Puppy Nutrition - What is a Growth Diet?
Getting a new puppy is so exciting! There will be so many new experiences over the first few weeks: the first vet visit, the first puppy class, the first new toy, the first accident in the house… Ok, maybe not every experience is exciting, but the overall ride is guaranteed to be a lot of fun!
Puppies need many things to give them the best start in life. Nutrition is especially important, as providing the appropriate balance of essential nutrients and energy will allow them to grow up into healthy adults. They are only puppies once, so we need to give them the best start we can!
Did you know that puppies have different needs than adults for many different nutrients, including amino acids, minerals and fatty acids? That's why feeding puppies a diet appropriate for growth is so important.
Proteins are essential for a variety of different functions, but they are important for the growth of bones, muscles, and hair. Overall quantity is important, but so is quality. Puppies have requirements for specific amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. It is important that the proteins in their diet are providing the appropriate amino acids to support their development.
Fibre & Digestibility
A puppy's fibre requirement isn't specifically different than that of an adult. However, the balance of fibres in the diet can be optimized to provide the best support. Couple this with highly digestible protein that is more easily absorbed and the appropriate cooking of the formula, and it can result in stool that is better formed and more easily picked up - which can be important during those weeks of house-training!
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential fatty acid that comes from maternal sources during pregnancy and lactation, and then from the diet after weaning. It is important for brain and sensory development, including vision. DHA has also been shown to help improve trainability in puppies, perfect for mastering that "sit-stay".
There are specific minerals that puppies need in different amounts than adults. However, in growing puppies, the balance of minerals, or how much there is in relation to a related mineral, is also very important. Puppy formulas are developed to provide the precise balance they need during growth. Supplementing a puppy diet with certain minerals could unbalance that ratio, potentially leading to growth concerns.
Puppies go through two phases of growth: an initial rapid growth period, which typically lasts until 6-9 months of age, followed by a slower growth period until they reach adulthood. During the rapid growth period, the energy needs of puppies are two times higher than those of adult dogs of similar weight. Much of the energy they eat is going directly to supporting their growth!
Once a puppy reaches the slower growth phase, their energy needs start to decline, approaching that of an equal-sized adult dog. However, those specific nutrient needs remain high during this period, so a puppy formula is still important until the puppy has finished growing. The age a puppy becomes a dog differs depending on the breed - check out this guideline to help figure when your little one is ready for an adult food.
Your veterinarian or breeder can help you select the appropriate diet for your new puppy. It will be important to choose a diet that provides all the necessary nutrients for healthy growth, and perhaps one that is also optimized for your puppy's size, growth phase or breed.
1. Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
2. Zicker et al (2012). JAVMA. 241 (5)