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We don’t always think about how much and how often newborn puppies need to eat since, ideally, at this time in their lives they will be with their mothers.
While together, they fall into a natural and instinctive pattern of gaining the nutrients they need, when they need them, from their mother’s milk.
If puppies aren’t getting enough milk from mom, or mom isn’t around for whatever reason, how much and how often should they be eating?
In this article, we will take a look at some of the essential questions about puppy nutrition. We will start with how you can tell if your puppy is getting the nutrition they need.
Next, we will look at how often puppies need to eat, how much they need to eat, and what they should be eating for optimal nutrition.
DISCLAIMER: We are not veterinarians. This article is for entertainment purposes only. If you have any health-related questions about your dogs or puppies please consult with your vet or animal nutritionist.
Contents & Quick Navigation
How Do You Know If Nursing Puppies Are Getting Enough To Eat?
While we assume that nature will take its course for puppies that are nursing and that they will get enough nutrients from their mother, this does not always happen.
It could be that the mother can’t produce enough milk, that smaller puppies in a larger litter aren’t getting the access that they need, or that the mother has rejected a pup for some reason. How do you know?
The most obvious sign that a puppy isn’t getting enough to eat is its size and weight. If it is just one puppy in the litter, it will be noticeably smaller than the others.
If you don’t have a point of comparison, newborn puppies should gain between 5-10% of their body weight each day. This means that they should have doubled in size within the first week.
If the puppies are crying during or after nursing, this is also a sign that they aren’t getting enough as they are showing distress. Of course, crying doesn’t always sound that different from the sound that a group of satisfied suckling puppies makes, so pay close attention.
PRO TIP: If your newborn puppy is showing any signs of distress it’s important to talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How Often Should Newborn Puppies Eat?
When fed from their mother, newborn puppies will eat around every two hours. The time between feedings will gradually increase, so it might be three hours between feedings at two weeks and three and a half hours at three weeks.
They should not be left without food during the night and may need one or two nighttime feeds.
By the time they are four to five weeks old, you can expect that they will be eating around every 4-5 hours during the day, and they should continue to eat at night. They should not go more than five hours without food.
Once your puppy gets to six to eight weeks old, they can start being weaned onto solid food and should be eating around four times a day. They can go up to eight hours without food during the night.
It is better to give your puppy smaller meals more often rather than larger meals at longer intervals to help with digestion. Also, puppies have not yet developed the ability to manage their blood sugar levels, so they need regular feeding to keep their energy on an even level.
That said, for the first four weeks, they will spend most of their time eating, sleeping, and pooping. It can be a good idea to massage their bellies after a meal to help with proper digestion.
How Often Should Older Puppies Eat?
As puppies grow and move on to solid foods, you can further reduce the frequency at which they eat. Try and get them into a regular eating schedule as soon as possible, to give them security and to make bathroom needs and house training predictable.
How often they should be fed depends mainly on the size of the breed, but there are some exceptions.
Toy breeds should have 3-4 meals a day until they are about four months old. This can be reduced to 2-3 meals a day at six months until they are full-grown; then they only really need two meals a day.
Small and medium breeds can move on to a lower-frequency feeding schedule when they are about four months old and can eat just twice a day for the rest of their lives.
Larger breeds will need 2-3 meals a day when they are about four months old, but they will continue to need this more frequent feeding to keep up with their energy use as adults.
What Should Newborn Puppies Eat?
Until they are 4-5 weeks old, puppies should ideally be drinking their mother’s milk, which provides all the essential nutrition that they need at this important time of growth.
If mother’s milk is not available, there are a variety of milk replacement formulas available. They are not dissimilar from the formula that human babies receive, but are tweaked for puppy nutrition.
Below are some of the best puppy formulas that you can get today. You can also check out the emergency milk replacement recipes available on the Maddie’s Fund website.
This is a powdered milk supplement based on goat’s milk and reinforced with essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is recommended to reconstitute the milk with one part formula and two parts water, and every tablespoon will provide 13.5 calories as nutrients for your pup.
This liquid milk replacement formula is made from condensed skim milk and caseinate to produce an easy-to-use formula that contains everything that growing puppies need to thrive. It is particularly high in bioavailable protein and each tablespoon contains 13.2 calories.
This whey protein-based milk replacement for dogs can be given to puppies or used to nourish pregnant or lactating dogs. It is rich in protein and fat, which are essential for growing puppies, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. The formula also includes digestive enzymes to make it a little easier for new pups to manage.
This powdered skimmed milk and whey protein formula from goat’s milk is reinforced with digestive enzymes and immunoglobulins to help establish a healthy immune system for your pup from a young age.
This whey protein formula is formulated to support healthy growth and development in newborn puppies with plenty of calcium, magnesium, vitamins, antioxidants, and omegas. It is designed to align closely with mother’s milk for easy digestion. Each reconstituted tablespoon contains 12 calories of nutrition.
If you need to give your puppy formula, you will need to feed them from a bottle. You can read our full guide to how to bottle feed your puppy here.
What Should Older Puppies Eat?
You will generally know when a nursing puppy is ready to move on to solid foods since their mother won’t be so keen on feeding them anymore.
This is because it is the same time that their teeth start erupting, which can make nursing very uncomfortable for the mom. For most puppies, this is around 4-5 weeks, but it can happen a bit earlier.
Their teeth won’t be ready for hard kibble, so you will need to make them a gruel out of your chosen kibble, designed for puppies, and milk replacer. You can generally combine 2 cups of kibble with 12.5 ounces of milk replacer and 2 cups of water.
To assist with the transition, remove them from their mother or don’t give them any milk replacement formula for about two hours, and then offer them the gruel. Place it in a shallow dish that they can access easily.
