dog eating dry food

How Much to Feed Your Puppy

LAST UPDATED 1 November 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc (Hons)

New puppy owners often find themselves overwhelmed with the myriad of responsibilities that come with their new pet. One of the most pressing concerns is ensuring their puppy gets the right amount of nutrition.

Feeding a puppy too little can hinder its growth and development, while overfeeding can lead to obesity and health issues. With so many different breeds, sizes, and individual needs, it's easy to feel lost in the maze of feeding guidelines.

In this article, we aim to demystify the process, providing clear and concise guidelines on how much to feed your puppy based on age, weight, and activity level, ensuring they grow up healthy and strong.

The importance of puppy nutrition

rottweiler puppy smiling

Puppies gradually wean off their mother's milk and begin to be able to eat solid food from about 6-8 weeks of age, so this is considered the minimum acceptable age for them to removed from their mother.

What your puppy eats in the first year of life has a direct effect on their growth, skeletal development and immune system:

Overfeeding nutrients can lead to obesity, joint problems, and skeletal abnormalities such as hip dysplasia.

Underfeeding can lead to malnourishment, stunted growth, weak bones, poor immune system, and developmental problems.

Premium puppy food has the optimal balance of energy, protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus to help your puppy grow and develop at the right rate. It is also highly digestible which is good for a sensitive stomach. Depending on your puppy's breed and size they will need to stay on puppy food from 10 to 24 months of age.

What is the difference between 'puppy' and 'adult dog' food?

Puppy diets are specifically formulated with a higher concentration of protein, fat, and energy than 'adult dog' varieties, to support rapid growth. They also have higher levels of calcium and phosphorus, although these nutrients are lower for large breed pups to reduce the risk of skeletal abnormalities.

1. Energy needs are greater for puppies, as they are growing every day. This means that calorie content is higher in puppy food. The optimal calorie content for your puppy varies based on breed, size, and activity level - for instance, large breed puppy food contains a lower calorie content than small breed puppy food to ensure a slower, steadier growth rate that allows their larger bones to develop properly.

2. Protein is also higher in puppy food. A puppy's need for protein is highest immediately after weaning, and decreases slowly after this. AAFCO recommends puppy food contain a minimum of 22.5% crude protein on a dry matter basis, or 56.3 grams per 1000kcal, whereas adult dogs only require a minimum of 18% on a dry matter basis, or 45 grams per 1000kcal.1

3. Fat is also higher in puppy food than adult food. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids and is a concentrated source of energy, although too much can lead to obesity and developmental orthopaedic disease. AAFCO recommends puppy food contain a minimum of 8.5% crude fat on a dry matter basis, or 21.3 grams per 1000kcal, whereas adult dogs only require a minimum of 5.5% on a dry matter basis, or 13.8 grams per 1000kcal. Puppies also have a higher requirement of certain fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, EPA and DHA. 1

4. Vitamin & Mineral requirements are different for puppies compared to adults. Calcium and phosphorus are particularly important, and required in higher quantities than adults. However the need for these nutrients differs greatly between large and small breed puppies. Large breed puppies are extremely sensitive to over-feeding calcium and can develop skeletal abnormalities if this occurs. Thus, AAFCO has established a 'minimum' calcium level of 1.2% on a dry matter basis for puppies and 0.5% for adults, as well as a 'maximum' level - large breed puppy food should not exceed 1.8% calcium, whereas small and medium breed puppy food should not exceed 2.5%.

You're probably thinking that calculating exactly how much of each nutrient your puppy needs sounds rather complicated. The good news is, with commercial pet food, the hard work has already been done for you. Every pet diet comes with feeding guidelines printed on the packaging. Read more about this below.

How much food should I feed my puppy?

Follow the feeding guidelines

When determining how much food to give your little one, it's important to realise that not every puppy food is the same. Different diets can vary in their energy density, bioavailability of ingredients, or water content, which means that you might need to feed more or less than other diets depending on the brand.

This is why it's so important to follow individual feeding guidelines. Every commercial pet diet should have a feeding guideline printed on the packaging, so all you have to do is feed the amount recommended for your puppy's age and expected weight.

