caloric feeding for puppies

Caloric Feeding for Puppies

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This guide is an introduction to caloric feeding for puppies.

It is meant to help puppy owners learn the importance of feeding their puppy for its specific energy needs.

This intro guide is a tool to assist puppy owners in properly using the calorie calculators.

Recommended Foundation Reading

A foundation understanding of how caloric feeding for dogs works is important; so that when components of the caloric feeding method are referenced throughout the following sections, you are armed with the knowledge needed to easily move through the content. I recommend the below articles/guides be read in the order they’re listed before diving into this guide.

Foundation Reading Links in Recommended Order:

An Introduction to Feeding Puppies for Proper Growth

Caloric Feeding for Dogs Guide

Appropriate Nutrient Levels for Skeletal Development in Large & Extra-Large Breed Puppies,

*If you are not feeding a large or extra large breed puppy then you can skip the third reading.

A Puppy’s Daily Energy Requirements (DER)

The appropriate method to feed a puppy is per unit of energy, with their daily calorie needs factoring the puppy’s maintenance energy requirements (MER) and their growth energy requirements (GER). The segment of energy needed for maintenance increases progressively, while the part for growth decreases.

In the early post-weaning weeks a puppy’s weight is low but their growth rate is high. During this time puppies use about 50% of their energy intake for maintenance and 50% for growth.

It is important to note here that large and extra-large breed puppies need to be fed with consideration of their energy requirements but not fully based on energy requirements. This is because of their propensity towards growth disorders. More about large and extra-large breed puppy needs will be discussed in their appropriate sections further along in the guide. 

Energy Requirements For Different Phases of Growth Stage

From weaning up to 50% of its adult body weight, a puppy needs about 2 times the amount of energy as an adult dog of the same weight and breed. 

Once a puppy reaches about 50% of its adult body weight, its energy needs generally reduce to 1.6 x MER.

A discretionary variance occurs at about this time and while the decrease of energy should continue to happen as the puppy continues to grow, there is a difference in how long a small/medium breed puppy is fed at an adjustment factor of 1.6 x MER versus how long a large or extra-large breed puppy is fed at an adjustment factor of 1.6. This is due to larger breeds’ previously discussed propensity towards growth disorders. 

Large and extra-large breed puppies should be fed at the adjustment factor of 1.6 from about 50% of their adult body weight until they reach about 60% of their adult body weight; at which time they should be reduced to an adjustment factor of 1.4. Large and extra-large breed puppies should be fed at an adjustment factor of 1.4 from about 60% – 80% of their adult body weight.

Small breed puppies do not reduce to 1.4 x MER. Smaller breed puppies continue an energy intake of 1.6 x MER from the time they reach about half of their adult body weight until they reach about 80% of their adult weight. At that time, a smaller breed puppy’s energy intake decreases from 1.6 down to 1.2.

Large and extra-large breed puppies fall back in line with smaller breeds when they reach about 80% of their adult body weight and then they too, are decreased to about 1.2 x MER.

The age a puppy reaches their adult weight varies and will be discussed pointedly further in the guide under each size class. Large breed puppies mature slower than small breeds and often do not reach their full adult weight until they are more than 10 months old. Once a puppy reaches its full adult weight, its energy intake no longer needs to support growth. The now full adult weight puppy should have its daily calorie amount reduced from 1.2 and be fed for puppy maintenance energy requirements; which as reflected on the chart below, is an adjustment factor down to 1. 

Important Recap Notes: A puppy’s energy needs are at its highest in the earlier months of its life when a puppy is in its most rapid phase of growth. A puppy’s energy needs climb upwards in a stair-stepped manner and then decline in a stair-stepped downward direction once the puppy reaches post rapid growth phase. Large and extra-large breed puppies have different needs than small and medium breed puppies in regards to the adjustment factors used to feed them and for how long. Puppies daily energy requirements gradually reduce until a puppy is no longer eating for growth.

A note about Great Dane Puppies: The needs of Great Dane puppies are not typical and therefore fall outside of the general energy requirements discussed above. Great Danes may have about 25% higher needs than puppies of other breeds. It has been found feeding Great Dane puppies at an energy factor of less than 175 may inhibit growth. It is extremely important to become well versed in how to optimally support a Great Dane puppy’s needs. 

