Labrador puppy about to eat an apple.

What Can Puppies Eat?
Bones, Fruits & Human Food Explored

Puppies are oodles of fun. They play, they jump and they seemingly eat everything. Let your puppy loose and they’ll consume everything they can get their little paws on. Everything in the kitchen cupboard. Their puppy food. The pet gerbil’s food. Your slippers. Your rugs. The iPhone charger.

Honestly, puppies will try to eat anything. But what can your puppy eat? How can you satiate your puppy so that they don’t turn into a hunger-consumed gremlin? What is safe for puppies to eat and what isn’t? All this and more in this ultimate guide to what puppies can eat.


The Science Behind Puppy Nutrition: What Do Puppies Need?

Let’s get the sciencey bit out of the way for the sake of all of us. What do puppies need in their food as they grow into their best, healthy selves?

According to VCA Hospitals, there are four main components to consider when creating a balanced diet for your little pup: (1)

Protein

For your puppy to grow strong and be able to support their skeletal system as it develops, they need a healthy dose of protein daily. Protein is the building block of muscles and tissue. Without it, your puppy can’t develop properly.

“Proteins are made up of amino acids, and dogs require 22 amino acids to make necessary proteins. A dog’s body can make about half of these needed amino acids, but the rest must come from the food your pet eats every day.” - PetMD (2)

Whether you choose a homemade diet or preprepared puppy food, make sure that your puppy is getting a complex range of protein sources to grow in the best way.

Calcium

We all know it from our school days! Calcium is essential for the growth of healthy teeth, bones and cartilage. We know milk and dairy products to be the best source of calcium. But many dogs are lactose intolerant. Luckily, leafy greens are an excellent source of calcium. Bone meal and organs also contribute large doses of the good stuff if you want to further supplement when they have in their food. (3)

Fat

Fat sounds like a bad word to us humans, but it’s essential for balanced nutrition. A healthy dose of fat helps the development of skin and organs. It provides much-needed energy through complex fatty acids. Fatty acids also carry fat-soluble vitamins into the bloodstream, such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. (4)

Carbohydrates (specifically digestible carbohydrates)

Carbs are your puppy's main source of energy. Carbohydrates break down into sugars that boost your dog’s activity. Without carbs, your puppy will be lethargic and unable to grow optimally. Good sources of carbohydrates include brown rice, oats, wheat, potato and whole corn. (5)

Vitamins and minerals

This is a category I am adding here for completeness. There are various vitamins we could talk about but I want to briefly summarise these essential 6: (6)

  • Vitamin A - is essential for growth, good vision and supporting the immune system
  • Vitamin B(s) - these are a group of vitamins responsible for regulating energy, hormones, immune response and a bunch of other good stuff.
  • Vitamin C -  antioxidant for reducing inflammation
  • Vitamin D - balances calcium in the body for healthy bone growth
  • Vitamin E - is essential for metabolising fat and encouraging the healthy function of cells
  • Vitamin K - enables the body to clot blood effectively

Do Puppies Need Puppy Food?

In a word, yes. In theory, you could feed your puppy adult food but it’s not fully conducive to their growth. It’s similar to giving your baby adult food. It’s completely possible although you would need to prepare the food differently to be easier on underdeveloped teeth. That said, it can be done, and you wouldn’t be the worst parent in the world if you repurposed your own home-cooked meals for your baby.

However, baby food has a guaranteed nutritional balance that is more difficult to achieve with adult food. The same goes for puppy food.

“A puppy’s diet should be carefully monitored to make sure he or she is getting balanced nutrition and gaining weight at the proper rate. Among other things, that means no unhealthy table food and no overeating.” - PetMD (7)

Another aspect of this is that not all puppies are the same. Puppyhood is a journey with changing needs at every stage. You can’t feed a 3 month old the same food as an 11month old puppy as their needs are different. With this in mind, most vets recommend that your puppy eat food specifically formulated for their stage of life. This is why you’ll see the best puppy food advertised for 0-6months, 6-12months and so on.


