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So, what is the best time to switch from puppy food to adult dog food?
Like humans, dogs have different nutrition requirements for different life stages. Puppies need food that has two and a half times the calories of adult dog food to provide the energy they need in order to grow as quickly as they do. They also need more protein to build muscle and more calcium and phosphorous to grow strong, healthy bones. And since their stomachs are small and their digestive systems are immature, they need food that’s easy to digest.
Puppy food fills all of these requirements, but switching over to adult dog food at the right time is essential to prevent obesity, the number one nutritional disease and a top cause of death in adult dogs, as well as other health problems due to inappropriate nutrition.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule about the right time to switch your puppy over to adult food, and the reason is simple: Dogs come in a large number of breeds and sizes, and they don’t all mature at the same rate. While many pet owners believe that it’s time to switch once a puppy reaches the one-year mark, this may be much too early for some dogs and a little too late for others.
- Small breeds that reach about 30 pounds at maturity tend to mature somewhere between 9 and 12 months of age, and toy breeds may mature even faster.
- Medium breeds that reach about 80 pounds at maturity usually mature around 12 to 16 months.
- Large and giant breeds that exceed 80 pounds at maturity may take up to two years to mature.
Giant breeds in particular require food appropriate for the growth (puppy) stage due to a high susceptibility for developing skeletal problems. Replacing puppy food with adult food before it’s time can cause serious and painful problems later on.
The Best Rule of Thumb for Making the Switch
Every dog is different, but in general, it’s a good idea to switch over to adult food once your puppy reaches about 85 percent of his anticipated maturity weight. So if your Chihuahua is expected to reach a weight of six pounds at maturity, switch her over when she weighs about five pounds.
If you have a very large or giant breed, ask your vet for advice or consider having an x-ray performed to determine whether your dog’s skeleton is mature enough to make the switch.
Transitioning Properly Saves Paper Towels
If you’ve been feeding your dog puppy food for a year, and one day you suddenly put a bowl of adult food out for him, there will almost certainly be hell to pay in the form of a dog with an upset stomach complete with vomiting and diarrhea. And you know that if you have white carpeting or a prized rug, Murphy’s Law says that’s where your dog will lose control of his lunch.
Make the switch gradually over the course of four to seven days. On day one, feed her 75 percent puppy food and 25 percent adult food. On day two, make it half and half. On day three, go with 25 percent puppy food and 75 percent adult food, and on day four, the transition is complete (or extend this transition out as long as you’d like). Your dog is now officially mature, and you can feed him adult food until he reaches senior status, at which time you’ll want to change formulas again to address any medical issues and provide him with the unique nutrition requirements for aging dogs.
How to Choose the Right Dog Food
High quality dog food will help ensure a shiny coat, healthy digestive and immune systems, and overall good health. The food you feed your dog is a major factor that helps determine her longevity and quality of life.
First of all, don’t be fooled by clever pet food companies who use words like “all-natural,” “organic,” and “holistic.” Nobody has defined these terms for dog food, and no one regulates the use of these descriptors. No matter how much you want to believe otherwise, these terms are absolutely meaningless, because there’s no way to know whether they’re true. And usually, they aren’t.
Secondly, a good rule of thumb for picking high quality food is to choose a brand that has a short ingredients list. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely you’ll be feeding your dog a lot of unsavory chemicals, fillers, and artificial ingredients.
Finally, choose a dog food that doesn’t have artificial preservatives. Look for vitamins E or C as the preservative, and eschew any food that contains harmful preservatives like ethoxyquin, propyl gallate, BHT, or BHA. But don’t mix these last two up with DHA and EPA, which are healthy fatty acids.
You’ll also want to avoid food with these ingredients:
- Grain fragments, which are non-nutritive fillers.
- Corn and soy in any form. Corn is a cheap filler and common known allergen for dogs, and soy is estrogenic and will interfere with your dog’s endocrine system.
- Meat, animal, and poultry. If the packaging doesn’t specify what kind of meat, which animal or what poultry species, don’t buy it. The ingredients should be specific about the type of protein used. Sometimes, the ingredients will feature “beef (or lamb, or chicken) meal,” which doesn’t carry the nutritional punch of pure meat, but which is still a high quality protein source.
AAFCO Guidelines for Ingredients
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has standards in place that regulators use to govern the claims of manufacturers in regards to some ingredients.
If the dog food packaging claims a single ingredient, such as “beef” or “chicken,” the food must contain at least 95 percent of that ingredient. If it’s a combination, such as “beef, lamb, and rice,” the combination must make up at least 95 percent of the food.
If the packaging features an ingredient followed by a word like “dinner,” “entrée,” or “platter,” such as, “Beef Dinner,” the named ingredient must make up 25 percent of the food. But if the packaging says, “Beef dinner with cheese,” whatever follows “with” only has to account for 3 percent of the ingredients. And if it says “flavor,” as in “Chicken flavor,” there only has to be a detectable amount in the food.
Nutritional Adequacy Statement
Each package of dog food must contain a nutritional adequacy statement along the lines of, “complete and balanced nutrition for adult maintenance.” Avoid food that claims to be nutritionally adequate for “all stages,” because there is really no possibility that this type of food will meet the nutritional requirements for both puppies and adult dogs, because their requirements are vastly different.