“Compared with the young of other species, newborn puppies are relatively immature at birth. For example, their skeletons
have a low degree of mineralization. Large-breed puppies are less mature than small-breed puppies, which may be one of the reasons why
they are more susceptible to malnutrition and developmental orthopedic diseases during the rapid growth phase.” – Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition

Important Note: A puppy should be weighed weekly during early growth phase and bi-weekly throughout puppyhood once middle growth phase has been reached. The canine body condition score chart and the canine muscle condition score chart should be consulted at these weigh-ins as well for proper growth tracking. If you have a fluffy or double-coated puppy, it is important to also use your hands as tools to accurately assess the puppy’s physical condition.

Highly Critical Notes About Feeding Puppies

It is enormously important to understand that reaching "full adult weight" is not synonymous with physical maturity in terms of skeletal and muscle development. Reaching full adult weight does not equal reaching adulthood. It is important to feed puppies as puppies, with strict attention paid to their growth progress until they reach adulthood. As discussed in this guide, when a puppy reaches adulthood is different by breed size.

A misunderstood generalization is, that you feed a puppy as an adult when it reaches 80% of its adult body weight. That is not accurate as shown here in this guide. Remember, an energy reduction to 1.2 x MER occurs when a puppy reaches about 80% of its adult body weight. This is why it is important to be well versed in your puppy's breed(s).

Puppy maintenance energy intake and puppy maintenance nutrient intake are important to provide until a puppy is fully developed. 

Feeding puppies as adults before they are actually adults, is a leading cause of nutritional issues in a dog. 

Growth Stage Phases and Growth Curve Charting 

Puppies are in the most rapid phase of growth during the first 6 months of life, with smaller breed puppies reaching the end of their rapid growth phase sooner than larger breed puppies. Smaller size breeds tend to reach the end of their rapid growth stage at around 3 – 4 months old, while larger breed puppies continue to grow exponentially up to 5 months before slowing. Larger breed dogs have the steepest growth curve. They need to reach a larger size during the same period of time as smaller breeds. 

Puppies do not grow linearly and their growth should be charted using sigma plotting to properly reflect the different phases of growth. When formulating for a puppy, it is important to be comfortable with sigmoid charting to be able to best interpret the growth data for your breed. 

Critical Note: Even after a puppy reaches its adult body weight, further physiological developments continue. A large breed puppy can weigh its adult weight at 11 – 15 months old and still not be fully finished with physiological development until they are nearly 2 years old.

Small Breed Puppies

Small breed dogs weigh under 20 lbs. at adulthood. They are in their most rapid phase of growth until they are around 3 months old, reaching about 50% of their adult weight during that time and reach their adult weight around 9 – 10 months of age.

Small breed puppies generally reach adulthood around 9 – 12 months depending on the breed. 

Small breed puppies have higher energy requirements per unit of body weight than larger size breeds because the basal metabolic rate (BMR) is relative to the total body surface. Small breed puppies need highly digestible foods that are nutrient dense. They should be fed several meals a day until about 6 months of age because their stomachs cannot accommodate a large quantity of food at one time. After they are about 6 months old, the number of daily meals can decrease to 3 feedings per day. 

Medium Breed Puppies

Medium breed dogs weigh between 21 – 50 lbs. as adults and they typically reach the end of their most rapid phase of growth around 3 – 4 months of age, reaching their adult weight around between 9 – 12 months of age.

Medium breed puppies reach adulthood between 12 – 14 months old.

Medium size breeds can range from just slightly larger than small breeds to just slightly smaller than large breeds; so while they typically reach their adult weight around a similar time as small breeds, the larger the medium size puppy, the later adulthood is reached. Larger size medium breed dogs who are nearer to 50 lbs. as adults should be fed during growth with factors relative to large breed puppies than those of smaller breeds. 

Large Breed Puppies

Large breed dogs weigh between 51-120 lbs. as adults and they typically reach the end of their most rapid period of growth around 3.5 – 5 months of age. Large breed puppies reach their adult weight 11 – 15 months of age.

Large breed dogs typically reach adulthood at around 18 – 24 months old.

The biggest impact that affects growth rate is energy. It is important to feed a highly digestible, quality and balanced diet, ensuring the amount of energy being provided is appropriate.

Previously mentioned in this guide but important to mention here in the large breed puppies section: Large breeds need to be fed with consideration of their energy requirements but not based on energy requirements. As previously said; this is because of their propensity towards growth disorders.