The Timeline Of Puppy Food: What Can My Puppy Eat?

0-4 weeks

Puppies this young are dependent on their mother’s milk for complete nutrition. They will eat little and often during these first weeks of life.

4-12 weeks

The weaning process can begin from 4 weeks old but this depends on your pup and their breed. Weaning involves slowly transitioning your pup onto moistened solid dry food. Large dog breeds can start eating dry puppy food from around 10 weeks. Smaller breeds take longer as their teeth aren’t as strong. 12-13 weeks is a good measure. Your puppy will eat 3-4 times a day. They should be eating 3 times per day by the time they are 4-5 months old.

12-24 weeks

Once your puppy is on dry food, they can reduce the mealtimes from 3 to 2 times per day in larger portions. Make this transition slowly.

24-48 weeks

Your baby is all grown up! Around the 1 year mark, your puppy is ready to eat like a grownup. Larger dogs age slower so you may have to keep them on puppy food longer than smaller dogs.


What Can Puppies Eat For Treats?

Puppy treats can be similar to that of adult dogs. Treats for puppies could include:

  • Cooked chicken bits
  • Cooked bacon bits
  • Small pieces of fruit
  • Formulated puppy treats
  • Bone broth/aspic
  • Cooked steak
  • Homemade dog treats
  • Peanut butter

These will all delight your puppy. However, you need to be mindful of your pup’s caloric intake. Peanut butter and bacon are high in fats. Too much fat at a young age can cause obesity, which stunts your puppy’s growth. Yes, “puppy fat” is fine. Your dog is meant to be a little roly-poly for a few months in early life, but they should lose it at around 12 weeks. Limit treat intake or choose healthier treat alternatives to keep your puppy’s weight in check.


What Can’t Puppies Eat?

So we’ve covered what puppies can eat in detail. Let’s talk about the no-no list. There may be a few surprises on here!

Bones

A common question we get is whether puppies can eat bones or not. Bones can be quite dangerous for most dogs, especially if softened. Softened bones can splinter easily and get stuck in your puppy’s throat. At the same time, your puppy doesn’t have strong enough teeth for regular bones. Beef bones with cartilage are hardy and tough for most adult dogs. A puppy could injure themselves quite severely if left unattended with an animal bone. It’s best to avoid them altogether.

Related: Bones For Puppies Explained.

If you want your puppy to get the nutrition of bones without the hassle of navigating actual bones, try bone broth! Bone broth has plenty of nutrients to support your puppy’s growth. If you do decide to give your puppy bone broth, be sure to only give them small quantities. If you give them too much, it can upset their stomach.

Toxic foods for dogs

In short, everything that adult dogs can’t have:

  • Onions and garlic - can cause anaemia in dogs. Your dog needs to eat a high quantity to be poisoned. In small doses, it can cause an upset stomach.
  • Chocolate - the toxic compound in chocolate is called theobromine. It’s more prevalent in dark chocolate and cocoa powder than in white chocolate. Theobromine can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, heart issues and death.
  • Macadamia nuts - cause vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, hyperthermia, and death.
  • Xylitol - a sweetener often found in toothpaste and candy. It makes blood sugar drop in dogs leading to fainting, lethargy, and liver failure.
  • Coffee and other caffeinated products - caffeine has an acute effect on dogs - especially puppies! The rise in heart rate after two small sips could be enough to call the animal hospital. Please don’t share your coffee with your puppy!
  • Sweets - following on from the xylitol conversations, many sweets contain nasty chemical sweeteners in them that can be toxic to your pup. While most adult dogs aren’t attracted to sweets, puppies will try anything. So keep your gummies well away from prying canine eyes.
  • Grapes and raisins - Grapes are highly toxic but scientists are still unclear why! Don’t risk it and keep your puppy well away from them.

