When To Switch From Puppy Food To Adult Dog Food

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When to switch from puppy food to adult dog food

So, you’ve noticed your puppy is growing. Previously an uncoordinated little furball, jumping & falling all over the place; now he’s maturing and turning into a big boy.

Welcome to a new stage in your dog’s life — the adult stage. Now that your dog’s an adult, he should be switched over to adult food so he can continue growing optimally. Here we break down for you when it’s time to make the switch, how to make the switch and other important information.

Puppy food timeline

The diet of a puppy can be broken down into stages, starting at birth and up to the time he’s shifted on to adult dog food. It’s an important period of growth for your puppy, and will require just a bit of attention & planning from you.

From birth to 6 weeks: your puppy depends on his mother’s milk for everything. This milk is called colostrum, rich in nutrients and a complete diet for all your puppy’s needs. Starting at about 3-4 weeks of life, the puppy can start having some solid foods, while still getting most of his nutrition from his mother’s milk. This process is called weaning — it’s a gradual process, and one that’s initiated by the mother. Around the 6th-7th week of life, weaning ends & the puppy stops nursing his mother’s milk completely.

From 6 weeks to 6 months: once weaning ends, the puppy gets all his nutrients from solid food, and this is where you come in. Your puppy will need four feedings a day for optimal growth. At around 3 months of age, you should start noticing some changes in your puppy’s body — he is beginning to lose some of the fat around his belly, he is growing rapidly and his general body shape is changing to a more mature one. Once you see those changes, you can decrease feedings to thrice a day.

From 6 months to 12 months: decrease feedings further to twice a day some time during this period. Keep in mind this refers to feeding frequency, not the amount of food your puppy needs per day. Most puppies will also be switched over to adult food some time during these months. More on that in the sections below.

The difference between puppy food & adult dog food

Puppy food has more proteins, fats & certain minerals – all the things your puppy needs while he’s growing rapidly during the first year of life. Puppy food is specially formulated to support that growth.

Puppy food is also more dense in calories & nutrients, because puppies can eat only so much food before their tummies are full. Kibble size is usually smaller so puppies can comfortably chew & swallow the pellets of food.

Large-breed puppies deserve a special mention here. These are puppies that are expected to weigh more than 50 pounds at adulthood. Food formulated for large breed puppies will have moderated proteins and fats because these dogs are at risk of growing too much or too quickly, leading to obesity or joint dysplasia.

Large breed or small, all puppies should be maintained on appropriate puppy food from the time they start eating solid foods until the decision is made to shift them over to adult dog food.

When to switch to adult dog food

There are a few things to consider when deciding on the right time to make the switch. Breed size, activity level, and your puppy’s behavior towards his food will give you all the signs you need.

Breed size

Smaller dogs reach physical maturity sooner than big dogs do. This is an important measure because once a puppy reaches 80% of their adult size, they’re ready for adult food. Below is an estimate for when puppies are at 80% of their adult size and generally ready to be switched over to adult food.

  • Toy breeds – about 6-7 months
  • Small breeds – about 8-10 months
  • Medium breeds – about 10-12 months
  • Large breeds – about 12-19 months
  • Giant breeds – about 19 months

Not all puppies are the same, so if you have doubts remember that keeping them on puppy food for a bit longer than necessary is better than switching them over too early.

Activity level

Dogs that are more active throughout the day would benefit from remaining on puppy food for a month or 2 longer than sedentary dogs.

Whether that’s because some breeds are just more active than others, or because some fur parents like to include their dogs in their outdoor activities — the higher proteins & fats in puppy food will be of long-term benefit for more athletic musculature.

As a rough guide, dogs that walk 2+ hours a day, or join their parents on hikes, or participate in canine sports would be considered active dogs.

Spaying or neutering

Spaying or neutering a puppy early in their life will modify their puberty, resulting in longer bones & a taller dog. This can put extra stress on their joints, especially affecting large-breed dogs and obese dogs.

As a general guide, puppies that are spayed or neutered before they reach 80% of their adult size should receive about 30% less calories for the duration of their puppyhood.

How your dog treats his food

Barring all the above clues, the clearest signs may just come from your puppy, and the way he treats his food. If you start to notice he isn’t as excited to feed anymore, sometimes picking at his food or at other times leaving it uneaten, it may be the right time to switch to adult food and/or decrease the number of meals per day.

Because puppy food has higher caloric content, it leaves dogs feeling more full, and your dog will show you that he’s had too much.

How to switch to adult dog food

The process of changing your dog food is the same whether you’re switching from puppy food to adult food, or even from one brand of food to another. It’ll take about a week to do the transition, and we do it this way to avoid an upset stomach or other unwanted reactions from a sudden change. Slow & steady is the key.

  • Day 1-2: 75% old food, 25% new food
  • Day 3-4: 50% old food, 50% new food
  • Day 5-6: 25% old food, 75% new food
  • Day 7 on: 100% new food

What kind of adult dog food is right for your dog?

Great! Now that you know when to switch your dog from puppy food to adult food, and you know how to do the switch too, the next thing to figure out is what kind of adult food would be best for the new big boy in your house!

Well, we’ve written a complete guide on this topic, which includes how to read the ingredient list on a bag of dog food, some key differences between dry dog food & wet dog food, plus a few of our recommended dog food brands. Check it out below!

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