Feeding Differences between Puppies and Dogs

Puppies and dogs have vastly different activity levels and nutritional needs, so it is advised to tailor your pet’s diet to each life stage: puppyhood, adulthood and old age.

Feeding Puppies

Depending on breed, puppies are not considered fully grown until sometime between 1 and 2 years of age (up to 3 years for giant breeds). As a general rule, smaller breeds reach adulthood much earlier than larger breeds.

Puppies can be introduced to solid foods at 4 to 5 weeks of age, but will not wean entirely until they are 7 to 8 weeks old. The period of most rapid growth occurs in the first six months of a puppy’s life. During that period, feed three or four times a day. Choose a food that is at least 30 percent protein from a high-quality protein source.

Determine how much food a puppy needs daily by her body weight. The general guideline is to feed 10 percent of body weight, adjusted up or down based on level of activity and breed. Do not use food manufacturer guidelines—many dogs need less than suggested amounts, and some need more. Puppies grow at their own natural rate; don’t try to speed the process up by feeding more than they need to maintain a lean, healthy weight. After 6 months, feed two or three times a day and start to reduce total caloric intake.

Feeding Adult Dogs

Once puppies are almost fully grown, start feeding twice daily and transition to adult dog food. Choose food that is 20 to 25 percent high-quality protein. Switch foods gradually by mixing them together and slowly decreasing the amount of old food in each meal over a period of 7 to 10 days.

Guideline: Amount of Food per Weight

  • 10 lbs. or less – ¼ to ½ cup
  • 10 to 20 lbs. – ½ to 1 cup
  • 20 to 30 lbs. – ¾ to 1½ cups
  • 30 to 40 lbs. – 1½ to 2 cups
  • 40 to 60 lbs. – 1½ to 2½ cups
  • 60 to 80 lbs. – 2½ to 3 cups
  • 80 to 100 lbs. – 3 to 4 cups
  • 100 to 150 lbs. – 4 to 5 cups
  • 150 lbs. or more – 4½ to 6 cups

Feeding Senior Dogs

The second significant age transition in a dog’s life is from adulthood to old age. Dogs become senior when they are in the last third of their expected life span. For giant breeds, this typically starts at 5 or 6 years. For small breeds, it may not start until 10 to 12 years. At this point, reduce total caloric intake and add fiber to their diet. Again, adjust according to activity level. A 12-year-old dog who is as active as he was at 6 will need the same amount of calories he did back then.

Special Considerations for Small Breeds

Pugs, Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, Maltese and other small or toy breeds are often less active than medium-to-large breeds, and are prone to excessive weight gain. Even with puppies, be sure to limit total food intake to no more than 10 percent of body weight; in many cases, less is better.

Special Considerations for Large Breeds

Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, Akitas, Rottweilers and other large or giant dog breed puppies (adult body weight of 75 lbs. is large, 100 lbs. or more is giant) need particular care to ensure that they do not grow too fast. Rapid growth in giant breed puppies can create long-term bone and joint issues. Even as puppies, giant breeds often do well with an adult diet.