Nutritional Needs of Puppies

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 21, 2023
2 min read

Looking for pointers on how to feed your new puppy? Keep this in mind: a puppy's nutritional needs are a lot different from an adult dog. They need to get enough nutrients to fuel their speedy growth.

A puppy needs food made just for puppies. You can also feed your puppy commercially-prepared dog food that's labeled for "all stages of life."

The number of feedings a day depends on your pup's age:

  • 2 to 3 months old: 4 meals a day
  • 3 to 6 months: 3 meals a day
  • 6 to 12 months (up to 24 months for the largest breeds): 2 meals a day

In most cases, a puppy can start weaning from its mother's milk or substitute milk between the ages of 3 and 4 weeks. Once weaning is started, the process typically takes up to three weeks before they are transitioned away from milk.

To help get your little pal used to solid food, veterinarians recommend wetting the puppy food with enough warm water to make a soupy gruel.

Puppies like to play with their food, so you may need to encourage them to eat it. Try dipping your finger into the food and holding it out for your pup to lick.

Your puppy needs a balanced diet, which is found in many store-bought dog foods or can be prepared at home with the advice of your vet. A balanced diet gives your buddy energy, keeps their brain and body humming, and helps them grow.

When you buy puppy food, look for these words on the label:

  • "Complete and balanced nutrition"
  • "Meets the nutritional requirements of puppies established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)"
  • "Complete and balanced nutrition for puppies based on AAFCO feeding trials"

Your puppy will get all the nutrients they need from puppy food with those labels. The key nutrients are:

Proteins. Proteins help build your puppy's tissues.

Fats. Fats help keep their skin and hair healthy. They also help your puppy develop a healthy brain and healthy vision.

Carbohydrates. Carbs help give your puppy energy.

Vitamins and minerals. "Complete" and "balanced" puppy foods have the right amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Water. Although canned puppy food contains up to 78% water and can provide some of your puppy's water needs, it's not enough. Dogs of all ages should always have a source of fresh, clean water available to them.

It's OK to feed your puppy an occasional treat. But most experts agree that treats and table scraps should never account for more than 10% of your puppy's daily calorie needs.

Overeating can lead to obesity, which can cause health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Also, remember that some "people" food is dangerous for your dog. Never feed your dog:

  • Alcohol
  • Avocados
  • Bread dough
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Garlic and onions
  • Grapes or raisins
  • Xylitol (a sweetener)