How To Create a Puppy Feeding Schedule

Amanda Ardente, DVM, PhD
Published: January 17, 2023
How To Create a Puppy Feeding Schedule

Food can be offered to your dog one of three ways:

  • Free choice, when food is left down for the dog to graze on as he pleases.

  • Time-restricted meals, when food is left down for a given time and then removed.

  • Food-restricted meals, when the amount of food is restricted per mealtime or per day.

For growing puppies, the best method for feeding is with food-restricted meals. This allows for better control of your puppy’s growth rate and body condition. Here’s what you should know about feeding your puppy and creating a puppy feeding schedule.

The Ideal Puppy Feeding Schedule

A puppy’s meal schedule must include at least three measured meals a day, preferably at the same time every day. For example, feed your puppy’s first meal around 7 a.m., noontime for lunch, and 5 p.m. for dinner.

Smaller, more frequent meals will help regulate your puppy’s rapid metabolism and help keep him full throughout the day. To find the best puppy feeding times, develop a schedule that works with your weekday routine that can also be followed on weekends. Here are two examples of puppy feeding schedules:

Three-Meal Feeding Schedule for a Puppy

6:30 a.m., alarm goes off

Wake up, quick walk/exercise

7 a.m.

Feed breakfast/first designated meal

9:30 a.m.

Mid-morning walk

12:30 p.m.

Feed lunch/second designated meal

3:30 p.m.

Mid-afternoon walk

6:30 p.m.

Feed dinner/third designated meal

9:30 p.m.

Bedtime walk/exercise


Four-Meal Feeding Schedule for a Puppy

6:30 a.m., alarm goes off

Wake up, quick walk/exercise

7 a.m.

Feed breakfast/first designated meal

9:30 a.m.

Mid-morning walk

11:30 a.m.

Feed lunch/second designated meal

1:30 p.m.

Mid-afternoon walk

4:30 p.m.

Feed dinner/third designated meal

7:30 p.m.

Bedtime walk/exercise

9:30 p.m.

Feed bedtime snack/fourth designated meal

Last potty break

How Much To Feed Your Puppy

The amount of food is based on your puppy’s current body weight and body condition score. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but the goal is to prevent your puppy from growing too quickly and becoming obese.

The puppy food you select will likely have a feeding chart on the label describing how much food to give your dog depending on his body weight. But these charts often overshoot the amount necessary to feed your pup and don’t consider your dog’s individual needs and current condition. So instead of relying on the pet food label chart, talk with your veterinarian about the best feeding plan for your new family member.

If you do find that your puppy is becoming overweight, reduce the amount of food fed per day—while maintaining the same feeding schedule—and increase his daily low-impact exercise by taking your dog on more frequent walks or encouraging him to swim. As your puppy continues to grow, his body condition will begin to normalize again, indicating that his nutrient needs are in balance.

Feeding Your Puppy

Always feed your puppy a dog food formulated for growth—it will have a greater concentration of nutrients such as protein, fat, and calcium to help support growing muscles and bones. Puppy foods provide energy and key nutrients in amounts to support growth, including:

  • Energy: To support their growing bodies and greater activity levels, puppies need to be provided with sufficient energy (calories) to meet their rapid metabolic needs.

  • Protein: Newly weaned puppies (puppies recently removed from their mother’s milk) require the most protein. As they age, their need for protein slowly reduces.

  • Fat: Fat is necessary for growing puppies because it’s high in calories, contains essential fatty acids, and acts as a carrier for vital vitamins.

  • Carbohydrates: Until adulthood, carbohydrates should be included in the food at about 20% dry matter (when moisture is removed) to optimize metabolism and overall health.

  • Calcium and phosphorous: To support their growing bones, puppies need more calcium and phosphorous than adult dogs. Large- and giant-breed puppies require restricted calcium amounts to prevent them from growing too quickly or excessively.

  • Copper: Puppies can develop copper deficiency if the mineral isn’t supplied in their food. Signs of copper deficiency include loss of hair pigment, hyperextension of the toes, splayed toes, and anemia.

  • Digestibility: A puppy’s digestive tract is still maturing, so their food should be highly digestible to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort or upset. Foods specifically formulated for puppies will be rich in energy-containing nutrients like protein and fat, making them inherently more digestible.

  • Amino acids

    • Arginine: This amino acid is essential for puppies, meaning that their bodies cannot make it on their own, so dog foods formulated for the puppy life stage will be fortified with arginine.

    • Phenylalanine and tyrosine: These amino acids are required for growth, so a minimum amount (1% dry matter) is recommended for growing puppies.

As your puppy grows and develops, his nutritional needs shift. It’s important to work with your veterinarian to make sure you’re meeting your puppy’s needs.

Weaning to 3 Months

Protein in the mother’s milk is high, readily available, and digestible. Therefore, younger puppies that have just been weaned have the greatest need for protein: between 22-32% dry matter, regardless of breed and size. Fat, particularly the fatty acid DHA, is also an important consideration at this stage because of a puppy’s rapidly developing nervous system.

Puppies who are under 3 months old should be fed three to four times a day.

3 to 6 Months

When puppies reach 3 months old, their protein and fat requirements begin to decline (though they’re still greater than the amounts required in adulthood).

At this stage, a puppy’s activity level is ramping up, so his weight and body condition should be closely monitored to ensure adequate calories are provided. If you were feeding four times per day, you can consider reducing to three meals per day at this age.

6 to 12 Months

As puppies near 1 year of age, growth is continuing to slow, particularly for large- and giant-breed dogs. It’s important to reassess weight gain, body condition, and activity level, as well as standing position and walk, and reduce the amount of food and calories provided, as needed. You may also reduce the feeding frequency at this point to just twice per day.

After 1 Year

Adult dogs require less protein, fat, and minerals than growing puppies do. The goal is to transition your dog to an adult food once they have reached about 80% of their anticipated adult size. For small- and medium-sized dogs, this can be around 12 months of age, but for large- and giant-breed dogs, this could occur between 18-24 months of age.

There’s no harm in feeding a puppy diet into adulthood—as long as the calories and amount of food provided are appropriately adjusted for your dog’s body weight and condition. Again, the best way to balance your pup’s diet is by working with your vet.

Finding the Best Puppy Food

The most important factor in selecting a food for your puppy is choosing one that has been formulated specifically for growth. The food should also be produced by a reputable company that has scientifically researched their foods by conducting feeding trials.

Ensure the company employs a nutritionist to help formulate their diets; this information might not be readily available, so you may have to call the company or search their website to find the answer. Always be sure to discuss your choice with your veterinarian to ensure your puppy is starting off his life with an optimal nutrition plan.


Debraekeleer J, Gross KL, Zicker SE. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th ed. Ed. Hand, Thatcher, Remillard, Roudebush, Novotny; Mark Morris Institute; 2010.

Larsen J. Focus on nutrition: Feeding large breed puppies. 2010.

Featured Image: iStock/Switlana Symonenko

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