Puppies won’t get enough protein if they’re eating adult food, so it’s critical they eat a puppy specific formulation. Most brands carry products clearly marked as being puppy food.
Additionally, puppy food helps puppies grow at an appropriate rate. Vets make a distinction between optimal growth rates and maximal growth rates.
“An optimal growth rate in puppies is ideal,” write veterinarians Krista Williams and Robin Downing for VCA Hospitals. “It is a slow and steady growth rate that allows the puppy to achieve an ideal (optimal) adult body condition while avoiding excessive weight and obesity.”
Williams and Downing define a maximal growth rate as growing a puppy as fast as possible via high fat foods or overfeeding. Maximal growth rates can increase the risk of skeletal deformities, obesity later in life, and a shorter lifespan. Dog obesity is linked to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, heat intolerance and decreased immune function.
You want your puppy to grow at a speed that’s just right.
Oftentimes, puppy food is formulated at a higher caloric density per serving. Puppies have small tummies and can only eat so much in one sitting, which is why they need more calories per bite. You will probably need to feed your puppy around four times per day.
There is one grey area when it comes to buying puppy specific food. Some dog food brands carry dog food “for all stages of life.” This food may meet the nutritional requirements puppies have — read the labels to determine the amount of crude protein (22 percent) and fat (eight percent) is in each serving.
Why is protein so critical?
“Protein has several roles in the body, such as building and repairing muscles and other body tissues,” according to PetMD. “It is also needed to form new skin cells, grow hair, build muscle tissue and more.”
A PetMD article titled The Power of Protein, notes that dogs can’t store up protein in their bodies and they depend on eating it via their daily diet. It’s important that a puppy gets enough protein so it can grow.
“Because amino acids are basically the building blocks of tissues, protein has several functions in a dog’s body,” according to How Stuff Works. “It’s the structural component of connective tissues, as well as hair, skin and nails. But it’s also essential for the immune and musculoskeletal systems.”
Animal protein, which contains 10 essential amino acids, helps ensure your puppy has a glossy coat and healthy skin. Dry or brittle fur suggests that your dog may need more protein, at any age.
Some proteins are better than others — look for specific animal proteins (turkey, or beef, or lamb, or fish) listed in your puppy food ingredients, rather than ‘animal byproduct’ or ‘meat meal.’ Knowing exactly what type of protein your puppy is eating will help you discern if your new puppy has any food sensitivities. Protein should also be at the top of the ingredient list, rather than grains, vegetables or fillers. Dogs aren’t strictly omnivores — veggies, fruit, and grains or other carbs provide nutrients for your puppy, but protein comes first.
“Puppies need to eat more in the way of protein (including higher concentrations of specific amino acids), fat, and certain minerals than do adult dogs,” according to PetMD. “Many manufacturers provide higher amounts of nutrients that are not regulated by AAFCO in their puppy foods. Good examples are the omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals.”