Canine nutrition – at every stage of a dog’s life – is an often overlooked aspect of health and performance. As humans, we are hyperaware of what we should be eating ourselves, but not so much when it comes to our dogs. While we may not always go for lean protein and some green veggies, we at least know we should if we want to keep ourselves healthy.
This isn’t the case with our dogs a lot of times, and what’s worse, we sometimes think we do our pets a favor by buying them food that appeals to us. At least marketing-speak -wise it does, but that doesn’t mean our dog-food choice is right for our sporting pups. So before you go all-in on organic dog food that is chock-full of blueberries and spinach and kale, or devoid of gross-sounding ingredients like animal by-products, understand that the cubicle dwellers who designed the packages of dog food aren’t selling to dogs.
They are selling to you.
Quality dog food isn’t about what we find appealing, it’s about what a dog actually needs in his diet depending on physical expectations and age. When it comes to the latter, this choice becomes crucial as soon as you pick up your new pupper.
What Puppies Need
Puppies are active and growing, and that one-two combination means their caloric requirements are high. A good measurement for a sporting breed would be a formula that promises somewhere in the neighborhood of 450kcals per cup. That might seem like overkill, but it’s not. Puppies burn a lot of energy. And remember, while it might be tempting to feed moist or semi-moist food, don’t. While easy to digest, moist puppy food can contain up to 75 percent water, which means it tends to contain fewer nutrients than dry foods. It also means that you have to feed a lot of it to give your puppy enough calories to meet his daily needs.
Puppies are also highly susceptible to toxins and nutritional deficiencies, both of which can come from poor-quality ingredients in their food. Spend up for you pup if you want to ensure better health overall. But it’s not enough just to drop serious coinage on a bag of puppy chow, it should also contain plenty of protein (at least 22 percent), fat (at least eight percent) and a host of fatty acids like omega 3s, as well as plenty of minerals.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), aside from being a word salad, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is instrumental in neural development in puppies. This means that if you want a fast-learning dog with a continually developing brain, you’d better choose a puppy-food formula that provides plenty of DHA, which also aids in the retinal function and the development of the central nervous system.
DHA is sourced mostly from fish like salmon, sardines or tuna. It can, however, come from eggs and - organ meat - which can also be labeled as an animal by-product in an ingredient’s list. Remember, just because you wouldn’t want it on your breakfast plate doesn’t mean that it’s not perfect for your pup.
Veterinary science nerds have conducted some cool studies on puppies that were fed enhanced-DHA diets versus control groups that weren’t so lucky. The results time and time again are that puppies that are given enhanced-DHA diets are more trainable than the puppies they are compared against that aren’t provided the special diet. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want that out of their puppy.
Puppy Food Until When?
While most of us know that whether we bring our new pup home at six weeks or eight, as long as they are weaned they should be eating puppy food. The bigger question, then, is when are our dogs old enough to transition to adult-formula food?
That all depends on your dog. Most sporting dogs will fit into the medium- or large-breed category, which means they’ll reach maturity at different times. For example, a 40-pound springer spaniel might be bodily mature at a year and ready for adult food. A hoss of a chessie might not get there until he is 18 months old.
This means that while you might try to follow a general rule about age and maturity, it’s better to consult your vet. If your dog is still growing, you want to keep giving him the right puppy food to meet his body’s needs. If he’s tapped out and fully mature, it’s time to switch. Ask a professional if you’re unsure.
Just like staying on the outside edges of the grocery store and picking up plenty of vegetables, fruits and quality meats will mean your cart will be full of better people food, researching puppy food and understanding what your new four-legger needs is equally important. Conduct some due diligence, be prepared to spend up a little for better ingredients, and give your dog what it really needs to fully thrive during the formative stage of its life.