds
A large-breed or giant-breed puppy needs extra attention. Since large and giant breeds are prone to rapid weight gain, the nutrient content of the food needs to accommodate this.
Rapid growth means bones are less dense, making the whole skeleton weaker. Calcium intake has a huge impact on skeletal development. Thankfully, puppy foods will identify whether they are suitable for larger breeds or not on the packaging.
Large and giant breeds require less calcium, so their food should contain no more than 4.5g of calcium per 1000 calories. Puppy food that is appropriate for all puppies except larger breeds should contain around 6.25g of calcium per 1000 calories. Large- or giant-breed puppy foods will also be lower in caloric content to avoid excess weight gain.
Make Sure the Puppy Food Has Appropriate Fats and Protein
All puppy foods should meet protein and fat requirements. And, while there isn’t a standard carbohydrate requirement, cooked carbs provide energy, and it’s a fact that puppies burn through plenty of that.
A puppy needs around 12.5g of protein per kg of weight, reducing to 2.62g as the puppy matures, and around eight percent of their diet should be fat, reducing to five percent at maturity.
Protein contributes to body-wide cellular function, repair, and growth, and fat is a vital energy source. It is thought that fat contains around 8.5 to nine calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates contain between 3.5 to five calories per gram!
Puppy food needs to provide essential nutrients for proper development and growth. However, the amount of time this takes will vary depending on the breed and size.
When Do Puppies Reach Maturity
Toy, small, and medium breeds will generally reach full maturity at around 12 months of age. Large and giant breeds won’t be fully matured until at least 18 to 24 months of age, since it takes longer for their growth plates to fuse.
The growth plates are areas of cartilage at the end of the bones that calcify and strengthen during growth. This is why you shouldn’t over-exercise your large- or giant-breed puppy, too!
At full maturity, you can consider switching your dog to an adult or all-life-stage food. But again, you need to ensure it meets her nutritional requirements—so, at least 2.62g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight and 1.3g of fat per kilogram of bodyweight. It should also meet your dog’s daily calorie requirements.
Most nutrition labels will indicate the food’s caloric content, and you can use the following formula to figure out what your dog needs:
- Divide a dog’s body weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms (kg)
- Resting energy requirement (RER) = 70 (bodyweight in kg)^0.75
- Maintenance energy requirements (MER) = appropriate multiplier x RER
Feeding a Puppy
Puppies may feed three to four meals per day to avoid over-stretching their small tummies. However, as adults, their allowance should likely be split between two meals. The worked example would consist of 700 calories per meal, generally just short of two cups of dry kibble per meal.
If you choose a breed-specific food, you may notice that the nutrient content is different. Foods for working dogs generally have a higher caloric content because they use more energy.
Generally, increased protein content isn’t necessary until a dog reaches senior status, which is often around seven to eight years of age. So, when you’ve taken such great care ensuring that your puppy’s food meets her nutritional requirements, do exactly the same when she reaches adulthood!
Transition from Puppy Food to Adult Food
Ultimately, a puppy should stop eating puppy food when she is no longer a puppy, which is the point when she has reached full physical maturity.
Full physical maturity is, of course, the point when growth ends. For toy and small breeds, this may be around the 12-month mark. For large and giant breeds, it could be as late as 18 to 24 months.
Puppy food has a unique nutritional profile specifically created for growth and development. It has everything your pup needs to thrive. Give her what she needs for as long as she needs it, and it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian about your puppy’s diet, just to be on the safe side. If you take these steps, you should be able to see your happy, healthy puppy grow into a happy, healthy dog.
John is a dog trainer, lover, and author. He spends most of his freetime training his two dogs, Jamie and Jeff, and has volunteered at rescue shelters.