In relation to their weight, the calorie and nutrient needs of growing puppies are far greater than those of adult dogs. The growing pet needs a higher plane of nutrition to fuel his rapid development and to provide the boundless energy, which is so typical of puppies. Additionally, certain nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorus, need to be closely controlled to ensure good skeletal development, particularly in large and giant breeds of dogs. Devising a suitable, nutritionally balanced diet for growth is thus a very complex exercise. Fortunately, feeding your puppy need not be as complicated as it sounds. Puppy and junior foods, which are specially formulated for growth take all the guess-work out of rearing a healthy puppy and provide a balanced and concentrated diet which your dog will enjoy and thrive on.

Feeding Milk

Mother’s milk is an essential source of nutrients for young puppies up to the age of 4 to 6 weeks. Dog’s milk has a very different nutrient profile than that of cows or goats, and it is not suitable to substitute the mother’s milk with cow milk. If the bitch does not produce sufficient milk, please contact your veterinarian for a commercially available milk substitute, which has been specifically designed for dogs.

Milk is not an essential part of a puppy’s diet once he has been weaned. Many puppies and adult dogs cannot efficiently digest the milk sugar, lactose, and this can cause digestive upsets such as diarrhoea. If you are not sure whether your puppy can tolerate milk, dilute it with water before you offer it to him for the first time.


Prior to weaning, puppies obtain most of their nutrients from their mother’s milk. Puppies grow at a rapid rate and will double their birth weight in a matter of days. Therefore they require large quantities of mother’s milk or food. In the early stages of weaning (4 to 6 weeks after birth), the mother’s milk is the most important source of nutrients and the puppies’ digestive system is learning to adapt to new nutrients. At this age, puppies should be encouraged to try food. Highly palatable and concentrated foods, specially designed for puppies are most suitable for weaning, and also an ideal source of nutrition for the bitch. Puppies become fully weaned at the age of 6 to 8 weeks of age, when they will be ready to leave their mother’s side.

Motherless Puppies

Feeding orphaned puppies or puppies whose mother cannot produce sufficient milk is a particular challenge. One alternative to a bitch rearing her puppies is for another bitch to act as a foster mother; however, the chances of finding a suitable foster mother at the right time may be poor – it is best to contact your local breed club and veterinarian for this.

Motherless puppies have two vital requirements, which are a suitable environment and appropriate nutrition. The suitable environment needs to ensure the right environmental temperature, which in the first weeks should ideally be controlled by an incubator, a heating lamp or a heating pad in an insulated pen. Further it is important to stimulate urination and defaecation of each puppy by simulating the mother’s stimulating action of the ano-genital area. This can be done with the help of a piece of warm damp cotton wool at the ano-genital area or abdominal wall during the first 3 weeks of the puppies’ lives.

Puppies under 1 week of age need to be fed 6 times a day, or every 4 hours day and night. Bitch’s milk is very rich and higher in calories, protein, fat and calcium than cow’s milk or goat’s milk. Cow’s or goat’s milk are therefore not suitable alternatives for rearing orphaned puppies. Commercially prepared milk substitutes specifically designed for puppies are now widely available and are based on the same nutrient profile as the bitch’s milk. Milk can be administered with a small syringe or a puppy feeding bottle, and should be prepared fresh for every meal. The milk needs to be fed warm (38o) and slowly, without forcing the puppy.

At around 3 weeks of age, puppies start exploring their environment more and more, and begin to nibble food from a bowl. Young puppies may need 4 to 5 meals a day, and should be encouraged to try wet or even dry food in addition to the milk they receive. Highly palatable, calorie and nutrient dense puppy foods are best used for this, and eventually at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, the puppies will be fully weaned onto puppy food.

Puppy Growth

By the time a puppy is ready to move to his new home, he will be fully weaned onto solid foods. The puppy is now entirely dependent on his new owner to provide a fully balanced diet that will meet all of his nutritional requirements.

A nutritionally balanced diet is crucial for the healthy growth and development of a puppy in order to prepare him for an active, long and healthy life. Puppies thrive on the same basic nutrients as adult dogs, but owing to their rapid growth rate, these nutrients are needed in proportionately larger quantities.

All puppies grow very rapidly in the early stages of their development and, in general, most breeds reach about half their adult weight by four or five months of age. During this early, very rapid growth phase, all puppies should be fed a puppy food specifically designed for growing dogs.

