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Dog Food for every Life Stage: from puppy to adult

Preparing for the key moments in your dog’s life

Throughout his life, your canine companion will experience a number of physical and behavioural transitions, each one corresponding to a particular life stage and often calling for adjustments in diet. From weaning to old age, your dog's nutritional needs will constantly evolve depending on, amongst other factors, his breed, his level of activity, his age and particular stage of growth, his environment, and whether or not he is neutered.

You will experience countless pleasures together, such as the first time you and your puppy go out for a walk in the neighborhood. And, let’s face it, there will be a few frustrations, such as when you are not so happy that he has enthusiastically chewed up your favorite shoes. However, shoes aside, these ups and downs will only reinforce the ever-growing bond between you and your dog.

Perhaps one of the most important developmental milestones in your dog’s life is the transition from his juvenile period to adulthood. You can help your dog make this transition as healthily and smoothly as possible by familiarizing yourself with some of the physiological changes to expect over this period, and any related changes you might need to make in caring for your dog in particular regarding his diet.

From juvenile puppy to adulthood: what to expect

The juvenile period occurs at around 12 to 16 weeks and lasts through adulthood. By the juvenile period, your puppy will have the full use of his senses (ie. touch, taste, hearing, smell and eyesight). And by 7 months, his deciduous (milk) teeth will generally have been replaced by permanent adult teeth. He may also start to exhibit some very teenage-like behavior such as challenging you, or other dogs, and generally momentarily forgetting all those good manners, that his mother and litter mates in the first place, and you thereafter, hopefully taught him in the first 3 to 12 weeks of his life.

How to transition from puppy to adult dog food - Perfect Fit

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When has my puppy reached his full size?

There is indeed no hard and fast rule about when a dog reaches his adult size. In fact, the end of your dog’s growth period varies considerably depending primarily on your dog's breed, with small to medium sized breeds reaching their full adult size at around 1 year of age (for toy breeds this could be sooner) and medium to large breed dogs reaching full size at one year to 18 months, while giant breeds mature much more slowly, reaching adult size at more than 2 years of age.

Growth rate also varies with size and breed. For instance, a small dog will have reached about half of its growth at 4 months and three quarters of his growth at 6 months. By comparison, a large breed dog is likely to have reached half of full weight at 5 months and three quarters at 9 months . That’s a whole lot of growing going on in the early stages of your puppy’s life, no matter what his breed. So keep in mind that, whatever his size, your puppy will need enough calories to support this incredible growth. Then from six months onward, this rapid growth rate tends to slow down in all, but more specifically in very large dogs.

Don’t forget it is better for puppies to grow at a healthy rather than a maximal rate-in other words, faster is not necessarily better. Puppies that grow too quickly are more at risk of developing skeletal problems or gaining weight with its related health complications. It is essential that puppies are fed ‘Complete and Balanced’ puppy food throughout their growth period in order to provide all of the nutrients in the right amounts that they need to grow healthily.

For information about my puppy’s growth rate please see: How to use the WALTHAM™ Puppy Growth Charts?

 

How do I know my dog is of adult age?

It is important to distinguish between when your dog reaches the end of his growth period and when he becomes an adult. When your dog will be considered an adult depends on a combination of factors including sexual maturity and behavioral maturity.

Whereas female dogs will reach sexual maturity between 6 and 15 months, male dogs will usually reach sexual maturity between 8 and 10 months. Despite your dog showing an interest in females, he is not considered to be an adult prior to 10 months as he is still developing and growing. Keep in mind that neutering may be done either before or after your dog reaches his sexual maturity. It is best to discuss neutering options early on with your vet, so as to make the best decision for your dog. And while your dog may be sexually mature, he may not be mature or “adult” from a behavioral point of view. The best way to know whether your dog is mature is to observe how he behaves with other adult dogs and how his attitudes and reactions evolve over time.

My puppy’s nutritional needs: how often, how much and what should I feed by puppy?

Your puppy’s nutritional needs are very different from that of an adult dog. As puppies are growing so fast, they have very high-energy requirements. Again, while exact figures vary depending on the breed, from around eight weeks onward, your fully weaned puppy will need twice as much energy per kilo of bodyweight as an adult dog.

At this adorable stage, your 8 week old puppy has a small stomach and he will need 4 to 5 meals a day to keep him satisfied and eating enough. However, by around 10 weeks as his growth slows, he will be able to switch to around 3 meals a day and by six months your dog can gradually begin to eat 2 meals per day. Once your dog has reached adult age, try and keep meals to twice a day, adjusting quantities when needed.

Not only do puppies need to eat often and more proportionately than adult dogs, they also have specific nutritional requirements. Thus, puppies need a considerably higher protein, higher fat diet along with the correct balance of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin D and A, calcium and phosphorus, for healthy bones, teeth, natural defences and vitality. Unlike adults, puppies also require omega 3 fatty acids (eicosopentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) for healthy development. Consequently, it is extremely important that once weaned, your puppy should be fed specially formulated puppy food throughout the juvenile period until adulthood.

Making the transition from puppy to adult food

With the onset of adulthood, which as we have seen ranges in age from one to three years depending on the breed, it is essential to adapt your friend's diet to account for his much slower growth and potential behaviour changes. While an adult dog may love to play even into his senior years, it is natural to mellow out with age (this is true even for the most energetic of puppies).

Adapting your new adult dog’s diet is especially important if he has been neutered. Neutering tends to reduce a dog’s metabolism and stimulate his appetite. As a result, he may be less active and have a physiological tendency to put on excess weight. So, first, try to monitor your dog’s calorie intake and weight. However, it is also often recommended to switch to a specially formulated food for neutered dogs or a light food recipe for dog, one that is lower calorie but still nutritionally balanced. We recommend that you monitor your dog’s bodyweight after neutering and talk to your vet. This is especially important if your dog is neutered and still has not completed his growth period. Your vet can advise you on what type of food your dog needs and how to vary quantities depending on his nutritional requirements linked to his growth period and those needs that are modified as a result of neutering.

Helping your adult dog stay fit

If your adult dog is not quite as rambunctious as he used to be, it becomes even more important to encourage him to engage in physical activity whenever possible . This means going on frequent walks and creating ample opportunity for playtime. This will help reinforce your emotional bond with him while preventing him from putting on excess weight. Keep in mind that keeping your dog trim and fit is not for appearances sake. Gaining too much weight can lead to other health complications such as decreased mobility and even shortened life expectancy .

Tips on how to make the switch from puppy food to adult food

In order to avoid any digestive upset, it is important to wean your puppy from puppy food to adult food gradually. Over the course of 5-8 days try replacing a small quantity of puppy food with his new adult food. Every two days, replace a higher concentration of puppy food with adult food and by day eight your dog is likely to have made the switch easily. While it is best to introduce food variety into your puppy’s diet in the early stages, if you have not already done so, now might be a time to try, on a gradual basis of course. To ensure that your puppy or young adult does not get too picky and to give him new potentially enjoyable taste experiences, try introducing new flavours and textures in the form of wet or dry food.

Digesting all the info

Though deciding upon an adequate diet for your friend throughout his different life stages may seem complicated, there is in actual fact a good deal of easily accessible information available to all dog lovers. Just be careful to use vet-approved, reliable sources of information from experts. Knowing when to adjust your dog's diet, and therefore when to seek related advice or recommendations, is almost as important as the dietary adjustment itself!

So embrace your dog’s physical and behavioural evolutions and keep in touch with his needs to support his wellbeing at every stage.