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A vet’s view on when to stop feeding puppy food to your dog

when to stop feeding puppy food
(Image credit: Getty)

If you have a new puppy, you'll probably have many questions about how to care for them. One of the most common questions about caring for puppies is when to stop feeding puppy food. As your puppy grows into adulthood, you’ll probably begin to notice many changes in their behavior, appearance, energy levels, and appetite. The best puppy foods provide essential nutrients to help your puppy grow, so it’s important not to make this transition too early. In general, it’s recommended that your dog reaches musculoskeletal maturity (meaning that the growth plates in your dog’s bones have closed and they have finished growing) before transitioning to an adult diet. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of transitioning your dog onto an adult diet.

What's the difference between puppy food and adult food?

It is highly recommended that your puppy eats a commercially formulated dog food specifically for puppies until they are fully grown. This is because growing puppies have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs. Puppy diets tend to be higher in calories to support growth and have a slightly different balance of vitamins and minerals to provide optimal nutrition for growing bones and muscles. Most veterinary nutritionists do not recommend homemade, raw, or adult diets for puppies because they do not contain the right balance of nutrients to support rapid growth. Therefore, these diets may lead to developmental abnormalities or deficiencies.

While an adult dog is less likely to become unwell from eating puppy food, there are still some concerns with feeding your dog a diet that does not match their current life stage. The biggest problem with giving a puppy food or a generic "all life stages" diet to an adult dog is that these diets are often too high in calories. Adult dogs that are no longer growing do not require as many calories as puppies and can gain weight if they are fed puppy food. Spaying and neutering your dog, while very beneficial, also causes a decrease in your dog's metabolism that can lead to weight gain. Specifically formulated diets for neutered dogs are available and contain fewer calories to keep your dog's weight healthy.

When should I stop feeding puppy food?

The right time to transition from puppy food to adult food varies for each dog. Your puppy’s age, breed, expected adult size, and current health status will all impact when the diet change should occur. For most dogs, it’s recommended to wait until they are fully grown before changing to an adult diet. Small and medium-breed dogs are typically finished growing at around 8 to 12 months of age, while large and giant breeds may not reach their full adult size until 18 months of age. If you’re unsure of your dog’s breed, a good rule of thumb is to wait until your dog is about a year old. Some dogs may need to transition earlier if they have medical problems that can be managed with diet changes, such as food allergies or digestive issues. Your veterinarian can help you decide the best time to make the transition and choose an adult dog food that will be best suited to your dog.

when to stop feeding puppy food

(Image credit: Getty)

How should I transition my dog to adult food?

Transitioning to a new diet should always be done gradually to prevent causing a digestive upset. A good diet transition should take at least 7 days but may need to be longer if your dog has digestive sensitivities or is prone to diarrhea.  When you begin a diet transition, on day 1, start by mixing around 25% of the new diet with 75% of the puppy diet. As long as there are no signs of digestive upset, you can increase the proportion of the new diet to 50% after a few days. Finally, you can continue slowly increasing the ratio of the new diet to 75%, then 100%, when your dog should be eating the new diet with no adverse symptoms.

If at any point your dog develops symptoms of an upset stomach such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, flatulence, or bloating, this is a sign that the guts are not yet adapted to the new diet. Slowing down the transition or adding a probiotic supplement (ask your veterinarian for product recommendations) can usually resolve this issue. However, If the symptoms persist for more than 24-48 hours, switch to a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice, white fish, or scrambled egg, and contact your veterinarian for further guidance.  

How much should I feed my dog?

How much and how often you feed your dog depends on many different factors. These factors include your dog’s weight and activity level, as well as the calorie content of the diet and any other food or treats your dog receives during a typical day. Every dog is different, and some will prefer one meal a day, whereas others prefer two or three smaller meals., 

Different brands of dog food have different nutritional makeups. Therefore, some will be more calorific than others. Most dog foods have a feeding guide on their packaging, but these are meant as a guideline and are not always accurate. The best way to ensure your dog is getting the right amount of food is to ask your veterinarian to calculate his daily calorie requirements. You can then use this to determine how much to feed based on the calorie content of your dog’s food. Don’t forget to include any treats, supplements, or table scraps in your dog’s daily allowance, as these can be a significant source of extra calories!

Remember that adult dogs are no longer growing and may have a slower metabolism after being spayed or neutered. Therefore, they may need fewer calories per day than they did previously.

Welcome to adulthood!

You might miss those adorable puppy antics, but there are tons of new adventures to discover now that your dog has reached adulthood. With the proper nutrition and a gradual transition to their new diet, your dog will be ready to take on any challenge their new adult life may bring! Waiting until your dog is fully grown before transitioning to an adult diet will help ensure they get the best start in life. 

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Since obtaining her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Dr. Racine has worked exclusively in small animal general practice. Her work has been featured in blog posts, articles, newsletters, journals, and even video scripts.