Be extra careful with these foods when it comes to your puppy as lower concentrations can cause more damage to them.

Homemade dog food

This is a controversial thought but follow me for a second. It is perfectly fine to attempt to make your dog’s food at home. The issue is that puppies have less leeway when it comes to their nutritional needs than adult dogs do. Adult dogs are grown. They still need a complex concoction of vitamins and minerals to be healthy, but they are not as tender and vulnerable as puppies are. Homemade dog food can work for adults with the proper guidelines in place.

Most vets don’t recommend that you make your puppy’s food at home because of the high level of nutritional needs they have. That said, there are options on the market for raw puppy food or grain-free puppy food if you want to avoid the commercial stuff that is stuffed with chemicals.

If you are interested in feeding your puppy a homemade diet, consult your vet first for advice.


Final Thoughts: How To Feed Your Puppy

To conclude, my advice would be to not overthink it. Sounds rich coming from someone who has just spent several thousand words explaining in detail the various components of a healthy puppy diet and things to avoid. But I mean it. Don’t stress yourself too much when it comes to puppy nutrition. Yes, it’s important but as long as you’re feeding your puppy food specifically formulated for them, it’s hard to go wrong. Just be vigilant about your puppy’s weight gain and development. If everything is on track, you can breathe easy!

You and your vet will know your puppy better than anyone so do the best you can. If your puppy gets sick or overweight, involve their veterinary team. Apart from that, feed your puppy the best quality puppy food you can afford until they are ready for the next stage!

FAQ

How often should you feed your puppy?

Look to your puppy’s age to determine how often you should feed them. Puppies like to eat often and little when they are small. Eventually, they’ll grow into an adult schedule of food. As a rough guide:

6-12 weeks you can feed your puppy 4-5 small meals per day or roughly every 6 hours.

12 - 24 weeks you can feed your dog 4-3 meals per day. You’ll want to reach the 3 meal per day mark by the time they are 24 weeks old.

After 24 weeks, you can feed your pup twice daily with more substantial meals.

Most adult dogs are perfectly happy with two meals a day if they are in the correct quantities. I also give my dogs a midday snack to boost their energy.

How much should you feed your puppy?

The amount you feed your puppy depends on their age and breed. You calculate the amount they should be eating based on their breed’s average adult weight. Confusing right? Well, don’t worry! We have a video on this as well as a detailed article to help with your calculations. If in doubt, contact your vet for personalised advice.

When should I stop feeding puppy food to my dog?

Puppyhood varies depending on your dog’s breed. Some small dogs are considered adults as young as 9 months. Some extra large dogs are only considered adults after 2 years. The average is one year old but you should consult your vet for personalised guidance. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to feed your dog puppy food for too long than move them onto adult food too soon. This is so that your pup gets the full range of vitamins and minerals they need for healthy growth for the entire time they need them.

References:

  1. Williams, K. Downing, R. “Feeding Growing Puppies”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-growing-puppies
  2. October 21, 2011. “The Power of Protein”. PetMD.  Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/the_power_of_protein
  3. Racine, E. December 12, 2020. “Calcium for Dogs: Why They Need It”. Great Pet Care. Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://www.greatpetcare.com/dog-nutrition/calcium-for-dogs/
  4. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 11, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/
  5. October 19, 2011. “Carbohydrates: Key to a Balanced Dog Food”. PetMD. Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_carbohydrates_key_to_balanced_dog_food
  6. Burke, A. May 4, 2020. “7 Vitamins Your Dog Needs for a Healthy Life”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/vitamins-dogs-need-healthy-lifestyle/
  7. May 25, 2016. “Feeding Your Puppy: What to Keep in Mind”. PetMD. Retrieved July 18, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/feeding-your-puppy-what-keep-mind
Olivia De Santos

Olivia is a professional writer and animal lover. She loves spending time with her Podengo and Flat Coated Retriever, and writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners

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