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9 key ingredients that nourish growing puppies

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By Rose Springer
 

Mother's milk may be the gold standard for newborn dogs, but when they wean at around 3 to 4 weeks of age, a new gold standard is required: a high-quality commercial puppy food. Luckily, it's not hard to find.

"The pet food companies do a remarkable job with products that address overall nutrition," says Dr. James Cook, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. "The science that goes into commercial pet food these days is comprehensive. It's great as a veterinarian, because it makes advising clients about food easy." Read on to learn what other docs have to say about feeding your pup for growth.

Choosing a Solid Food
"Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult and senior dogs," says Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian. "Puppies need a food specifically formulated for young dogs. They also have size-specific needs." Small breeds need higher protein and higher calories. Large-breed puppies, on the other hand, must have less of both to avoid joint and bone problems as they grow. Make sure then to select the right chow for your pup.

Introducing Solid Food
When puppies begin to wean at 3 or 4 weeks, they'll consume both mother's milk (or a milk replacement) and solid food, which should be mixed with water and initially provided once or twice daily. "Mix water with puppy formula to make gruel," says Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Procter & Gamble. "Typically, more food will end up on them than in them. Slowly, they'll make progress, and by 5 weeks they'll be eating more skillfully. Slowly decrease the water as the puppy adjusts to eating kibble. By 8 weeks, they should be ready for weaning and dry food consumption."

The Nine Key Ingredients

  • Chicken and Egg Nelson says that egg and chicken are the most ideal protein sources, followed by other meats and byproducts. "Puppies need a good-quality protein source, whether human-grade or directly below," says Nelson. "There's a bad feeling about byproduct meal in the world, but as long as it's quality refined, it's not actually a bad thing. Skin, liver and spleen are nutritious."
  • Vitamins and Nutrients Like human infants, puppies have specific nutrient requirements. Calcium and phosphorus need to be in proper balance so that bone development is healthy. The same is true for amino acids and vitamins. "The proper ratio is key," says Nelson. Look for a commercial food that has been certified "complete and balanced" by Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the FDA of pet foods.
  • Beet Pulp and Fructooligosaccharide (FOS) These fermentable fibers help to keep the digestive tract healthy. Beet pulp and FOS are moderately fermentable, which means they enhance nutrient absorption while also helping the puppy remove waste.
  • Antioxidants These substances are thought to protect cells against the effects of disease-causing free radicals. These free radicals are produced when food is broken down and when there is environmental exposure to toxins. Free radicals likely play a role in diseases like heart disease and cancer, among others. Puppies who take in antioxidants through food are thought to be less likely to have growth abnormalities and are generally healthier in the long run.
  • Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Plan on teaching your new dog old tricks? Fish and vegetable oils -- rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, respectively -- may help you succeed. "It's brain food," explains Nelson. These fatty acids also keep skin and coat healthy, and benefit the joints and GI tracts by reducing inflammation. "They help with all body systems. I don't think we've reached the tip of the iceberg in understanding their benefits," adds Nelson.

Feed your pet right from weaning and into adulthood (one year, in dog time) and you'll ensure it has a healthy foundation to grow on. 

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