The ultimate guide to growing amazing pups

Care Health Nutrition Your Questions Answered

Correctly feeding a growing pup can be the most important and life changing aspect of dog ownership. But why is feeding the young animal so important, and so different, from feeding an adult dog?

From a nutrition perspective, the most amount of work the body ever has to do is to grow, and as the pup ages the amount of work required to grow reduces. This is because growth is really defined as the rate of cell multiplication in the body. This rate of multiplication is greatest at birth, and slowly reduces until growth ceases when maturity is reached. As an example, a new-born pup weighing 100g could grow by as much as 10g per day, or 10% of its body weight, whereas the same pup at 1kg growing at 50g per day is only increasing its bodyweight by 5% per day. Obviously, the amount of work required by the body in the early stages is much higher than the amount of work required in the later stages of growth.

Usually, the rate of growth (or cell multiplication) starts at around the 10% per day rate at birth, and ceases at maturity. This means the highest rates of growth are in the early days and weeks of life, whereas by the time the pup approaches full height that rate of cell multiplication has fallen to a level somewhere around 1% of body weight per day. With this decline in the rate of growth comes a change in nutritional requirement, so a correctly designed feeding program will change too.

The reason for this change in nutritional requirements can best be explained by looking at what is actually happening in the body of the pup. In the first phase of growth from birth to full height, which is about the half-way point in the full cycle of growth, nutrients are primarily directed to bone growth. It’s a bit like building a house; you have to have to build the framework before you can clad the walls or add the roof. The secondary call for nutrients is then for muscle development, whilst the base requirement of nutrients for the functions of life (moving, breathing, heart rate, digestion and the like), remain relatively constant.

From full height to maturity takes about as long again as it took to build the frame, but during this second stage the first call for nutrients is for muscle development, with the needs for bone being relegated to second place simply because most of that work is now finished. Obviously, the base requirements for the functions of life remain ongoing. This second stage of growth is much, much slower than the first stage of growth, and it’s during this period where all the finishing off stuff is completed in the body. You could think of it as fitting out the new house!

When we consider all of these changes in the growing body, it is easy to see the nutritional requirements of the pup are totally different to those of the adult dog. After all, the adult only has to undertake those normal functions of life, whereas the pup has to grow as well as breathe, digest, pump blood, and run around. Additional to this difference, is the differing rates at which pups grow. Remember, at the start it could be as high as 10% of body weight per day whereas in the late stages of growth it could be as low as 0.5% of body weight per day. This means if we are to grow the pup perfectly, we need to change the nutrient supply in the food according to the level of growth and activity.

First Stage Growth is that very early and extremely high rate of growth immediately after birth. This growth is initially powered with milk from the mother, but as the pup grows, there quite quickly comes a stage where the mother is unable to provide all the nutrients required to maintain this development. It is at this stage, around three weeks of age, that we introduce the first solid food being the LifeWise Turkey starter diet.

“…failure to adequately develop a robust gut microbiome results in pups developing skin and gut sensitivities quite early in their later life”

Turkey starter is what we term a “soft and gentle” food that is extremely rich in essential amino acids, the actual building blocks of cells. It is also made up of a broad range of easily digested ingredients which stimulate the development of the pup’s gut microbiome. This is the most critical stage in puppy growth. Not only because the pup is growing at the fastest rate, but the gut microbial population is diversifying rapidly if stimulated correctly. This development immediately after birth is critical for future health; failure to adequately develop a robust gut microbiome results in pups developing skin and gut sensitivities quite early in their later life.

Pups should be fed the Turkey starter until a suitable opportunity arises to transition to second stage growth at around 12 weeks of age. This reduces stress on the young animal through the weaning process by allowing a slow and consistent transition from an all milk diet to an all solid food diet. Some bitches will become short with the pups and want to wean them early, whilst other mothers will happily allow the pups to suckle for an extended time. Maintaining a constant feeding program throughout this period will limit the stress on the pups, and reduce the impact of the inevitable weaning on the pup’s development.

Where pups are to move to new homes, it is important to adequately space stressful events. If the pup is to be weaned early, ensure it is stable and established prior to relocation. Only after successfully established in the new home should the pup be transitioned to a second stage growth food. Ensuring stressful events such as weaning, diet change, and relocation are correctly spaced, ensures we don’t overload the pup’s developing microbiome. Excessive stress throughout this period is the number one cause of digestive upsets, and as mentioned earlier, uninhibited development of the gut microbial population is arguably one of the most important considerations, if not the most critical consideration, in the upbringing of the new pup.