Larger breeds take longer to reach their full growth so keeping their diet balanced and the puppy fed for a medium/moderate rate of growth is ideal. You want optimal growth not maximum growth to protect the skeletal structure of your growing puppy. Use nutrition standards as guides and ensure you feed within the recommended range, applying them according to your dog.

The minimum proportion of energy that should be supplied by protein for large/extra-large breeds dogs is lower than the recommended percentage for a smaller breed dog. However, the actual % of protein is not as important as the balance of energy to protein when it comes to feeding growing large breed puppies.

The calcium and phosphorus amounts and the ca:p ratio are very important to be mindful of but this guide is an introduction to feeding a puppy for its energy needs and the calcium and phosphorus topic is covered in the Appropriate Nutrient Levels for Skeletal Development in Large & Extra-Large Breed Puppies guide found here and the Introduction to Feeding Puppies for Proper Growth guide found here.

It is critical to be well informed about growth stage energy and nutrient needs for large breeds when formulating a homemade diet for large breed puppies. If in doubt, it is best to reach out to me for a consult or recipe formulations. 

Extra Large Breed Puppies

Extra large breed dogs weigh about 120 lbs. and up as adults and their most rapid phase of growth lasts the longest of all of the breed sizes, ending at around 5 – 6 months of age.  Extra large breed dogs typically reach their adult weight between 11 – 15 months of age, reaching adulthood around 21 – 24 months.

Like large breed puppies, it is crucial to be mindful that extra large breed puppies are not fed too high of a daily energy intake or they can be detrimentally affected. Extra large breed puppies need a highly digestible, quality diet with a strict control on their nutrient levels. The information discussed above under the large breed puppies section about feeding with consideration of their energy needs and not based on their energy needs due to propensity to growth disorders applies to extra large breed puppies as well. 

As stated in the Appropriate Nutrient Levels for Skeletal Development in Large & Extra-Large Breed Puppies guide, maximum growth rate is not compatible with proper skeletal development and is a risk factor for the development of several skeletal
disorders. As said under the large breed puppies section, specifics about nutrient levels are discussed in other guides on the website, this is an introduction to feeding puppies for their energy needs.

It is critical to be well informed about growth stage energy and nutrient needs for extra large breeds when formulating a homemade diet for extra large breed puppies. It is not recommended to formulate for extra large breed puppies on your own at first; it is best to reach out for a consultation and have recipes formulated to learn from.

Dietary Fiber and Puppies

Dietary fiber is the edible parts of plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion & absorption.

There are two general categories, based on their structure and what they do in a dog’s body.

  • Soluble fibers are fermentable and viscous (some insoluble fibers are too) and slow things down in the digestive tract. Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel inside of the digestive system. Ex: Some fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and psyllium.
  • Insoluble fibers help to bulk up stool volume + improve motility. Ex: The skin of fruits and vegetables, some vegetables, and whole grains. Insoluble fiber is non-viscous, less fermentable, contains more water and doesn’t form a gel.

Fiber can displace the energy of other ingredients when fed in excess and/or when not correctly prepared but when fiber is fed in low to moderate amounts and prepared according to how that particular food should be prepared, it does not typically affect the energy density or nutrient density of the diet when feeding a typical & healthy puppy.

Fiber plays a role in the optimal functioning of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and is also a source of short-chain fatty acids for intestinal cells. Fiber should be included in the diet but a more than moderate amount of fiber intake can cause a puppy problems. High amounts of fiber decreases nutrient digestion and its availability and also impacts the absorption of lipids, calcium, iron, and zinc.

Puppy Bio-Math Equations

Caloric feeding for puppies uses “biomath” to calculate the number of calories or kcals a puppy particularly needs each day. It is additionally important to understand nutrient density of food. Nutrient density is not covered in this particular guide. Full information about Caloric Feeding for Dogs is the second article under the recommended foundational reading links listed at the beginning of this guide. That guide will teach you about what calories are. If you did not yet read it, head over there now and then come back here. You need a foundational understanding of calories to feed puppies. 

Daily Energy Requirements (DER) for Puppies

As mentioned under the section titled Puppies Eat to Meet Their Daily Energy Requirements, a puppy’s DER is composed of their Maintenance Energy Requirements (MER) and their Growth Energy Requirements (GER). Remember that MER represents the amount of kCals needed for a puppy to maintain their ideal weight. GER represents the amount of kCals needed for a puppy to grow based on their current phase of growth.

