I think at some point in your puppy’s first year every puppy owner starts to wonder when they should transition to adult dog food, and some even wonder if they should transition their pup to adult food at all. And they answer is actually more complicated than you might think.
First you need to understand that there are several different types of manufactured dog foods – foods labeled for growth (meaning they are formulated just for puppies), foods labeled for all life stages (which can be used for both adults and puppies), and foods labeled for maintenance (meaning they are only used for adult dogs which are done growing – to maintain “health”).
Within the puppy categories there is a serpate set of labeling that is for larger breed dogs (those that would be over 70lbs at their adult weight) – these diets have a controlled calcium to phosphorus ratio that these large breed puppies need for slow and steady growth. Which is ideal for healthy bone and joint formation in these larger breed puppies.
So when is the ideal time to transition?
Research suggests that transitioning your pup from puppy food to adult food LATER rather than SOONER is actually a good thing (unless of course otherwise recommended by your veterinarian). The reason for this is that for most young adult dogs – being on puppy food doesn’t really cause harm, however transitioning too soon to adult food COULD cause more harm than benefits.
Meaning that you should transition your puppy to adult dog food once they have finished growing. This is because the process of growth requires both MORE nutrients, but also a different proportion of nutrients, than maintenance. And depending on your dog’s breed they may stop growing anywhere between 10m to 24m of age, with small/toy breed dogs on the lower end, and giant breed dogs on the higher end.
Exceptions to the Rule…
There are several exptions to this rule that may require you to transition your puppy to an adult diet sooner.
SPAY/NEUTER STATUS – as once a pet has been fixed their nutritional needs will change – requiring less calories, and potentially even less nutrients than an intact animal. So if for whatever reason you have chosen to spay/neuter your pup prior when they were due to finish growing, OR you adopted a pet that was already fixed – speak to your veterinarian about their nutritional needs and how to modify their diet.
OTHER MEDICAL CONDITIONS – such as obesity, certain urinary conditions, or liver conditions may force a sooner transition, or a modified diet – so always speak to your veterinarian about your plans to make sure they are the best option for your pup.
What happens when an adult dog is given puppy food?
The major thing here we worry about is CALORIES and WEIGHT GAIN. Puppy food tends to be rich and higher and calories (due to their higher energy needs), so feeding a diet labeled for growth or all life stages without adjusting the amount fed to reflect the current needs of your dog can cause weight gain. Since we know based off research studies that keeping your pup trim and healthy will extend their life up to 3 years depending upon the breed – this factor is definitely something to be mindful of as a pet owner.
But looking further into the overall diet composition – calcium and phosphorus requirements in particular are much different in puppies than adult dogs. Puppies need a closer calcium to phosphorus ratio (1:1.2), and in higher amounts in order to allow for bones to grow correctly, whereas adult dog requirements are much lower(1:2).
What happens when there is too much?
Well in a healthy pet the excess calcium is absorbed into the body within the small intestines, then is processed and excreted using the liver and the kidneys. So if your pet does not need as much calcium because they are done growing – then the body will get rid of the excess by either defecating or urinating it out. So having more calcium within the diet than the pet needs will mean the body will need to work a bit harder in order to maintain “homeostasis” or the balance within the body.
Where the problem lies is if one part of the system starts to break-down with age – the kidney’s might not be able to work as they did before. In the case of minerals – you would start to see a backup in the system because there is too much coming in, and not enough going out. This is where in veterinary practice we might see mineral deposits within the bladder (or calcium oxalate stones), or mineral deposits in the intestines causes blockages of nutrient’s absorption.
Other Potential Benefits of Transitioning to Adult Food
Other things to consider are the additions of certain supplements into a dog’s diet as they age – some pet food manufacturers will add in joint supplements (glucosamine/chondroitin), antioxidants and MCTs in order to fight off common issues that come with aging – such as joint disease (arthritis), oxidative stress and cognitive decline. These supplements are usually not found in as high of quantities in foods labeled for puppies.
The general take-away I have for you is that when you are looking to transition your dog from puppy to adult food later rather than sooner might be a good idea unless your pup has been spayed/neutered prior to maturity, or has a medical condition that would warrant a change prior to a year of age. And especially if you have a large breed dog where we want that slow and steady growth, we really want to transition to adult food after they are completely done growing so that they have everything they need to form those strong and heath bones!
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I hope you and your pup/s have a wonderful day, until next time my Canine Health Nuts!
About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, Dip. Animal Nutrition, AS Animal Science) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.
Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!
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