If there’s one thing we all know about puppies, it’s that they (unfortunately) don’t stay tiny for long. They grow up fast—and proper nutrition is essential to support their development throughout the puppy phase. And so the first question on the minds of new dog owners is usually: How often should I feed my puppy?
Dogs will grow quickly between 4 and 6 months, but can also become fat if overfed.
Feeding Schedule for First 3 Months
A puppy’s first few months are all about rapid growth, so making sure they have enough food is critical. Most people get their new dog after it’s been weaned, or moved from mother’s milk or milk formula to solid foods. But many puppies (and wild canids, like wolves) can start trying semi-solid food as early as three weeks. Often dogs are able to regulate their own intake fairly well during this period. That means you can try putting food out to let your pup graze freely all day (note, wet or moist foods may dry out if left out too long). If you sense he’s overeating, try instead putting out food at frequent intervals; Shmalberg suggests four times a day to start.
Feeding Schedule for Months 4 to 6
Around 4 months, most puppies can go to a three times daily feeding schedule, and from there, most will work down quickly to twice-a-day feedings.
What’s most important during this period is monitoring your puppy’s weight. “Dogs will grow quickly between 4 and 6 months, but can also become fat if overfed,” says Shmalberg. “Fat puppies, especially large breeds, have a predisposition toward orthopedic (or bone) problems, so although a fat puppy might be considered cute, it’s a health risk.” Thankfully, it’s pretty easy at this age to use body condition scoring to make sure your puppy is at the right weight; consult our chart below to evaluate your pup’s body condition score, and follow up with your vet if you have any questions.
If your puppy isn’t gaining weight in spite of eating the right amount of food, Shmalberg suggests talking to your vet. “Some medical conditions show up at this age which can influence absorption of food, like parasites, congenital issues, and so forth,” he says.
Between month 4 and 6, puppies still eat a lot—typically eat about twice as much per pound as compared to an adult dog of the same weight.
Feeding Schedule for Months 6 to 12
When you’re wondering how often to feed a puppy, your first instinct might be “twice a day,” which is the pace most people think of when feeding pets. And between 6 and 12 months—you’re right! Your pup has reached the point where twice daily feeding should generally suffice.
It’s also between 6 months and 12 months that some pups start eating adult dog food. Small breeds may finish their growth during this period, which means they’re ready to make the transition. Large breeds, on the other hand, will continue to grow. That means you want to give them food with controlled amounts of calcium, which is generally either a large breed puppy food or an “all life stages’ food that says it’s “appropriate for large size puppy growth.”
Once again, monitoring your puppy’s body condition closely is critical. “Both small and large breed dogs will start to become obese even at this age if they are overfed,” says Shmalberg.
Feeding Schedule for Months 12 to 18
By now, your puppy is more or less a grownup. From his first birthday to the 1.5-year mark, twice daily feeding should still be the standard. The only difference at this stage is that, if your pup has become a bit of a couch potato at this stage and starts to get chubby, then you may need to reduce portions even though you’re feeding twice a day.
The larger the adult size of the dog, the longer the growth period extends. For example, Great Danes may continue to grow even at age 2. Although their growth rate does slow, in such cases, you’ll want to continue feeding large breeds puppy food for proper nutrition.
Small or medium-sized dogs can be switched to an adult food before this time. “If you’re feeding an ‘all life stages’ food, there’s no need to change it—just make sure you’re paying attention to portion control,” says Shmalberg.
Although a fat puppy might be considered cute, it’s a health risk.