How to give your puppy the best start in life

Puppies grow rapidly during the first six months of their lives and to enable them to develop into strong, healthy adults they need the correct nutrition from the start.

When puppies reach three or four weeks old, they are ready to be weaned. This is the process of moving from their mother’s milk to eating solid food. In the first weeks of their lives, pups get everything they need from milk and are dependent on their mothers for this, but, as they grow and their bodies develop, they need more than their mothers can provide.

At times during this period of rapid growth, puppies can require as much as three times more calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals per kilogram of body weight than adult dogs of the same breed. This is why puppies need to be weaned on to specific puppy formulas that cater for their nutritional requirements. A specially designed puppy formula will include everything that a growing pup needs for optimal health, which takes away the guesswork for owners. All complete puppy foods will contain the following essential ingredients:

  • Protein – A puppy’s diet should be comprised of between 21% and 26% protein, which they need to ensure they grow and develop correctly, as well as strengthening their immune system. The best source of protein for puppies comes from meat but it can also be found in animal byproducts and soy
  • Carbohydrates – This is where puppies get their energy and their diet should comprise around 42% carbohydrate. Common sources of carbohydrate in puppy food include corn and wheat but premium brands often use rice, barley and oats
  • Fats – Puppies need around 15-20% fat in their diets for energy, as well as promoting healthy skin and a glossy coat
  • Vitamins and minerals – Puppies need a range of vitamins to enable them to digest their food properly, therefore unlocking the vital nutrients within. A balanced puppy food should include vitamins A, D, E, K and B-complex, as well as calcium and phosphorus

The importance of water

Despite being smaller in size, puppies actually need to drink more than adult dogs. This is because a puppy’s kidneys cannot concentrate urine until they are fully functional at 11-16 weeks old. Until that point, whatever a puppy drinks will come out again and it is much harder for them to stay hydrated.

Very young puppies will get all the water they need from their mother’s milk, just as baby humans do, but when they are weaned, puppies will need access to fresh drinking water. The general rule is that puppies should have about 350ml of water every two hours.


A puppy that is fed a nutritionally complete and balanced diet will not need any additional treats, however they can be a big help when it comes to early training. You should always make your pup work for a treat, even if it is just a ‘sit’. Never miss a training opportunity! Commercially produced treats can be highly calorific so give sparingly to avoid unwanted weight gain, or try giving these alternatives as rewards:

  • Blueberries – rich in antioxidants and high in fibre
  • Carrots – rich in fibre and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Also crunching on carrot is good for the teeth
  • Bananas – high in fibre, potassium and a range of vitamins that can contribute to a healthy heart and digestion. Bananas are high in sugar though so should only be fed in small amounts
  • Apple – high in fibre to aid digestion and can help keep the breath fresh
  • Red pepper – can help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system
  • Watermelon – a great choice of treat for a hot day as it is 92% water. Be careful to remove all seeds though as they can cause digestion problems if swallowed

Bones and some chews are unsuitable for puppies under six months old due to the fact their teeth are delicate and can be easily broken by chewing on something hard.

Also, avoid giving your puppy human foods that are toxic to dogs, such as onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate and products containing the sweetener xylitol.

Weigh your puppy regularly to ensure they are maintaining a healthy weight and being fed the correct amount. Once a puppy reaches 90% of its expected adult weight – which will vary depending on breed or breed mix – they will be ready to move on to an adult food.

For more advice on what to feed your pets speak to your local in-store Animal Health Advisor