Monday, May 18, 2009

Feeding puppies adult food?

“Do I really have to feed the expensive puppy food to my 3 month old puppy or do you think I could get away with starting to switch him over to regular adult maintenance food?” I was asked the other day by a customer who just had acquired the cutest Irish Jack Russell Terrier.

Though I couldn’t believe this particular one, a not so uncommon question these days, especially since the economical situation has everybody in the world turn around every dollar twice before spending it. Besides economical reasons, puppy food is indeed is at least a good 10% pricier than adult food, other reasons may be that the owners underestimate the length of the growth period or because they were told by someone and believe that puppy food is too rich and could be harmful to the growth of the little one.

Let’s look at the economics: Now here we go, we just bought a pure bred dog. Here pet owners usually spend at least $500 on a new puppy and then they wonder how they can save a couple bucks on the food? To me that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. But what is really the actual pricing on puppy vs. adult food and is there a material difference? I compared at our own store, which tells me to believe it is similar at other places: There are brands with puppy food at no or a very minimal price difference, and there are others, which may be up to 10% more expensive than adult food. Whether or not this is justified remains open, it could be just a marketing issue too. Fact is, puppy owners are most likely easily willing to spend a few dollars more when it comes to the new baby, so some manufacturers may take advantage of that psychological aspect.

Next, length of growth period: Anybody believing that the growth period is over after 3 months should seriously rethink the idea of having a puppy. I am sorry but where is the common sense here? I would say every pet owner by now should know that the first 8 to 12 months of a puppy are definitely to be considered as the growth period, probably 12 months would be a good bet, but keep in mind with large and giant breeds we are easy looking at up to 24 months before the growth period is over. I remember our own last puppy, Roxy, a German Shepherd girl, she was done growing in height and length after about 12 months, but then she took another 9 months to really, I call it fill in, got some meat and muscle around her bones and become a seriously grown dog.

Finally, puppy food being too rich? Too rich in what and how harmful could it be?
I think what one has to consider is there are various classifications of dog food, simply to be determined by the official AAFCO Nutritional Dog Food Profiles, which are available for puppies, adult maintenance, seniors or the “covers it all” classification “all life stages”. The ladder one would be sufficient to feed to an adult or a puppy, since it covers both needs.

Fact is, puppies do have different nutritional requirements than adults have. And that by itself justifies having a different class of food. There are different energy requirements.
During the first half of its growth, a puppy needs twice as much energy than an adult, compared to its bodyweight. This multiplier coefficient decreases progressively, but when the puppy reaches 80% of its adult bodyweight, it still consumes 20% more energy than an adult. Feeding him with a concentrated puppy food avoids overloading its digestive tract.

Keep in mind that puppies have different growth rates according to size. For example a small breed puppy reaches about 40 to 50% of its adult bodyweight within about 3 months, a large breed puppy will not get there before it is 5 months of age. Toy breeds reach their adult bodyweight within about 8 months. At that point, it has multiplied its birth weight 20 fold. A Newfoundland puppy still grows up until 18 to 24 months or until it has multiplied its birth weight about 100 fold.

Now, let’s look at protein requirements: Puppies require a great amount of protein for the synthesis of the skeleton and all other tissues. Their amino acid requirement is far more important than for an adult. Additionally, puppies do not use proteins with the same efficiency as an adult dog. To make up for this less efficient digestive capacity, a growth product must contain at least 25 to 30% more proteins than an adult food. Protein deficiencies in puppies may cause among other problems, delayed growth, immune system weakness and anemia.

Mineral requirements: Large breed puppies are susceptible to growth abnormalities if they are being fed a diet too high in calcium. Therefore, feeding the correct puppy formula is important for their long term health.

Then there is the starch digestion. The production of enzymes , which digest starch reaches an optimum level only when the puppy has completely achieved its growth. Before, a puppy does not digest starch as well. A maintenance adult diet can contain up to 50% starch. In contrast, a puppy food should not contain more than 30% starch. Feeding an adult diet to a puppy can induce loose stools, diarrhea, and possibly favor coprophagic behavior, which means they start eating their own stools.

Puppy food does not equal puppy food. Especially important that the food needs to accommodate the needs of various sizes. All puppy foods seem to have some common characteristics, which include high energy density, concentration of all essential nutrients and decreased levels of starch. But the size of the breed implies specific adaptations.

Large breeds are much more likely to suffer from skeletal growth diseases. These troubles are exacerbated by an over consumption of energy. Such over consumption comes with accelerated growth and too high levels of dietary calcium. Limiting fat content and controlling the level of calcium in the food is the best way to minimize the risks. In contrast, small and medium breeds must receive a lot of energy, but in a small volume. They require a more concentrated diet.

In conclusion I would say: For those of you who believe that there is really no difference between a puppy and a regular adult maintenance food, do your home work and look at the formulas again. Simply looking at the Guaranteed Analysis immediately will tell you that there are major differences in mainly protein and fat content but also in fiber. Further analysis of the dry matter nutrient analysis will provide even more detailed insight.

Unless you are looking at a formula classified as being for “all life stages”, stick with the puppy food. Wait until the end of growth period (find out more from your breeder or on breed specific sites on the Internet) before switching a puppy to an adult product. And, finally, there is no disadvantage in feeding a puppy food longer than initially planned, provided the bodyweight of the dog is not excessive.

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