Biomath Formula for Determining Metabolizable Maintenance Energy Requirements for Puppies (MER)

MER = 130 x (body weight in kilograms)0.75 (Typical Puppies)

Biomath Formula for Determining Metabolizable Growth Energy Requirements for Puppies (GER)

GER = MER x the appropriate adjustment factor

Example for a typical 3 kg puppy in phase weaning to 4 months

[2 x (130 x 30.75)] = 592.67 kcal per day

Adjustment Factors

Adjustment factors were outlined under the Energy Requirements for Different Phases of Growth section. I’ve provided a chart below to use as a tool to help know about when you need to make adjustments for your puppy. The months listed next to each adjustment factor may vary depending on your puppy.

This chart gives you an idea of around what age range each adjustment factor applies to. It is important to weigh your puppy to track how much they weigh at what age so you can make the appropriate adjustments. Use the information in this guide and the chart together.

Once a puppy reaches its adult weight, it should be fed for puppy maintenance until it reaches full adulthood. Once the puppy is an adult, you move to feeding them as such by selecting their Energy Factor (EF) for the appropriate stage of life and for their activity level. Please see the Caloric Feeding Guide for Adult Dogs to learn how.

Pssst… I have an adult calculator that does all the math for you over here!

Once you calculate your newly (young) adult dog’s energy requirements, you can learn about and calculate their nutrient requirements per ME, over here!


Using the Growth Stage Calorie Calculators

There are two growth stage calorie calculators: One is for small and medium breed puppies and one is for large and extra large breed puppies. These calculate your puppy’s DER and are configured using the biomath/allometric equations taught here in this guide.

Select your puppy’s weight class by using the information provided in the breed sections. Note: If your medium breed puppy is on the larger end of the size class & it is expected to be a taller dog with an adult weight that’s over 45 lbs., it is a good idea to feed with larger breed considerations for both energy and nutrients. 

Once you have determined if your puppy is a small, medium, large, or extra large breed, convert your puppy’s weight from pounds (lbs.) to kilograms (kg).

Next, choose the correct calorie calculator and enter your puppy’s weight in kilograms (kg).

Finally, select the appropriate phase of growth stage from the drop-down menu options. The calculator will calculate the recommended number of calories your puppy needs each day to support then through growth.

Remember, this number is the recommended allowance based on studied and tracked breed statistics of puppies; however, the calculators do not know your puppy so it is important to use the calculated number as a base number to jump from. There can be a 20% – 30% swing downwards or upwards based on environmental factors and life activities. It is additionally important to note that the number on the scale is not the only determining factor. Body condition, muscle condition, head to body to limbs to tail stats also factor.

Important Note: Every breed and every puppy is different so it is vital to use the canine body condition score chart and the canine muscle condition score chart as tools in addition to the number on the scale. 

Sources and Citations

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, Animal Nutrition Series, published by the National Research Council (NRC) in 2006

Body-Weight Changes during Growth in Puppies of Different Breeds, written by Amanda J. Hawthorne, Derek Booles, Pat A. Nugent, George Gettinby, Joy Wilkinson, published in The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 8, 2004

Nutritional Needs According to Life Stage and Physiologic Status by Dr. Kelly Swanson Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals written by Sherry Lynn Sanderson , BS, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia

Waltham Petcare Science Institute, Puppy Nutrition edited by Dr. Richard Hill and Dr. Richard Butterwick, published 2015

Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science Of Feeding Your Dog For Optimum Health written by W. Jean Dodds, DVM, Diana Laverdure, published 2015

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition (SACN), 5th edition published 2010

Calculations of a Dietary Plan for Puppies written by, G. Blanchard, D. Grandjean, and B.‐M. Paragon, published 2009

Canine Nutrition and Diet Formulation for Puppies written by Amy Granillo, 2018

Burger IH, Johnson JV. Dogs large and small: the allometry of energy requirements within a single species. J Nutr. 1991

Dietary Fibers and Absorption of Nutrients, Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, Volume: 180 issue: 3, published 1985

Canine and Feline Nutrition (Third Edition), Chapter 28: Development and Treatment of Obesity, written by Linda Case, 2011