A puppy needs between two and four times as many calories as an adult of the same size – growing is an energetic business! They must have more protein than adults – this must contain all the right building blocks (amino acids) for growth. They also need just the right amount of minerals for healthy bones and teeth. Puppies therefore have to eat large amounts of food in relation to their body weight, but, like human babies, their stomachs have only a small capacity. To compensate for this, puppies at this stage should be fed several small meals a day. It is also helpful if their diet is designed to meet a number of useful criteria:

the food should be concentrated to ensure an adequate intake of nutrients before the puppy’s stomach is full

the food should be easily digested to maximise its nutritive value

the diet must be balanced to provide the right amount of nutrients to meet the puppy’s particular needs

it should also be tasty so that the puppy will enjoy it

All WALTHAM supported puppy foods are calorie dense and contain the right amount of high quality protein, as well as vitamins and minerals at the appropriate levels to ensure healthy growth.

Junior Growth

While all breeds of dogs grow very rapidly in the first 6 months of life, there is a wide variation in adult body weight between different breeds, and dogs mature at different rates. Large breeds take longer to mature than the small breeds. Small and toy breeds may reach their adult weight at 6 to 9 months of age, whereas larger breeds will still be growing at this age. A Newfoundland or Great Dane puppy, for example may not reach his adult size until he is 18 months old.

Puppies of large and giant breeds, in particular, are most affected by the feeding regimen and most prone to disturbances in their skeletal development. It is crucial that they receive the right amounts of calories and nutrients. Puppy owners may be tempted to feed the puppy as much as he will eat. However, many dogs tend to overeat and this could have damaging consequences for your puppy. Overfeeding puppies must be avoided and controlling your puppy’s growth is crucial in order to ensure ideal body development. Puppies who are overfed can produce extra fat cells to store the excess calories as body fat. Once formed, these fat cells stay with the dog for life and the dog is prone to become overweight in adult life. A further risk of over nutrition is that puppies can become too heavy; the extra body weight can then put stress on the skeletal system leading to problems such as osteochondrosis and hip dysplasia.

It is therefore important to monitor your growing dog’s weight and his general condition to be sure that you are feeding the correct amount. Record his weight regularly on a Puppy Growth Chart to check that he is growing at a healthy rate appropriate to his breed. If he has more than a moderate covering of fat over his ribs, he may be getting too fat. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are unsure about your growing dog’s condition.

Supplementation of a balanced puppy or junior food with calcium or other minerals must be avoided, as this will only lead to an imbalance of nutrients, and an excessive intake of calcium can be just as deleterious as a deficient supply. Supplementation could indeed be harmful.

Devising an acceptable nutritionally balanced diet for growth is thus a very complex exercise. Fortunately, feeding your puppy has been made easy with widely available commercially prepared puppy and junior foods. If you are unsure of how to feed your puppy, you should consult your breeder or veterinarian for further advice.

Remember that since all puppies are individuals, some may need more and some less than the amounts indicated by the feeding guides. Your puppy’s condition is the best indicator of whether you are feeding the correct amount. By recording his weight regularly you will be able to check that he is growing at a healthy rate appropriate to his breed. You can then make adjustments to avoid him becoming under- or overweight.

Until about 4 months of age, all puppies will need 4 meals per day. Feeding can then be reduced to 3 times a day until 6 months of age, when your puppy can be offered his daily food allowance in 2 separate meals. Generally, a puppy should be allowed 10 to 15 minutes to eat at each meal time; after then discard any uneaten food.

As your puppy nears the size and weight of an adult dog, you can gradually introduce him to adult foods. He should be used to an adult food by the time he is fully grown – which may be any time from six months to two years of age, depending on his breed. The Puppy Feeding Chart shows when to change to an adult diet for each breed. The changeover should be done gradually – preferably over a week.

Taking Your Puppy Home

When you take your puppy to his new home, discuss the feeding with the breeder and ask for a written diet sheet. This should give details of the types of food, quantities, and times of feeding to which your puppy is already accustomed. Don’t rush too much to change your puppy’s diet, as changing homes is a stressful time for him and continuity of feeding is important. If you want to change your puppy’s diet, wait until he has settled in, then gradually change the food over a period of three to four days. When your puppy arrives in his new home, he may show signs of stomach upsets and diarrhoea because of leaving his mother and entering a strange new environment. If he does have diarrhoea and this persists for more than 24 hours or becomes more severe, consult your veterinarian.

Make sure that your puppy has his own feeding and water bowls and that they are kept clean and separate from the family’s dishes. Fresh water should always be available. If you notice that your puppy is excessively thirsty all the time you should consult your veterinarian as it may be an indication that your puppy is unwell.

We recommend and feed all our Dobermanns on Royal Canin Formulas

This information is referenced from the Waltham website which can be located at

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