How to feed a puppy

15 December 2023 - 5 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Kirsten Ronngren DVM MRCVS on 15 December 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Puppies eating

A big part of owning a puppy is understanding its diet, including knowing exactly how, what, and when to feed it. Dogs develop fast and providing them with the right nutrients is the foundation for ensuring they have a happy, healthy life. 

However, feeding needs can vary significantly - from breed to breed, and often from puppy to puppy, so it’s not surprising that many owners look for guidance. So, if you find yourself asking questions like “How much food should I feed my puppy?” or “When should I feed my puppy?”, we’re here to help!

How do puppies’ diets differ from adult dogs?

A standard diet for an adult pet dog won’t provide a puppy with the nutrition it needs. This is primarily because puppies require a higher proportion of protein in their food to promote muscle growth. They also need to eat foods high in amino acids and other minerals to ensure they develop healthy skin, bones, and eyes.

It’s worth paying a bit of attention to your puppy’s food for those reasons since some foods that are produced for adult dogs don't have the appropriate proportion of protein that puppies need. You can check the feed materials that go into your puppy food by reading the label, or talk to your vet to get some recommendations. 

A puppy will often feed exclusively on its mother’s milk, or on a specialised formula, until it is around eight weeks old, but many puppies start eating firm puppy foods, too, before this point. Once weaned, a puppy may need to feed on puppy food for up to around two years old, depending on its size, breed and temperament.

Find out how our animals’ eating habits have changed over time with ourhistory of pet food article.

What puppy food brand should I go for?

There are hundreds of puppy food brands out there, and each can vary significantly by the ingredients they contain, and the quality of those ingredients. 

One of the best ways to differentiate between different brands of puppy food is to check their primary source of protein. Ideally you want them to specify a protein source, such as ‘chicken’, rather than using a generic term like ‘meat’. It’s also worth checking whether the food is specifically formulated for growth since the nutrient requirements and proportions for puppies are different from those formulated for adult or senior pets. In addition to high protein value, foods with higher levels of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamin D are particularly good for puppies because these nutrients are essential for the development of strong teeth and bones.

If you decide that you’re going to switch the brand of food you give your puppy, it’s important that you make the change slowly - ideally over the course of 7-14 days. The gradual transition will help minimise any potential stomach upsets for your pup!

Should my puppy have wet or dry food?

Both dry kibble and canned wet foods are fine for puppies. Higher in moisture, canned food tends to be easier to manage for very young puppies since they have small teeth. Once opened, however, canned foods typically go off within 3 to 5 days. 

By contrast, dry puppy foods keep for much longer when left in a bowl, and can be more convenient to store in bulk than wet food in the long term. A combination of dry and wet food sometimes works best, but if you choose to mix at mealtimes you should take care not to exceed your pet’s recommended daily calorie intake. 

How much should I feed my puppy?

The amount your puppy needs to eat will depend on their age and their breed’s average weight at maturity. It’s important to remember that every dog is an individual, and you’ll need to be careful not to overfeed your puppy. Overfeeding is a danger because too much food can lead to a puppy growing too fast - without the mineral support that it needs for a healthy skeleton.

At its ideal weight, a puppy should have a slightly rounded physique with no ribs showing through its coat, and should have sufficient body fat reserves to see them through an upset stomach or a period of vomiting.

When and how often should I feed my puppy?

After you’ve weaned them, you’ll need to reduce the amount of meals your puppy eats as they grow up: 

8-16 weeks Up to 12 months 12-18 months
4 times a day 3 times a day 2 times a day

Regardless of frequency, consistency is key for puppies’ mealtimes. If you can establish a routine, your puppy will feel more comfortable with any changes you make to their diet, and you will be able to judge their behaviour more accurately. For convenience, it’s often a good idea to feed your puppy roughly whenever your own mealtimes occur - although puppies should be fed their last meal of the day early, so they have time to digest and go outside to go to the toilet before turning in.

Where should I feed my puppy?

There’s no right or wrong location to feed your puppy, but you should think about a place that will be conducive to them finishing their meal successfully. Think about: 

  • Finding your puppy a quiet space where they won’t be distracted from their meal. 

  • Keeping your puppy at a distance from children and other pets. Puppies can be protective of their food, or may try to eat it too fast if they think another dog is trying to steal it. 

  • Cleaning up after your puppy has finished eating. Meals on carpeted areas of the house can be a bad idea, especially if your puppy likes wet food!

How and when do I make the switch to a standard dog diet?

Any changes to a puppy’s diet should be made over the course of 7 to 14 days in order to avoid any potential stomach upset. Although it’s best not to have to rely on additives, if you have a particularly picky breed of puppy that isn’t taking to its diet, it might be possible to entice it with supplements which are specially formulated to appeal to its tastes, and can simply be poured onto its food.

As always, your puppy’s personal preferences and needs will affect the way it eats, and the food you can give it - so it’s worth consulting your vet before you make any big dietary changes.

For more on switching up your puppy’s diet read our guide to switching pet food

What not to feed your puppy

Making sure puppies eat the right thing is often easier said than done, especially if they’re whining for treats - but knowing what not to feed them can be just as important. If you want to keep your puppy’s diet healthy and balanced, you’ll need to avoid feeding them certain dangerous foods, including: 

  • Garlic and onions

  • Raisins

  • Grapes

  • Chocolate

  • Avocado

Always talk to your vet if you’re unsure about whether it’s safe to give your puppy a certain type of food!

Bone appetite!

Puppies aren’t particularly fussy eaters, and finding a diet that suits them shouldn’t take too much effort. Keep our advice in mind as you develop your menu and you’ll soon be enjoying happy mealtimes with your pup! 

If you’re ever worried that your pup might have become ill because of a certain food, you should go to see a vet as soon as possible. Puppy insurance can help with the cost of an unexpected vet visit, and offers you peace of mind that your pup will get the treatment it needs if it eats something it shouldn’t. Learn more about our puppy insurance policies here.

Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.