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Puppies are a lot like human children. They need lots of calories and nutrition to grow, but their caloric and nutritional needs change as they mature. Transitioning your dog from puppy food to adult food at the right stage of life is not just a matter of preventing obesity; it also helps prevent orthopedic problems and other health issues.
When to Transition
So when, exactly, does your puppy become an adult dog? That’s a tricky question, because breed and size affect the answer. Many dogs can retain a puppyish look until they reach adult hormone levels, but you should transition to adult dog food when your pet is approaching full adult height and weight, say experts. General guidelines:
- Big Dogs Large and giant breeds need slow, steady growth to prevent bone and joint issues, advises Dr. Corrina Parsons, a veterinarian at the Longwood Veterinary Center in Kennett Square, Penn. Your big dog can take up to two years to reach full maturity, but you should start transitioning off puppy food at 12 to 18 months.
- Medium Dogs Medium-size breeds mature between 12 and 16 months. Your medium-sized dog can be transitioned off puppy food at 12 months.
- Small and Toy Dogs These breeds mature earlier than larger dogs, at 10 to 12 months. Start phasing out puppy food at 10 months — or even sooner if your pint-sized puppy is pudgy. Their ribs should have a light padding of fat, but not too much, says Jim Scharnberg, a hound and terrier breeder in Chester Springs, Penn. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian.
How to Transition From Puppy Food to Adult Food
Veterinarians and breeders agree that a gradual switch from puppy to adult food over 10 to 14 days is the best way to prevent stomach upsets. This gives bacteria in the intestines time to adapt to the new food, says Dr. Jules Benson, veterinarian and vice president of veterinary services at Petplan, a pet insurance provider. “Start by feeding 10 percent new food, 90 percent old food, and increase the proportion of new food by 10 percent or so per day,” he explains.
How Much Food?
It’s best to follow the pet food manufacturer’s recommendations for quantity when you make the switch to adult dog food. Adjust up or down based on your dog’s activity level and metabolism. Ask your puppy’s breeder and veterinarian for advice, says Scharnberg. “They know the correct balance of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals for proper overall development at various growth stages,” he explains. “Handle your dog daily to feel body tone, and note if your dog is getting skinny or blimpy — neither of which are good,” advises Scharnberg.
Kibbles or Canned?
Most vets and breeders agree dry food is better at preventing tartar on your dog’s teeth, but feeding wet or dry food is a personal choice. What’s equally important is sticking with the same feed ratio and brand of food during the transition from puppy to adult feed. “Stomach upset or loose stools during the transition period will be minimized or prevented if you maintain the same dry-only, canned-only, or canned/dry program that has been working for you and your dog,” says Parsons. “It’s a good idea to continue feeding the same brand of food, as the protein and carbohydrates used in the puppy and adult foods likely come from the same sources.”
Transitioning your dog from puppy food to adult food is a canine rite of passage. Make the switch gradually and at the right age to keep your dog his happiest and healthiest.