The Difference Between Puppy Food and Dog Food


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Written by: Guest | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: February 24th, 2020

Pug stares right at you
Not surprisingly, puppies have significantly different nutritional requirements than dogs. They undergo a phase of rapid growth and development – even more so if they are a large or giant breed. Their small bodies need high levels of certain nutrients to survive and thrive. Let’s look at puppy dog food in a little more detail to figure out what we need to feed and when and how this compares to adult dog food. 

Puppy weaning

A puppy is weaned from its mother by the time it goes to its new home, generally around 8-10 weeks of age when it is eating solid food and is fully mobile. It’s developed so much in those early weeks and it doesn’t stop there. All this rapid development is fueled by the nutrients we feed our pup — specifically, protein and fat.  

Importance of protein

Protein does the most work in any body. It is needed for cell structure, function, repair and growth. As your puppy grows, it uses huge amounts of protein. For that reason, a good quality puppy food is high in protein. 
Puppies need at least 12.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but a good guide is to choose a puppy food with a guaranteed protein analysis of at least 22 to 30 percent, even more if possible.

Importance of fat

A good quality puppy food will also have a solid fat content. 
Fat should compose at least 8 percent of a puppy’s diet. It is a vital source of energy, and essential fatty acids are crucial in brain function — higher amounts have even been linked to improved trainability.
In short, puppy food should have a high protein and high fat content. 
However, if you own a large breed, there are other things to consider. Large breed puppies need a reduced calcium content. They should also have reduced calories to avoid unnecessary weight gain. Due to their rapid growth, their bone structure is less-dense, so we need to be super-careful we don’t put unnecessary pressure on them. Large breed foods should have no more than 4.5 grams of calcium per 1000 calories. 

Calories in puppy food

Not all puppy foods are higher in calories; it may just mean that you feed more of it. Generally, puppy food is provided four times per day, which reduces to around two when they are fully matured. 
Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the amount you should feed.
Top tip: Check whether the amount stated on the guidelines is per day or meal. Some newbie owners make the mistake of taking a daily allowance as a “per meal” allowance which results in massive over-feeding!
When your pup is fully matured, its nutritional needs change. It will be fully developed and will have reached a plateau of activity. 

Mature dog food

A fully matured dog still requires protein, but less of it.
General guidelines suggest that a dog needs 2.62 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  A fully matured dog still needs fat too, but again this reduces to around 5 percent of its diet. Check the label that the guaranteed analysis meets this. 
This is a significant reduction from those puppy needs.
If, however, your dog is highly active, its nutrient needs will be higher. Working dogs like gundogs, hounds, hunters, search and rescue, or sled dogs will require a higher protein, fat, and carbohydrate content, simply because they are asking more of their bodies. Protein supports muscle growth and repair, and fat has been linked to injury prevention. 
The general rule of thumb for highly active or working dogs is at least 28 to 32 percent protein content and around 25 to 32 percent fat content.

Maximum nutrients in dog food

We’ve mentioned the minimum amounts to look out for in a puppy and dog food. Some high-quality food will have higher contents — don’t be put off by this. 
Generally, if a dog is overeating protein, it will excrete it and you’ll notice loose stools. If this happens, simply consider a different content ratio.
Ideally, in both puppy and dog foods, the first ingredient on the list will be a protein source and an animal source at that.

What to avoid

Avoid food dyes, additives, preservatives, fillers, and ingredients like xylitol which is toxic to dogs.
Monitor the weight of your dog throughout its life.
You should always be able to see a waistline and your dog should have an hourglass figure from a bird’s eye view. 
While you shouldn’t be able to see their ribs, you should be able to feel them. The dog’s weight and condition will tell you whether you are feeding it what it needs. 

Complete diet

A complete food will meet all of the dog’s needs. If it is losing or gaining weight without any changes to diet, or you notice changes in behavior or demeanor, seek advice from your veterinarian.
Puppy food is specially formulated to meet the needs of a rapidly growing pup. 
It meets the huge protein needs for growth, development, and repair. It also has good fat content to provide all that energy and help the puppy learn new skills and behaviors. 
Puppy food should be fed until your puppy is fully matured. Dog food, on the other hand, accommodates for a plateau in development and activity. 
While adult dog food still needs to meet nutritional needs, a mature dog doesn’t need nearly as much as it did as a puppy.
The activity level and lifestyle of your dog will largely dictate the food you choose to feed; more active dogs will use more protein and fat and can efficiently utilize cooked carbohydrates for energy.
Monitor your dog’s weight, behavior, and overall health; this will give you the best indication that it is getting what it needs. As always, if you have any concerns about what you are feeding your pooch, speak with your veterinarian.
Guest writer John Woods is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, a graduate in Animal Behavior and Welfare, and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.

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