a yellow Labrador puppy eats from a bright pink bowl

What should I feed my puppy?

Before you pick your puppy up from the breeder or rescue centre, ask them what brand and type of food your puppy is being fed on. By the time puppies are eight weeks old, they should have been weaned from mum and be eating solid food. A reputable breeder or rescue should give you a few days’ supply of this food to take home with you when you take your puppy home (if your puppy is not weaned on to solid food, walk away and do not buy your puppy from them).

You can choose to keep them on this same puppy food, or switch them to a different brand of puppy food once they’ve settled in.

If changing your puppy to a different type or brand of food, you’ll need to do this over a week to 10 days to avoid causing an upset tummy. On the first day of the switch, add a small amount of their new food to their current food, and then slowly introduce more of the new food and less of the current food over time.

If you’re moving from a wet to a dry food, note that your puppy will likely drink more.

There is a bewildering choice of dog food available in pet shops, supermarkets and from your vet, so it can be hard to decide which is best for your puppy. Any commercial puppy food, appropriate for the age and size of your dog and described as ‘complete’, will be nutritionally balanced for your dog and won’t need to be mixed with anything else.

Your puppy should have access to fresh water at all times.

When and how often should I feed my puppy?

From when you bring your puppy home at eight weeks until they are four months old, it’s best to feed them four meals a day. At four months, reduce this to three meals a day and when they turn six months, reduce to two meals. Continue a morning and evening meal for your pup’s life.

When you choose to feed your pup their meals is up to you, but we recommend spacing out meals evenly throughout the day. Remaining consistent will help get them into a routine, which will make life easier for you and them. We also recommend avoiding strenuous exercise after eating, which can lead to vomiting and potentially bloat.

You may have read that people should always eat their dinner before the family pet gets theirs – this comes from a very outdated concept of dog behaviour and is based on the now-debunked idea that you need to show your dog who is boss (sometimes called the ‘pack leader’ or ‘alpha’). While it is important to teach your dog good manners around food so they are well-behaved and don’t eat things that could cause them harm, your puppy isn’t planning a household takeover! What’s more important to a puppy is routine and consistency, as this will ensure they understand what you expect of them and grow into a confident dog who trusts you. Feeding your pet at the same time each day will help get them into a routine, and ensuring everyone in the family consistently sticks to any doggy rules you decide upon (for eg no titbits from the table) will help your pup to understand what you’re asking of them more quickly.

Where should I feed my puppy?

Find a quiet spot where your pup can chow down in peace and won’t be disturbed by other pets, children or adults. We recommend feeding your new puppy away from any other household pets until they’re all used to each other and won’t be tempted to pinch each other’s dinner! 

Does my puppy need ‘puppy’ food?

Puppies have growing bodies and so have different nutritional needs to fully grown dogs. We recommend feeding your pup a labelled puppy food until they are around a year old (or as advised by your vet) before moving them on to an adult food. Your vet may recommend feeding a large or giant breed puppy food for longer than a year.

Help! My puppy is a quick eater

Some dogs just love their food and will hoover it up in no time at all. If your pup is one of them, it’s a good idea to invest in a way of slowing them down. This could be through stuffing their meal into a Kong so they have to eat it slowly, or using a puzzle bowl which makes it trickier to get to the food in as quick a time and so slows them down. 

Some breeds (usually large or giant breed dogs) are more susceptible to a condition called bloat, where the stomach fills with gas and flips, cutting of the blood supply. It’s a very serious and potentially life-threatening illness and veterinary attention should be sought immediately. Bloat can be brought on by eating too quickly, so for these breeds in particular we recommend using a slow feeding bowl.

a black and tan puppy eats from a blue activity food toy
Activity feeders can be great fun for puppies, but choose one suitable for your pup's level of understanding

Activity feeding

One way to make meal times more fun and get your pup’s brain working is to use an activity feeder. These are brilliant for dogs throughout all stages of life, but will help your pup in a number of ways, including slowing down speedy eaters (see above), directing the urge to chew away from your furniture and into something you’re happy for them to sink their teeth into, motivating youngsters who are picky about their food, and keeping them calm and occupied when you’d like them to be.

Do make sure to choose an activity/puzzle feeder that is suitable for your puppy’s level of understanding. Some toys such as treat balls are trickier to master than other for a novice puppy, and if your pup has difficulty reaching the food they could become frustrated which could lead to problems around food. Start your pup off with something like a Kong or a slow feed bowl where the food is easy to get out. Once they’re happy with this you can move them onto types that require more brain power.

How to know if your puppy is fat

Pet obesity is a huge problem in the UK, with studies suggesting that 56 per cent of the nation’s dogs are overweight or obese. Fat dogs will struggle more to enjoy life and the likelihood of them suffering from serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems and cancer, is increased. These health problems won’t just put a strain on your wallet as they are costly to treat, but they could cause heartache too as each tends to lead to premature death. They are also at greater risk of arthritis, which is painful for dogs. Managing your pup’s food intake alongside suitable exercise for their age is the best way to prevent them getting fat.

Many dog owners don’t recognise that their pet is overweight, but there are simple and easy ways to check. Look straight down at your pup’s body from above. Your pet’s waist should taper in to give an hourglass shape. If they look oval from above you will need to think about cutting down on their food intake, and if the hourglass shape is too extreme they are underweight.

Gently run your hands along both sides of your dog’s chest and you should be able to feel their ribs through a thin layer of fat. The ribs should not be highly visible as they would be in an emaciated dog, but neither should it be difficult to feel them through a layer of fat.

These body scoring images will give you a good guide on what a healthy pup looks like:

  1. Emaciated: dog needs to put on much more weight. This needs to be done in a managed way with advice from your vet
dog body score - 1 emaciated
1. Emaciated: dog needs to put on much more weight

2. Thin: dog could do with eating more. Perhaps they do a lot of exercise but don’t eat enough to support the calories burnt.

dog body score - 2 thin
2. Thin: dog could do with eating more

3. Just right: this is how a healthy dog should look and is ideal for your pet to enjoy a happy lifestyle

dog body score - 3 healthy
3. Just right: this is how a healthy dog should look and is ideal for your pet to enjoy a happy lifestyle

4. Fat: dog needs to lose some weight and is at risk of pilling on the pounds to become obese. Decrease food intake and up the exercise. We recommend speaking to your vet to tailor the weight loss plan to your dog.

dog body score - 4 fat
4. Fat: dog needs to lose some weight and is at risk of pilling on the pounds to become obese

5. Obese: this dog is seriously overweight and at increased risk of serious health problems and dying early. A dog this fat cannot enjoy life to the full and will likely struggle with every day fun such as walks. Speak to your vet about helping your dog to get back to a healthy weight in a safe way.

dog body score - 5 obese
5. Obese: this dog is seriously overweight and at increased risk of serious health problems and dying early

Our body scoring images are based on a Labrador retriever. Different breeds and types of dogs will differ in what shape makes them a healthy weight, for example sighthounds are naturally thinner and a healthy shape for them may sit between dog two and dog three. Utility dogs such as English bulldogs and pugs have a different body shape but their correct weight can still be assessed by feeling their ribs. They are at an even greater risk of obesity-related health problems because their flat faces mean breathing problems are more common. Many vets and nurses run weight clinics at their practices and will gladly give advice on a suitable and healthy weight for your pet.

— Page last updated 22/03/2024