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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)

The question of when to stop feeding puppy food to your young dog is a common one and as your puppy grows into adulthood, you’ll likely begin to notice a lot of changes in his or her behavior, appearance, energy levels and, importantly, appetite. The best puppy food provides 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 reach musculoskeletal maturity – meaning that your dog’s growth plates have closed and he has finished growing – before transitioning to an adult diet. Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of transitioning your dog to an adult diet.

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

It is highly recommended that your puppy eat a commercially made dog food that is specifically formulated for puppies until he is fully grown. That’s 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 dog food diets for puppies because these diets do not provide the right balance of nutrients to support rapid growth and may lead to developmental abnormalities.

While an adult dog is less likely to encounter nutritional problems from eating puppy food, there are still some concerns with feeding your dog a diet that does not match his current life stage. The biggest concern with feeding a puppy or “all life stages” diet to an adult dog is that these diets are often too high in calories and may lead to excess weight gain. Adult dogs that are no longer growing do not require as many calories as puppies. Spaying and neutering your dog, while very beneficial, will also cause a slight decrease in your dog’s metabolism that can lead to weight gain if your dog’s diet is not adjusted accordingly. 

When should I stop feeding puppy food?

The exact timing of the transition from puppy food to adult food will depend on a few individual factors. Your puppy’s age, breed, expected adult size, and current health status should all be taken into account before changing his diet. For most dogs, it’s recommended to wait until they are fully grown before transitioning to an adult diet. Small and medium breed dogs are typically finished growing at around 8 months to 1 year of age, while large and giant breeds may not reach their full adult size until around 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 1 year of age before transitioning to an adult diet. Some dogs may need to transition earlier if they have medical problems that can be managed with diet, such as food allergies or digestive problems. Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you decide the best time to make the transition, and can also recommend adult dog foods that will be best suited to your dog’s individual needs.

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 digestive upset. A good diet transition should take at least 7 days, but may need to be longer if your dog is prone to gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea. To help your dog get used to the new diet, start by mixing about 25% new diet with 75% of the puppy diet. After a few days you can increase the proportion of the new diet to 50%, and then to 75%, and then to 100% over several days.

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 diet transition may be happening too quickly. Slowing down your transition or adding in a probiotic supplement (ask your veterinarian for product recommendations) can usually resolve the issue in these cases. If the symptoms persist for more than 24-48 hours, contact your veterinarian for further guidance.  

How much should I feed my dog?

How much you feed your dog at each meal depends on many different factors, such as your dog’s current weight and body condition score, activity level, the calorie content of the diet, and any other food or puppy treats your dog receives during a typical day. Every brand and variety of dog food has a different nutritional content, so it is impossible to make a blanket recommendation for how much to feed your dog without knowing the calorific content of his new diet. 

Most dog food bags have a feeding guide on the back of the bag, but for many dogs the recommended portion sizes may not be 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 number 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 allotment as well – these can be a significant source of extra calories!

Remember that your adult dog is no longer growing and may have a slower metabolism after being spayed or neutered, so the dog 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. Waiting until your dog is fully grown before transitioning to an adult diet will help ensure he gets the best start in life. With the right nutrition and a gradual transition to his new diet, your dog will be ready to take on any challenge his new adult life may bring!

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.