Second Stage Growth is the period from weaning and initial establishment, to mature height. That very early rate of cell multiplication slows quite rapidly, and this alters the required nutrient ratios significantly. Transitioning from the Turkey starter to the Lamb & Fish second stage food should be done gradually, and at a rate the pup’s digestive system can accommodate. A good rule of thumb is to substitute 10% of the old food with an equal amount of the new food, and vary the mix by an additional 10% each day thereafter… namely 90% old, 10% new on day one, 80% old and 20% new on day two, and so on for ten days by which time the gentle transition has been completed and the pup is now firmly established on the Lamb & Fish diet. Throughout this process, keep a close eye on the quality of the pup’s stools. If signs of soft stools appear, simply stay at that level of mixed food until the digestive system catches up before continuing with the transition.

“…solid development through this stage being essential to growing a robust dog that is protected from seasonal allergies and digestive sensitivities in later life.”

As with the earlier development of the pup’s gut microbiome, second stage food continues to grow and diversify the gut microbial population. LifeWise Fish & Lamb puppy food is specifically designed to add to that diversity, with solid development through this stage being essential to growing a robust dog that is protected from seasonal allergies and digestive sensitivities in later life.

Growth in this second stage tends to be in bursts. It is not uncommon to get up one morning and find your pup has grown a couple of centimetres in height overnight! It seems the body builds up a reserve of nutrients before launching a growth spurt, only to slow and build up reserves for the next spurt. This means it is vitally important to maintain an increasing quantity of available food for the pup. All too often we see the amount of food being offered lag behind this growth requirement, which then limits the development of the pup. At all times the pup must be fed to satiation and at a level that ensures a light layer of fat covers the body throughout. This means the last rib should be level with the surface of the skin on the pup’s flank, whilst the ridges of the spine are slightly prominent to the top line of the body. Ribs that are apparent with the backbone exposed is a sure sign the pup is being growth limited, and this will impact on the future development of the dog.

One easy way to overcome the risk of applying limitations to the development of the pup is to allow the pup to self-feed. Simply topping up the bowl as required removes another stressor from the life of the pup. Mother Nature provides all animals with an appetite to take in the required amount of food for the job at hand. Provided the food is correctly structured and balanced, the pup will only eat what it requires, and its growth and development will be in accordance with the pup’s genetic blueprint. LifeWise Lamb & Fish has been specifically designed with this husbandry practice in mind.

Second stage growth varies from breed to breed. Small breed dogs usually reach full height at around 5 to 6 months, whereas medium breeds reach the same point at around 9 or 10 months of age. Large breeds won’t reach this point until 12 months or so and giant breeds can take even much longer. Reaching full height marks the end of second stage growth.

Third Stage Growth covers the period of time from full height to adulthood, and this is about the same length of time as taken to achieve full height. This means the small breed pup that reaches full height at 5 months of age is not classified as an adult until 10 months of age, whereas the large breed pup that reaches full height at 12 months of age cannot be classified as an adult until 2 years of age.

There are many different ideas circulating as to the age of adulthood in dogs, but if you are to develop your pup to his or her full genetic ability, appropriate food must be fed in accordance with the pup’s physiological needs. End of story!

Growth during the third stage slows rapidly, and it is during this phase the pup fills out, and develops its final stature. Muscle and organ development is the primary outcome during this stage, and once again the pup must be fed to body condition as outlined earlier. Throughout the entire growth period it is essential to provide as much food as the pup requires, and any consideration of the manufacturer’s suggested feeding guide is to be ignored. The correct amount of food to feed is the amount that maintains the correct body condition in the growing pup.

“… if you are to develop your pup to his or her full genetic ability, appropriate food must be fed in accordance with the pup’s physiological needs.”

As growth slows, so too will food intake. The greatest amount of food eaten daily is going to occur somewhere around mature height, and in some individuals this can be an alarming amount of food. Please don’t ever think the amount being fed is too much. If the pup is hungry for more, feed more, regardless of all else other than body condition. Whilst skinny or bony pups are to be avoided at all costs, so too are overweight pups. Any state other than the preferred body condition is detrimental, because any deviation from the ideal state will reduce the ultimate development of the pup.

The correct food for feeding during this final growth phase is the LifeWise Turkey large bite puppy food. Small breeds that reach adulthood in a year or less can remain on the second stage food if so desired; the large bite food may be too much work for some toy breeds. As in second stage growth, self-feeding is a good way of ensuring the pup receives all the nutrition it requires, but of course the body condition of the pup must be considered at all times.

One final consideration in respect to this feeding program is to point out that “adulthood” refers to physical development only. Many breeders and trainers will point out that dogs don’t mature mentally until much later than the time frames expressed in this article. Whilst this is true, mental maturity will occur quite naturally in an adult dog eating adult food. The feeding plan outlined here is designed to allow your pup to develop to the full extent of his or her genetic potential. It is only after this occurs that you will fully appreciate the benefits this feeding approach bestows on your pup.

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