A veterinarian shares the best methods for switching your dog's food–and some common mistakes to avoid.

By Lucy Wendel

Just like children, puppies have their own dietary needs to help them grow into healthy adults, so we give them specialized food. But how do you know when your pup is ready to graduate to adult food? Whitney Miller, director of veterinary medicine at Petco, tells us how to make that transition and shares information about keeping your pup feeling their best.

Puppy eating from food bowl. Horizontally framed shot.
Image courtesy of Getty.

How Do You Know When Your Puppy Is Ready for Adult Food?

Every dog is a little different, but puppies are typically ready for an adult formula when they are around 1 year old. Breed, size, and sex can make a difference though. “Smaller dog breeds tend to reach adulthood more quickly than order dog breeds,” Miller says. “Large and giant breeds should stay on large breed puppy food until at least a year and a half of age to allow full development of their joints.”

Formulas for puppies usually have higher levels of protein, fat, and calories, which helps them grow. If you switch to adult food too soon, your puppy might not be getting the appropriate nutrition. Alternatively, if you wait too long, the high-calorie puppy formulas might cause your pooch to pack on some extra pounds.

It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before graduating to an adult formula to make sure your dog’s unique needs are being met in terms of the type of food, amount, and feeding schedule.

How Do I Make the Switch?

It’s important to transition your dog to an adult formula slowly to avoid any apprehension about the new food or health problems. Miller recommends making changes over one to two weeks, mixing an increasing amount of new formula in with the old formula each day:

- Days 1-3: Start with 75 percent puppy food mixed with 25 percent adult food.

- Days 4-6: Mix half puppy food and half adult food.

- Days 7-9: Mix 75 percent adult food with 25 percent puppy food.

- Day 10: Begin feeding 100 percent adult food.

“If your dog seems finicky at all, there are toppers, broths, and other options that help to ease this transition,” Miller says. “The key is to ensure those extras and any other treats don’t make up more than 10 percent of what your pup eats, which will help guard against nutrition imbalances.”

What Are Some Potential Health Side Effects to Look For?

A diet containing a balance of high-quality digestible proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals is ideal for your dog. Formulas with poor-quality nutrients are hard for your dog to digest and could affect organs such as the liver and kidneys over time.

Because dogs can’t communicate directly with us to tell us when they’re not feeling great, a good way to tell how healthy they are is by their appearance. A shiny, silky coat and no dry skin is a good sign. If you notice excessive shedding, a dull or dry coat, or a change in skin health, it could be a sign your dog isn’t getting the proper nutrition.

Pay attention to their “backyard” habits as well. “Dogs can experience an upset stomach if you don’t transition them to a new food gradually,” Miller says. “Transitioning too quickly can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, or even loss of appetite.” If you notice any of these symptoms, slow or stop the transition and consult your veterinarian.

How Do I Choose the Right Adult Formula?

As dogs transition from puppy to adult, they need require fewer calories, protein, and fat. But the exact balance of what is best for your dog depends on the breed, size, metabolism, level of activity, and a variety of other factors.

Many pet-food manufacturers offer an adult formula with ingredients similar to their puppy formula, giving consumers an easy option to consider. “For dogs with more specific diet needs, natural foods made from whole ingredients and more unique protein sources can be a great choice,” Miller says.

“In addition, solution-specific formulas have been developed from extensive scientific research to help address health conditions in dogs, like urinary diseases, sensitive stomach, or hip and joint arthritis.” Your veterinarian can inform you of any specific needs your pet may have.

Pet parents are becoming more and more aware of the importance of specialty formulas and high-quality ingredients, and manufacturers are taking notice. According to a recent survey, 59 percent of veterinarians agree that pet owners should actively seek out foods without artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Petco recently announced that it will not sell food and treats containing those artificial elements by May 2019, making it the first and only major retailer of pet products to take a stand against such ingredients.


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