What is a feeding guideline?

Feeding guidelines are typically presented as easy-to-read tables printed on the back of pet food. To accommodate for puppies of different breed sizes, the table typically marries up your pet's age with their expected adult weight.

Let's take the following feeding guideline, taken from ADVANCE Medium Puppy Dry Food:

This feeding guideline shows how many cups of dry food per day you should feed, based on how old you puppy is (indicated by the top row) and how heavy they are expected to be as an adult (indicated by the left column). To help show you how this table works, let's look at the following examples:

Example 1: Cavoodle. Let's say your puppy is an 8 week (2 month) old medium sized Cavoodle. You were told by their breeder that their mother and father weighed approximately 10kg, so you are expecting them to weigh the same. Based on this table, your puppy should have 1 cup per day. When they are 6 months old, you should increase this to 1 and 2/3rds per day.

Example 2: Golden Retriever. For another example, let's pretend your puppy is a 16 week (4 month) old female Golden Retriever. You aren't sure about the parents, but know that your puppy is 'average' sized for a female Golden Retriever and your vet has advised they will be around 25kg as an adult. Based on this table, you should be feeding 3 cups per day.

What if I don't know my dog's expected adult weight?

Unfortunately, most feeding guidelines for puppies work off the 'expected weight' they will be as an adult. But in many cases, it is not possible to know this. If your dog was a rescue puppy, an unknown breed mix, or you never saw their parents, it can be very hard to predict what their expected adult weight will be. There are a number of ways you can do this:

1. Look up their breed online. If you know your dog's breed, look up their expected adult weight online. Of course, there is a lot of variation in size within one breed, but at least it is a good place to start.
2. Use a 'dog size' calculator. This is a good option if you don't know your dog's breed. Many dog size calculators are available online, and use your puppy's current weight and age to estimate their full-grown size.
3. Ask your vet for guidance if you still aren't sure, or if you don't know how old your puppy is. Your vet will know how to age your pup, and should be able to give you an estimate of their expected adult weight. (And they can even find out your dog's breed mix with a DNA test if you want!)

What size cup should I use to measure puppy food?

Different dog food brands use different cup sizes.

Most people use 'cups' to measure their dog's food, because weighing food can be tricky - plus, many pet food brands give their feeding guide recommendations based on 'cups per day'. Most feeding guidelines outline how many grams of pet food make up '1 cup' (see the Advance example above!)

However, not every puppy food brand uses the same measuring cup size. Pet stores and veterinary clinics may be able to provide you with a brand specific cup (for example a 'Royal Canin' cup), but of course this can be hard to source.

This means you may need to use kitchen scales to weigh the first 'cup' and determine how many grams this translates to, in order to properly interpret feeding guidelines.

What if I feed a mixture of wet and dry food?

Feeding both wet and dry food is a great idea - it can help keep your dog's diet varied, promotes hydration, and helps keep them interested in the food.

The easiest way to work out how much food your puppy needs if you are feeding both wet and dry is to halve the daily recommended amount of each. Half of each 'recommended' amount for two different diets means you will feed one 'complete' daily meal. This can also be done with other fractions to make it 'one complete daily amount' - for example, 1/3rd wet and 2/3rds dry, or 1/4 wet and 3/4 dry, etc.

Puppy Feeding Frequency and Schedules

Now that you know how much to feed your puppy per day, the question is: how many 'meals per day' should you divide this into?

Due to their small tummies but high metabolic rate, puppies need small meals fed frequently, rather than large meals spaced apart. Big meals in little tummies can result in bloating, slow digestion, and discomfort. As your puppy ages, the number of meals per day can gradually be decreased.

How many times a day should you feed a puppy?

  1. Weaning to 3 months of age: feed 4 times per day
  2. 3-6 months of age: feed 3 times per day
  3. 6-12 months of age: feed twice per day
  4. 12 months of age onwards: continue feeding twice per day

What time of day should you feed a puppy?

Ideally you should feed your puppy between the hours of 7am and 6pm. Ensuring their final meal is around 6pm means that they will have time to fully digest the food before bedtime, and may also reduce the incidence of nighttime accidents.

