Proper Puppy Nutrition – Nourish Growth & Development

Puppies running in a field of grass


Puppies undergo a phase of rapid growth and development, especially from the time they are weaned until around 4 to 6 months old. During this critical period, puppies, depending on the breed size, require about twice as much energy, or calories, per pound of body weight as adult dogs of the same breed size. Additionally, they require an increased intake of nutrients to adequately support their developing bodies.

“The first food a breeder introduces to puppies should provide complete and balanced nutrition to meet the nutrient requirements of growing puppies,” says Purina Veterinary Communications Manager Laura Eirmann, DVM, DACVN. “With proper nutrition, puppies are more likely to develop properly and have strong bones and teeth, healthy vision, a thick lustrous coat and strong muscles.”

Although the rapid growth of many dog breeds begins to slow down around the age of 6 months, puppies continue to grow and develop for several more months, depending on their breed size. Smaller breeds tend to reach physical maturity at a younger age compared to large- and giant-breed dogs. During this extended growth period, puppies still have higher nutrient requirements per pound of body weight than adult dogs. As a result, it is important to continue feeding them a specially formulated food for growth, as advised by Eirmann, a veterinary nutrition specialist.

Large and giant breeds, such as Great Dane, Saint Bernard and Newfoundland, may not mature physically until nearly two years old. It is crucial to provide these breeds, as well as any puppy expected to weigh seventy pounds or more as an adult, with a growth diet specially formulated for large-breed puppies throughout their entire growth phase.


The nutritional health of puppies, just like adult dogs, depends on receiving the correct amounts and proportions of six essential nutrients: water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. To be considered “complete,” a puppy food should contain all essential nutrients, except water, which should always be accessible. These nutrients also must be present in the proper proportion to ensure a puppy food is balanced. The nutritional adequacy statement on the pet food label will state if a product provides “complete and balanced nutrition” for growing puppies. “Though fat, protein and calcium tend to get the greater emphasis in puppy foods, every single essential nutrient is key, especially during the period of rapid growth,” Dr. Eirmann says. “Deficiencies in any essential nutrient can compromise short- or long-term health.”

Ensuring a complete and balanced diet for puppies is crucial for several reasons. Imbalances in nutrients can result in issues highlighted by Dr. Eirmann:

  • A zinc deficiency can contribute to compromised immune function and skin abnormalities.
  • Too little protein can cause disturbed growth as well as immune compromise and increased susceptibility to various stressor and infectious agents.
  • Calcium balanced with phosphorus is particularly critical for large-breed dogs, as too little or too much can lead to skeletal problems.


In addition to ensuring complete and balanced nutrition, it is essential to provide puppies of all breed sizes with the appropriate amount of calories during their growth phase. This means providing enough calories to support normal growth while keeping the puppy at an optimal lean body condition.

Maximal growth is not optimal growth. Overfeeding and excessive weight gain in large dogs is a risk factor for developmental orthopedic conditions such as hip dysplasia. “When feeding a large-breed puppy, research shows that avoiding overfeeding benefits skeletal development,” says Dr. Eirmann. “A breeder or owner should monitor a puppy’s weight and body condition score, adjusting food intake as necessary to maintain ideal body condition.”

Just as in adult dogs, ideal body condition means that the ribs are easily palpable with minimal fat covering and that the waist is easily noted when viewed from above. A puppy in ideal body condition has an obvious abdominal tuck when viewed from the side. “Even puppies not predisposed to skeletal problems should be maintained at a lean body condition since overweight pups often become overweight or obese dogs with increased risks for various health problems,” Dr. Eirmann says.

Some breeds and some individual puppies may have higher or lower energy needs compared to average. “Puppies should be fed a measured amount, or a weighed amount for more precision, of a complete and balanced puppy food at each meal,” explains Dr. Eirmann. “The pet food label provides general guidelines to serve as a starting point, but the amount of food should be adjusted as needed to maintain a lean body condition for that specific puppy. Keep in mind that all additional foods including training treats contain calories. Treats should not exceed 10 percent of the puppy’s daily caloric intake in order to prevent excessive weight gain and unbalancing the puppy’s nutrient intake.”

Matching caloric density of the food to a puppy’s energy needs is important. “If a puppy eats everything offered and then seems excessively hungry after or between meals, a diet with a lower energy density that has fewer kilocalories per cup may help with satiety since the puppy can be offered a large volume of the lower calorie food,” she says. “Conversely, if a puppy is unable to eat sufficient volume of a food to maintain weight or if the volume appears excessive such that the dog looks bloated after meals, a puppy food that is more caloric dense may be beneficial because a smaller volume can be fed to meet energy and nutrient needs.”

One thing to keep in mind is frequently switching foods is likely to create a pattern of pickiness and/or obesity in a puppy. “Beyond that, the key is to select a complete and balanced puppy food that matches the energy needs of the puppy,” says Dr. Eirmann.

Feeding puppies a highly nutritious food specifically designed for their growth and development is crucial for setting them on the right path in life. Breeders who prioritize providing puppies with a nutritious advantage in their food bowl can take pride in knowing that they have played a significant role in helping these puppies transition into healthy adult dogs.


  1. Puppies should be fed a food specially formulated for growth and development until they reach physical maturity.
  2. DHA an essential nutrient to support brain and vision development.
  3. Large and giant breeds do not mature until they are nearly 2 years old. Thus, until they reach maturity, they should be fed a diet specifically formulated for large-breed puppies in an amount that maintains lean body condition to prevent excessive weight.
  4. Small breed and toy breed puppies should be given food with nutrient-dense, bite-sized kibble. The smaller kibble size makes it easier for small mouths to chew.

Discover the range of premium puppy food products offered by Purina to support your puppy's growth and development. Click here to explore Purina's nutritious and specially formulated options for your puppy.

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