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Nutrition Nuggets
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

The Special Nutritional Needs of Puppies

May 25, 2012 / (3) comments

Just as babies are not miniature adults, puppies are not smaller, younger versions of dogs. The growth and development of a puppy is hard work, and special nutrition is required. Young animals are especially sensitive to the effects of dietary deficiencies, toxins, and poor quality ingredients, so owners should pay very close attention to what food they feed during a dog’s first year of life.

What are the special nutritional needs of puppies? First, let’s take a look at calories — the gas in the tank, so to speak. Puppies should eat a more calorie-dense food than would be appropriate for a typical adult dog. A high quality puppy food might have 445 kcal/per cup, while an adult food in the same line could have 375 kcal/per cup. That might not seem like such a big disparity, but the extra calories are very important in the long term.

The differences don’t just stop with calories. Take a look at some of the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) minimum nutrient requirement for puppies and adult dogs:


You can see that puppies need more of many important amino acids and minerals (and more protein and fat in general) than do adult dogs. Puppies are at risk for nutritional deficiencies if they eat foods designed for adults. Nutrients not regulated by AAFCO are also important. For example, quality diets contain high levels of certain types of omega 3 fatty acids to promote healthy skin and a glossy coat as well as optimize brain and eye development.

Owners of large breed puppies have an additional concern when picking out a food — developmental orthopedic diseases. An abnormally rapid growth rate is a major risk factor for hip dysplasia and similar conditions. Diets designed for large breed puppies should have lower fat content and therefore a lower caloric density than those meant for small and medium-sized puppies. Eating a food with too much calcium and phosphorus, and a high calcium to phosphorus ratio, also increases the odds that a large breed puppy will be afflicted by a developmental orthopedic disease. Therefore, responsible manufacturers carefully balance the amount of calcium and phosphorus in foods designed for these large breed pets.

Whether your puppy is going to grow to be the size of a chihuahua, a mastiff, or somewhere in between, make sure you pick a food that provides perfectly balanced nutrition for this unique time of life as well as one that it is made from the wholesome, natural ingredients necessary for a lifetime of good health and well-being.


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: WilleeCole / via Shutterstock

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Comments  3

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  • Breed Differences
    05/26/2012 08:01am

    Since there is a difference between what a small breed dog and a large breed dog should be fed, is there anything that should be taken into consideration for a particular breed besides size? For instance, are there any nutritional needs differences between a teacup poodle and an Italian greyhound?

  • 05/29/2012 09:18am

    Great idea for a post. Look for it soon!

  • Nutrition Overlooked!
    06/14/2012 07:15am

    Thanks for the wonderful and informative post. Nutrition is so often overlooked when set priorities for a pup. Most new owners you talk to usually will ask about training issues long before nutrition. Too many dog training shows on TV maybe? As with humans, animals are what they eat. So many of our and their discomforts and ailments are derived from poor nutrition. If you haven't been feeding your puppy properly, switch to a quality feed and you will be shocked at the change in your pet. It will make a quick and beneficial difference to your pet's quality of life and your enjoyment of it!




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.