Why is a consistent routine important?

A consistent mealtime routine is important for a number of reasons:

1. Digestive health: Regular feeding times aid in digestion and bowel regularity. Small meals fed frequently can help reduce bloating and discomfort that can result from large meals.

2. Mental and behavioural benefits: dogs thrive on routine, and are less likely to suffer from anxiety if they have a stable, consistent schedule. This means that regular predictable mealtimes can help reduce anxiety and problem behaviours.

3. Avoids overfeeding or underfeeding: Staying on top of a consistent mealtime schedule can help you monitor your pup's food intake, and ultimately makes it easier to ensure they receive the correct amount of nutrition per day.

When should I transition my puppy onto adult food?

Typically, pets reach their full growth and should transition onto an 'adult' variety food around the following ages:

Pet Approx Fully Grown At
Cats 7-12 months
Large Breed Cats (such as Maine Coon) 12-15 months
Small Breed Dogs 7-12 months
Medium Breed Dogs 10-12 months
Large Breed Dogs 15-18 months
Giant Breed Dogs 18-24 months

Special Considerations

There may be some instances where a puppy has unique feeding requirements and the above guidance may not apply. Illnesses, allergies, and infections may change the feeding requirements of your puppy.

1. Upset Stomach

Puppies are very prone to tummy upsets, which may present as loose stool, gas, or vomiting. Causes of an upset stomach are commonly caused by a change in diet, eating raw meat or bones, or dietary indescretion (ie, eating something they shouldn't have!). More serious causes of tummy upsets include bacterial infections, parasites such as hookworm, and viruses such as parvovirus.

If your puppy has an upset tummy, you should call your vet for advice. Mild symptoms such as a soft stool or gas might benefit from a strict 'puppy food only' regime for a few days with no raw food, diet changes, or treats. Whereas more serious symptoms such as vomiting, watery diarrhoea, blood in the stool or inappetence require immediate veterinary attention.

2. Coccidiosis

Coccidia are single-celled parasites known as 'protozoa' which spend part of their lifecycle within the intestinal wall of dogs. Dogs are infected by swallowing oocytes (immature coccidia) found in dog faeces and soil. Many adult dogs do not show clinical signs when they are infected with coccidia, but puppies and immunosuppressed animals can suffer from severe watery diarrhoea, dehydration, and vomiting.

If you suspect your puppy is ill with coccidiosis, take them to your vet immediately. Your vet may test your dog's faeces and prescribe antibiotics. A diet change may be required, which may include swapping to a therapeutic diet.

3. Allergies and food sensitivities

Food allergies are responsible for approximately 10% of allergy cases in dogs, ranked third after flea allergy and atopic dermatitis. Food allergies may present as pruritis (severe itching of the skin), and/or gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhoea, flatulence, vomiting and colitis. When a true food allergy is present, the most common causal allergens have been demonstrated to be beef (34% of food allergies), dairy (17%), chicken (15%), wheat (13%), and lamb (14.5%).2

If you are curious if your puppy has a food allergy, talk to your vet about completing an elimination diet or swapping to a 'sensitive' puppy food.

4. Dogs at risk of GDV and Bloat

Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV), also know as 'bloat', refers to a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills up with gas, fluid, or food, and becomes enlarged and dilated. Large breed puppies with deep chests such as the Great Dane, German Shepherd, and Dobermann are particularly prone to GDV.

Dogs at a high risk of developing GDV, or who have experienced it in the past, may need to be fed slowly, in small portions. No more guzzling big bowls of food in one go! Puzzle feeders and slow feeding bowls can work incredibly well to not only slow down your dog's eating but also keep them occupied.

Further Reading

What is the Best Puppy Food (Wet / Dry / Freeze-Dried)

Parvo in Dogs

Raw Dog Food: The Risks & Benefits

Complete New Puppy Guide

References

1. AAFCO METHODS FOR SUBSTANTIATING NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY OF DOG AND CAT FOODS. www.aafco.org. (2012).

2. Mueller, R.S., Olivry, T. & Prélaud, P. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals: common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC Vet Res 12, 9 (2016).