As babies develop, they transition from nutrient-rich liquids to soft foods to hard foods. But these are not discrete steps. They build on each other.
When it comes to dogs, are these transitions similar?
L.A. dog trainer Russell Hartstein points out, "Foods are created and designed to be fully balanced and complete for a specific life stage of a dog. A dog requires a different nutrient, vitamin, and mineral profile at different ages."
How and why should their food be transitioned as they move from one growth stage to the next? In this article, we will explain the differences in puppy and adult dog food, as well as when and how to transition between these stages.
As mammals, newborn puppies start out on a liquid diet of milk, usually provided by their mother, but sometimes in other forms. From there, "Puppies are typically introduced to solid food at six weeks of age while still nursing," explains Jim D Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP, owner and holistic veterinarian of Riverside Animal Clinic and Holistic Center. He adds, "This timing helps introduce proper intestinal microbes to transition to a solid food diet. The diet consists of dry puppy food moistened with milk replacement or wet puppy food in pouches or cans."
Additionally, puppy food has several other intentional benefits. "Puppy food is made to support rapid bone growth and body growth during your puppies first few months, explains dog trainer Marlene Kingston.
Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, serves on the advisory board for Pup Life Today. She explains a few examples of puppy food's special qualities. "For example," she says, "puppies should eat more protein, fat, and certain minerals and amino acids than should most adult dogs. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet has also been shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals."
Not all puppies' needs are alike. In addition to different puppy and adult dog food options, some puppy foods are specifically designed to meet the needs of different sized dogs. Why?
Dr. Coates explains, "Large breed puppies have some extra considerations due to their increased risk of orthopedic problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. In comparison to "regular" puppy foods, large breed puppy foods are a little lower in fat, contain a little less calcium and phosphorus, and have a carefully balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio."
How do you know which is best for your dog?
Danel Grimmett, DVM, Sunset Veterinary Clinic advises, "Owners should ideally consult with their family veterinarian (not the breeder) regarding which puppy food is appropriate for their new baby, how much food they puppy needs each day, and when and how often to feed the new baby."
While pet parents can be overly concerned with their fur baby's food intake and health, "No puppy should ever be given any supplement without consulting a licensed veterinarian," cautions Dr. Grimmett. "Supplements can cause health problems ranging from digestive problems to life-threatening and debilitating orthopedic diseases."
"Puppies and adult dogs have different nutritional needs," says Dr. Coates. That's why their foods are formulated differently and the switch to another type of food is necessary. For example, "Puppy food has 22.5 percent protein. Most adult foods have between 18-25 percent protein," says Dr. Carlson. These differences are formulated for a reason.
So, when should you make the switch? For this, we got a variety of answers from our experts:
No wonder why it is so complicated. This ideal time to switch from puppy chow to pet food formulated for adult dogs isn't exactly on your dog's first birthday, just like it isn't for humans. Everyone, including dogs, grow, develop, and mature at different rates. Ideally, says Grimmett, pet owners should consult their veterinarian about "when to make a switch to adult food."
The big switch to grown-up food can be trying on your dog's digestive system, so a cold-turkey approach is not advised. To get an idea of how this transition works, here is an example from Danielle Mühlenberg, a dog trainer with Pawleaks:
"I transitioned my Rottweiler from puppy food to a raw diet when she was six months old. I was feeding my dog a high protein ‘growth' food which should be transitioned earlier at about 6–12 months of age. A healthy raw diet was always my long term plan and with this diet, you have to be even more careful than just switching to adult food. A dog is naturally made to eat raw meat but a puppy that has been raised with commercial food is not used to this.
I slowly started sprinkling raw meat, organs, vegetables, or fruit over her daily meals and always monitored her well-being by checking the stool. Then I began to replace small amounts of puppy food (about 10 percent) with her new diet. Depending on how well your dog takes it, you can start with a smaller or larger amount. Gradually build up the replaced amount over time.
This transition can take a few days or a few weeks. I tried it really slowly so it took me about three weeks. A few days in, my puppy started vomiting. If this happens to your dog, it means that you have switched too fast and you should take a step back. She felt immediately better the day after that. Six months later, she loves her new food and is healthier than ever."
As you can see, helping your pup to transition to a new diet isn't exactly a picnic for both parties involved. We asked the experts for guidance and found that while all of them recommended a slow transition, there isn't an exact right answer. There are several techniques for gradually and safely transitioning your dog to a new diet. Here are a few examples:
If we have learned anything from our panel of experts, it's that all dogs are different. They mature at different rates and transitioning techniques that will work for one dog may not work for another. As your fur baby is growing and maturing, be sure to check in with your veterinarian to make sure that you are feeding him the best diet possible.