Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?
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Anyone who has raised a puppy knows that they are not just small adult dogs. Within their first year of life, a puppy’s job is to grow, learn, and mature—from behaviors and social interactions to physical growth.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that puppies have very different nutritional needs from adult dogs. In fact, to avoid serious health issues such as fractured bones, heart disease, or bone marrow issues, it is extremely important that puppies are fed diets formulated specifically for them.
So what are the differences between a puppy and adult dog’s diet?
Puppy Food vs. Adult Dog Food
When formulating a food that supports puppies’ nutritional needs, pet food companies pay particular attention to the following components:
Protein and Amino Acids
Dietary protein and amino acids are important building blocks for muscle and organ growth. Puppies need a higher percentage of calories from protein than adult dogs. This means the ratio of protein to other sources of energy is very important in a puppy’s food, even if the diet has a similar total quantity of protein as an adult food.
Fat is a great source of energy for the always-on-the-go puppy, as it contains twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates. It is also important that puppies get enough fat to help absorb certain vitamins (known as fat-soluble vitamins). Fat contents of puppy foods should be higher than adult dog foods, but not so high as to cause obesity or accelerated growth rates.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids support brain development, vision, and skin health in puppies. Once puppies are weaned, it’s important that they get fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from their diet, usually from a fish or fish oil source, as they are no longer getting them from nursing.
Minerals such as calcium and phosphorous are essential for puppy skeletal development. Sodium and chloride are important for muscle and heart function. Overall, puppies need more calcium than adult dogs, but large-breed puppies (those that will be over 50 pounds as adults) can be very sensitive to excess calcium or inappropriate calcium to phosphorous ratios. If you have a large-breed puppy, look for diets made specifically for larger puppies.
Though vitamins help dogs utilize nutrients, most are only needed in small amounts. Often, you’ll find similar amounts of vitamins in puppy and adult dog foods. A healthy puppy should not need vitamin supplementation if you feed them a balanced diet.
Calorie content is directly related to the fat, carbohydrate, and protein content of the food. The calorie density of puppy food is generally higher than that of adult dog food. That said, there is a limit to how many calories a puppy should have, which can vary by breed and even individual. It is very important to monitor your puppy’s body condition and growth rate with your veterinarian to ensure that they are not growing too quickly, which can cause obesity and skeletal deformities.
How Do You Know What Nutrients Are in Puppy Food?
Given the complexity of puppy nutrition, it would be difficult for you to directly compare these components while searching for a balanced puppy food. That’s where the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) comes in. AAFCO reviews current literature and updates standard nutrient profiles for dog and cat food based on this information. These profiles represent the minimum and, in some cases, maximum requirements for each nutrient.
Profiles are divided into two categories:
Adult maintenance (adult dogs usually over 1 year of age)
Growth and reproduction (puppies as well as pregnant or lactating dogs)
If a dog food company wants to claim their food is complete and balanced for puppies, they must formulate it according to the minimum standards for growth and reproduction. There is also a third category called “all life stages,” which just means that the food meets the minimum standards of both growth and adult maintenance. These claims are substantiated either by laboratory tests on the food or by conducting a feeding trial with animals. A diet that has gone through feeding trials is always preferred.
Not all diets are formulated to these standards, as it is a voluntary program. It is important to look at the nutrition label of the puppy food you’re considering and find the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement that ensures that it meets the standard for puppies.
If you have a large-breed puppy, make sure it is formulated for large dogs. Here are some examples of statements that you could see on the bag:
[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth, including growth of large-size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages, including growth of large-size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth, except for growth of large-size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages, except for growth of large-size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
Can Puppies Eat All Life Stages Diets?
Some diets meet AAFCO standards for both growth and adult maintenance. These diets will state that they are formulated for all life stages. As these diets are formulated to the minimum standards for growth, they are fine to feed small-breed or medium-breed puppies. That said, these diets may be too high-calorie for many adult dogs and may not be appropriate for large-breed puppies, so it may be worthwhile to discuss this with your veterinarian.
By checking for the AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement and choosing a pet food company with experience, good research practices, and good quality-control procedures, you will likely choose a great puppy food. Ensuring appropriate nutrition for your puppy’s specific needs will set them up for a long and healthy life.
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