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Feeding Your Pup For the First Few Days Home

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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There are lots of things you will need to think about and plan for prior to bringing home a new puppy. How to feed, what to feed, and when to feed are just a few of these things. Whether you get the new pup from a breeder or from a shelter or pound, it is a good idea to find out what the pup is eating there so that you can continue on the same nutritional theme, at least for the first few days. If you think about it, your new puppy is already having to cope with enough change as it transitions from its previous home, or even litter, to its new home environment. The last thing needed is a simultaneous diet change.

How, for the first couple days?

Keeping the pup's food the same is one way to minimize the stress of the move. It is one way to bridge the gap between the life that was and the life that is to be. Before you take your puppy home, ask for a sample off the food he/she has been eating to get you through the first few days. If you plan to change to another brand of food, do so after the first couple days and do it by gradually mixing it the new food into the old food. Do this over at least 2 or 3 days until you are feeding all new food. This will help encourage your puppy to keep eating, minimize stress, and prevent stomach upset, such as vomiting or diarrhea.

What?

Most breeders and shelter workers know that puppies should be fed proprietary puppy food designed to supply all the nutrients that a rapidly growing pup needs. Some people refer to such rations as "growth formula." However referred to, the ration should be complete and balanced. It should say as much on the package label. The food should be AAFCO approved. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials and their stamp of approval means that the food has undergone rigorous testing and been found satisfactory for the label indication i.e. feeding rapidly growing puppies.

The question arises, "Should I feed my pup dry food or canned food?" The answer is either, or a combination of the two, will do just fine. Dry food is less expensive but wet food is more palatable for the pup. Dry food can be rendered a little more odoriferous and exciting by adding a spoonful of hot water on top of it to bring out the aromas and soften the texture. Some new owners want to feed their pup "ad libitum" (free choice) so that the food is down all the time and the puppy simply grazes whenever it's hungry. This is not always a good idea as some puppies may eat too much and become overweight. Plus, it may make housebreaking more difficult. If the "ad libitum" approach is to be employed, dry food is the way to go as it keeps better.

When?

Pups that are around eight weeks old should probably be fed three or four times a day at first though the frequency can be reduced to three times a day by 12 weeks and to twice daily by 16 weeks of age. Feeding a little and often is a good practice because it permits the owner to observe the puppy eating several times a day and thus to note its eating habits. At this stage in a puppy's life the gastrocolic reflex is still quite active, so once a pup has finished eating, it usually has to be taken outside to eliminate. Pairing feeding with outside excursions in this way is a good start on the road toward eventual housebreaking.

Where?

Another question that arises is, "Where should I feed my pup?" The answer to this question is that it doesn't matter too much, but the location should be consistent. To help the newcomer learn the ropes, feeding in the kitchen is usually a good idea as the pup will be near family members and kitchen floors are usually fairly easy to clean. There is nothing wrong with feeding a puppy in its crate or in a pen or in the living room, for that matter.

How Much?

"How much should I feed?" might be the next question that comes to the new puppy owner's mind. Not too little and not too much is the trite (and correct ) answer. "But how do I know the right amount?" First, let the manufacturer's label instructions be a guide for you. There will be a range of quantity depending on your pup's size. Feed the middle of the range. If the pup woofs his food down within 2 or 3 minutes, his meal size may need to be increased. If there is still food left in the bowl after 15 or 20 minutes, the meal size should probably be reduced. Just like with people, caloric requirements for one may not be the same as for another with the same body weight. The ultimate gauge as to whether you're feeding too much or too little is the pup's size and condition. A normal pup should have a waist that is evident particularly when the pup is viewed directly from above. If the pup assumes tubular dimensions, it is probably time to cut back on the amount fed. When meal feeding, especially if wet food is used, the food should be picked up after about 15 or 20 minutes so that none is left lying around. This assures that the pup will eat at specified mealtimes, like a person, and will enable the puppy's owner to observe its eating habits and be ready to take him outside "for a walk" after the meal.

Treats?

One other question that arises is "Should I feed my puppy treats and, if so, what is acceptable?" Healthy treats are best and these can be either part of the puppy's normal ration that is held back to be supplied periodically throughout the day for reward pleasing behaviors. Wet food is more of a reward than dry food and can be reserved for use in this way. Alternatively, proprietary puppy treats may be used. The important thing about treats is that they should be small and should not be given too often or they will imbalance the diet. It is a really bad idea to feed pups human food, which they will probably prefer over their well-balanced puppy rations. Eating human food can turn them into finicky eaters and they may end up holding out for hot dog or steak and not eating their proper fill of puppy food. Another absolute "no-no" is feeding the pup from the table as this will lead to bad habits of begging and pestering people at mealtimes. Start out the way you intend to continue. Another strong recommendation: no raw food. While some people will tell you that raw food is natural, so is disease. Over 50% of certain supermarket meats were found to have superficial contamination with Salmonella or Campylobacter, so feeding raw foods is playing Russian roulette with your pup's gastrointestinal tract, and possibly his life (It doesn't take long for a vomiting and diarrhoeic pup to become dehydrated and electrolyte deficient and thus seriously weakened).

Supplements?

Another thing new puppy owners wonder is whether they should feed their new pup vitamins or mineral supplements. The answer to this is that if you are feeding proper puppy food that is complete and balanced, additional vitamins and minerals are not only unnecessary and expensive but may also even be harmful under some circumstances.

So what's the bottom line? The answer is really that puppy owners should feed proprietary high quality AAFCO-approved food in the manner recommended by the manufacturers. Puppies should eat regularly and its eating habits should be observed to ensure that it does not eat too much or too little and that it does not become sick. All this may sound like common sense, but it's amazing how many people get it wrong. Fortunately for you, now that you've read this piece, you won't be one of them.

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