For a puppy, a healthy diet and proper nutrition starts with balancing their caloric needs with the right nutrient mix. Puppies have just been weaned off their mother's milk and are now transitioning onto real food, so their nutritional needs will be different from that of adult dogs. These are also the formative months in a puppy's future growth, so a balanced and nutritionally complete diet is exactly what a puppy needs. So what exactly does that look like and what nutritional needs should you look for in your puppy's food? We've got you covered.
Here are some things to consider - a puppy's nutritional needs include:
- High quality ingredients - Perhaps the most important piece in your puppy's nutritional needs is the quality of the ingredients used. You will want to make sure proteins are sourced from high quality, human grade sources. You'll also want to look out for the words 'feed grade' on any packaging. This is a red flag. Feed grade typically means the ingredients are inedible for humans to consume. If it's not an ingredient that we would consider safe to even put into our own bodies, it's probably a safe bet that it's a super low quality ingredient we wouldn't consider safe for our dogs.
- A complete and balanced diet - We'll get into this a little bit later as it relates to protein and fat sources, but it's important to make sure your dog has a complete and balanced diet. That means it has the right balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, micronutrients and fiber. Your puppy's food (and any dog's food) should have a mix of all of these components to make sure they get an appropriate combination of micronutrients (vitamins and fiber) and macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates)
- Accurate calories - It's an interesting balance because you want to give your puppy enough calories to grow, but not too many calories such that you lead bones and tendons to grow too quickly for the body to support. You'll want to find the sweet spot. Another thing to consider is that as your puppy grows, you will start to gradually increase their calories until the puppy is at about 80-90% of their full size at which time they stabilize. Your vet can help you can assess your puppy's caloric needs as they grow or you can use a calorie calculator to determine your puppy's caloric needs.
- High protein - Protein is essential to build and grow tissue, muscle and bone in the body. When you're looking for a new food for puppy, make sure you choose one that has a clean source of protein as the first ingredient. That said, a diet too lean and high in proteins for a puppy might lead to developmental issues. It's important to pair this clean protein with a solid source of fat and micronutrients from things like leafy greens.
- Fat content - Puppies are active. They're constantly running and they're trying to grow. Fat is an important source of energy for a growing puppy. Too much of it though can lead to weight gain and obesity. AAFCO recommends at least 8% fat in your dog's diet. The fat should ideally come from whatever the protein source is for your dog, whether that's marbelization on meat or a fatty piece of chicken.
And that's honestly about it. These are the five main categories to consider when choosing a food for your puppy. A lot of foods labeled as 'puppy' foods basically just have an approrpiate amount of fat in them. We would argue though that it's most important to focus on ingredient quality and the whole picture of how balanced the food is (ie. does it have proteins, fats, healthy carbs and micronutrients)
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