Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
You have to remember that the needs of your dog will change throughout its life and that different breeds and sizes of dog will require different diets and amounts.
On collecting your new puppy, you will usually be informed of the diet that the animal has received. Sometimes these diets can be very strange concoctions and often not at all balanced in minerals and vitamins. The best option is to use a good quality, well researched puppy food that has been properly formulated and has a feeding guide to enable you to supply the correct amount of calories for your specific growing puppies' age and stage.
Puppies grow and develop fast in a short space of time, so it is important that they are fed a diet that is correctly formulated for their needs. Manufactured puppy foods are carefully formulated to provide adequate nutrition without the bulk. Puppy formulas have good levels of high quality protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin D to help build strong bones and teeth.
You should feed your puppy small amounts often to begin with as puppies have small stomachs but large appetites. Generally, up to four months of age a puppy should be fed four meals a day, reducing to three meals a day until around six months of age and thereafter two meals a day can be fed. Overfeeding your puppy at this stage will cause digestive upsets and also could lead to painful bone problems in the future years. Also, often overweight puppies turn into overweight dogs. Young puppies at the growing phase can produce more fat cells than adult dogs. When these puppies become adults these fat cells can then expand and contain more fat tissue.
It is important not to feed your puppy immediately before or after exercise. Resting your pup after feeding and also pre-soaking dried food before feeding helps to prevent the risk of any intestinal bloating. Puppies are also best fed in a quiet place away from interruptions. As puppies grow, their appetites increase. After six months the rate of growth will slow down and their food intake then needs to be reduced. Be guided by the advised amounts indicated on your diet instructions, or you can contact your Vet for good professional advice on appropriate diet for age and stage and amounts.
Once your dog reaches maturity (from nine months in small breed dogs, but from 12-18 months in medium to larger breed dogs) you can settle into a regular feeding routine and then change to a maintenance diet. Any diet change should be done gently and gradually, generally over a period of one week to avoid stomach upsets.
Your adult dog’s diet still needs to contain the correct balance of nutrients and again a good quality manufactured complete food will provide your dog with all the basic nutrients he requires. Canned or dried food or a mixture of the two may be fed. There is also a wide range of adult commercial diets available to match the needs of specific breeds of dogs.
Remember food should be fed at room temperature and do not feed your dog immediately before or after exercise.
Senior diets can be introduced from five years of age in larger breed dogs and from seven years in smaller breed dogs. Remember senior dogs are generally less active and have a slower metabolism, so fewer calories and fats are then required.
Specially formulated senior dog foods are available and it is advisable to move your older dog onto this food. Manufactured senior dog foods are carefully formulated to reflect the changes that occur in body systems as a dog gets older and the senior diets are carefully adjusted for these changes. Often supplements for joint support are also added to senior diet formulations.
The frequency of meals for the older dog can still be one to two meals daily. Though often they do prefer smaller portions more frequently and they may be more comfortable with pre-soaked food fed from a height. Again it is important not to over feed older dogs though as they may put on weight which will lead to increased stress on their joints and worsen any existing arthritis.