Nutritional Needs for Puppies

(by Dr. Iulia Mihai, DVM) From the moment they are born until they become adults, a puppy’s growth is fast, and if we do not provide them with the essential nutrients for a healthy evolution, they will develop various medical problems.

That being said, many times we trust that the food we buy at pet shops has "everything" in it, and by that, I mean to be complete in terms of nutrition for our puppy. We trust it to have vitamins, minerals, fibers, and many other essential ingredients that help our puppy to grow healthy.

Remember, your pups' nutritional needs are different from those of an adult dog. They have very specific nutritional needs because puppies must compensate for the rapid growth through food; otherwise, they will have vitamin-mineral deficiencies, which will lead to poor growth. Puppies need to develop their bones, muscles, teeth, internal organs, fur, and skin in a very short period of time.

They also need food that is designed especially for them, but we can also feed them with a commercial diet that is labeled “for all life stages”', although it is possible to be lacking in the necessary nutrients for the development of your dog.

A properly chosen diet from this stage of life will only benefit the rapid growth of your dog.

A common mistake is that most dog owners believe that all puppies have the same nutritional needs. Let's see if that's the case!

Do All Puppies Have the Same Nutritional Needs?

Puppies double their birth weight in the first week of life, then after about three weeks, they will be 3-4 times bigger.

The main growth phase takes place in the first 7-8 months. Around the age of five months, young dogs usually reach about 50% of their final weight.

When it comes to their nutritional needs, these will vary depending on certain factors, such as breed and size, as they will grow at different rates. In the first few months, all puppies grow at about the same rate, but then the dog's breed and implicitly its size intervenes.

Small dog breeds grow a little slower and reach their final weight around the age of 10-12 months. On the other hand, large or giant breeds (e.g. Bernese mountain dog, Cane Corso, and Anatolian Shepherd) do not reach their final weight until the age of 18-24 months.

Puppies are weaned around the age of 3-4 weeks - then they stop feeding with milk from their mother. From the age of one month, puppies begin to lose the immune protection received through breast milk and, therefore, they need more support to develop their natural defense mechanisms.

From the age of two months, the dog will start to grow explosively, requiring higher amounts of calcium and phosphorus in its diet (especially in large and giant breeds) - these minerals help the skeleton to develop harmoniously.

At the age of 3-4 months, the dog's skeleton is still growing, with the body still needing calcium and phosphorus.

By the age of 6 months, puppies will absorb calcium passively, which means that their body cannot regulate the amount of calcium that is being absorbed. Too much calcium can lead to skeletal deformities.

At the age of 7 months, their muscles begin to develop, so your puppy will need quality protein that is easy to digest. The protein and calorie ratio must be higher in the diet of puppies, unlike adult dogs, in order to have a healthy development. Also, a low protein diet will lead to an underdeveloped dog with matted fur and poor skin health.

Around the age of 10-12 months, toy, small, and medium-sized dogs will approach adulthood. At this age, all dogs, regardless of their size, will need joint supplements to keep them healthy and protect the skeleton from the pressure of the muscles that have developed so much.

It is also worth noting that in addition to the general food that is available on the market for puppies, there are diets adapted to a specific breed or size.

How Many Meals Does Your Pup Need Per Day?

After being weaned, at the age of 1 month, a puppy will eat 4-6 meals a day, which consist of soaked puppy kibble or canned food - this is done to get it used to solid food.

At 2-3 months old, toy and small breed puppies will have 4-6 meals a day, while medium, large, and giant breeds will have 3-4 meals per day (solid food). Keep in mind that the portions will be according to the size of the dog.

At 3-6 months, they will be having three meals per day.

At the age of 6-12 months (for toy, small, and medium breeds) and 6-24 months (for large and giant breeds), they will have two meals a day.

Essential Nutrients for Healthy Growth

The essential nutrients your puppy needs are protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and water.

  • Proteins - these provide amino acids and help form and develop the body tissues (skin, nails, hair, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments). They also play an important role in hormone production, allowing the body to function properly.
    • Puppies have a high protein requirement right after weaning, which will decrease constantly over time. The protein requirement for a healthy growth is around 30% (calculated based on dry substance). This requirement must not be exceeded if you want your puppy to grow healthy.
  • Vitamins and minerals - the most significant vitamins and minerals for a healthy development of your puppy are vitamins A, D, E, K, B complex, and microminerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.
    • Also, some microminerals are needed in your dog's diet, such as zinc, sulfur, copper, iodine, iron, and others. Your pooch can get all these nutrients if it is fed a balanced diet specially designed for puppies.
    • When selecting a diet for your puppy, keep in mind its breed and size because the calcium content is very important. In other words, the chosen diet must be designed to meet the calcium requirements your dog needs. Large and giant breeds are more sensitive to over- or under-feeding of calcium, as opposed to small and medium-sized breeds.
  • Fats - these are essential in your dog's diet because they help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. They also help maintain healthy fur and skin and develop a healthy brain and eyesight.
    • The fat content of the puppy diet should be between 10-25% (calculated based on dry substance); otherwise, excessive intake can lead to obesity and developmental orthopedic diseases.
  • Carbohydrates - these provide the animal's body with energy and help aid digestion, maintain the nervous and immune system, and regulate metabolism.
  • Water - must be fresh and clean all the time, whether your puppy eats dry or canned food.

Common Problems Associated with Diet

Excess energy – dogs get their energy dose from the fats and carbohydrates that are found in their diet, but also from protein. This excess energy usually occurs when puppies are overfed with treats or food scraps.

Development problems due to rapid growth – a high-calorie diet usually leads to accelerated growth but puppies do not gain much weight as a result. Instead, it can lead to skeletal development problems, especially in large and giant breeds. In these breeds, the puppy reaches its final estimated size too early; therefore, the bones, which are not yet stable enough, are overworked

Incorrect Intake of Vitamins and Minerals

Lack of calcium in their diet - this is one of the most common problems in puppies and leads to bone development disorders. The calcium requirement of a three-month-old puppy is four times higher (even up to seven times higher in large and giant breeds) than that of an adult dog.

As a comparison: a three-month-old puppy weighing 15 kilograms (~33 lbs.) needs about 4,900 milligrams of calcium (average value), but an adult dog weighing 15 kilograms needs only 730 milligrams.

Excess calcium should also be avoided in puppy nutrition. This can lead to growth problems due to the effects on the bone-forming cells (osteoclasts). The golden rule in feeding puppies is: the calcium content in their diet should be no more than 1.5 times the requirement.

If you add bones for chewing or calcium supplements to an already balanced commercial dog food, the most common result is excess calcium. This is due to the fact that the complete puppy food or young adult food already contains enough calcium.

Vitamin D - this vitamin should not be neglected either because calcium will not be absorbed if there is no source of vitamin D (calciferol). This vitamin promotes the absorption of calcium in the intestines, serving as a carrier in the rest of the body.

An overdose of vitamin D given by the addition of cod liver oil in a food portion you prepared leads primarily to excessive absorption of calcium into the bloodstream, which can cause vascular calcification, among other things.

Spring Naturals - Certified for All Breed and Life Stages

With the exception of the Senior Dinner for Dogs, all of Spring Naturals dog and cat foods are certified for all breed and life stages. Crafted with only all-natural protein and eggs and rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, essential amino acids, market-fresh fruits and vegetables, and superfoods like blueberries, cranberries, and spinach, our limited ingredient dog food is formulated to be the most nutritionally balanced kibble available. Read the full ingredient list and analysis of each of our recipes at


Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology

Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic in her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.


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