If they aren’t interested, you may need to place a little on your finger and put it into their mouths. If they are interested, expect them to get into the tray in order to access the delicious food. Things can get messy.
You can then return them to their mother, who will lick them clean, or give them a quick wipe down with a cloth, but don’t bathe them.
When you begin this process, solid food should make up about 10% of their diet. You should gradually increase the proportion of their nutrition that comes from solid food until they are on a fully solid diet by around 7-8 weeks old.
How Are Puppy And Adult Dog Food Different?
In the supermarket, you will see adult dog food and puppy dog food alongside one another and it looks pretty much the same except the puppy options are more expensive. What is the real difference?
The main difference between adult and puppy dog foods is the amount of protein in the dish. While most adult dogs can get away with protein forming about 20% of their diet, puppies need at least 30% protein to power their period of growth.
This means more meat in the recipe, which is the main reason why puppy food tends to be more expensive than food for adult dogs.
It is not just the quantity of protein that differentiates puppy and dog foods, though. Puppies also need specific amino acids to support their growing bodies, and proteins for their food are chosen specifically to support this.
The ten most important amino acids for puppies are valine, threonine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, arginine, and histidine.
Usually higher protein is accompanied by more fat, so puppy foods have more fat than other dog foods as well. This is fine for growing puppies but can cause weight problems in older dogs. This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t give adult dogs puppy food as a protein-rich food option.
While feeding your puppy food for adult dogs won’t do them any specific harm, giving them food specially formulated for them will give them the best start in life.
You can generally move puppies onto adult food sometime between 6-12 months of age. The longer the dog breed takes to reach its full size, the longer you should wait to make the transition.
As a general rule, smaller breeds complete their growth sooner and larger breeds take a bit longer to reach their full size, but be sure to research your specific breed.
How Much Should You Feed A Puppy From Newborn To 1 Year Old?
In the first month of a puppy’s life, while they are nourishing themselves on mother’s milk or formula, puppies need approximately 3.5-3.75 calories per ounce of their body weight every 24 hours. As an example, a 6oz puppy will need about 22.5 calories per day.
Most puppy formulas contain about 1 calorie per milliliter, so it should be relatively easy to figure out how much to give them. Check the details of your chosen formula, though, as some are more nutrient-dense than others.
Once you move them onto hard food, it is easiest to think about their food needs in cups.
Below is a rough guide based on the size and age of the puppy, but you should be monitoring your puppy for their weight gain and the composition of their body, plus their energy levels, to decide whether to increase or reduce their intake.
|Weight of Breed (fully grown)||1-3 months||4-5 months||6-8 months||9-11 months||1 year +|
|3-12 pounds||½ – 1 cup||⅔ – 1⅓ cups||⅔ – 1½ cups||Adult||Adult|
|13-20 pounds||½ – 1¼ cups||1⅛ – 2 cups||1⅛ – 2⅓ cups||1⅓ – 1½ cups||Adult|
|21-50 pounds||½ – 1½ cups||1½ – 2¾ cups||1½ – 2⅓ cups||2-3 cups||2 – 4¼ cups|
|51-75 pounds||⅝ – 2⅓ cups||1½ – 4 cups||1½ – 4 cups||2½ – 4¾ cups||2½ – 8 cups|
|76-100 pounds||1 – 2⅔ cups||2⅞ – 3¾ cups||2⅞ – 6⅓ cups||3⅞ – 7 cups||5⅝ – 11 cups|
|101+ pounds||2⅔ cups plus ⅓ cup for every 10lbs over 100 lbs||3¾ cups plus ⅓ cup for every 10lbs over 100 lbs||6⅓ cups plus ⅓ cup for every 10lbs over 100 lbs||7 cups plus ⅓ cup for every 10lbs over 100 lbs||11 cups plus ⅓ cup for every 10lbs over 100 lbs|
Once dogs reach adulthood, they will need fewer calories to keep them healthy and energetic. Again, while you need to observe your dog and make tweaks for them specifically, the following formula can give you a baseline for how much they should be eating.
First, determine their Resting Energy Requirements, or RER. For this, multiply their body weight in kilograms raised by ¾ power by 70. For example, for a 10kg adult dog, the formula is 70(10) to the power of ¾, which gives you 400 calories.
But this is their basic need, which you need to adjust depending on their lifestyle. Below are the advised adjustments for different types of dogs.
- Neutered adult = RER x 1.6
- Intact adult = RER x 1.8
- Inactive adult = RER x 1.2
- Weight loss = RER for ideal weight x 1.0
- Weight gain = RER for ideal weight x 1.5
- Active or working dogs = RER x 2-5 (depending on activity level)
With this as a starting guideline, observe your dog and adjust their diet to find the right fit for them.
How long can newborn puppies go without nursing?
Newborn puppies in the first two weeks of their lives can go about two hours without nursing from their mother. This time period will gradually increase as their stomachs grow.
By the time they are a month old, they should be able to go five hours without eating during the night.
Should you wake a newborn puppy to feed?
Puppies over a month old can go 5-8 hours without feeding, so you can avoid waking them for a feeding. Smaller puppies need to eat every 2-4 hours.
If they are underweight or crying, they may need to eat at night. This means waking them up, but if you keep them calm and relaxed by not overstimulating them in any other way they should go right back to sleep.
Dogs can’t tell you when they are hungry and they also have a tendency to eat anything you offer them, so you need to have a good idea of just how much and how often you should be feeding your dog.
In this article, we have taken you through what to feed your dog, how much to give them, and how frequently they should have access to food.
While every dog is different, this guide will hopefully give you a general baseline that you can adjust to suit your dog and your lifestyle.
Do you have any top tips for feeding newborn puppies?
Share them with the community in the comments section below.
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