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No matter his age, your dog deserves high-quality nutrition that nourishes his body from the inside out. In the puppy stage, your dog’s diet is focused on growth but as he approaches his adult size, the focus shifts toward healthy weight maintenance.
Not only is it important to know what kind of diet to switch your puppy to, but you need to think about when to switch to adult dog food. Some veterinarians recommend making the switch at 12 months, though for your individual dog the timeline may be different. It’s important that when considering any changes to your dog’s diet that your first step be to consult with your own veterinarian.
In general, however, there are several factors you should keep in mind when considering switching your dog to adult dog food. In this article, we explore everything you need to know when making the switch.
How Is Puppy Food Different?
All dogs require a balance of protein, fat, and essential nutrients for optimal health and wellness, regardless of breed.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has established the minimums required for healthy growth and maintenance in dogs. At a minimum, puppies require 22% protein and 8% fat to fuel their growth and development while adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein and 5% fat in their diets.
However, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, the “protein requirements of dogs and cats vary with age, activity level, temperament, life stage, health status, and protein quality of the diet.” This means that as your dog grows and ages, his protein and calorie requirements vary significantly, so it’s important that when you switch your puppy to adult dog food, you understand how to make a successful—and safe—switch.
Puppy food has higher levels of protein and fat to fuel growth and development in addition to nutrients typically found in a mother dog’s milk such as DHA. Foods formulated for puppies may also have higher levels of calcium and phosphorus to support healthy bones.
As your puppy approaches maturity, his growth will slow, and you should adjust his diet to prevent overgrowth. Generally speaking, higher levels of protein are better for both puppies and adult dogs. Some brands like American Journey go above and beyond the recommended minimums to provide dogs with an abundance of animal-based protein to support lean muscle mass and healthy weight.
When to Switch to Adult Dog Food
Dogs under 12 months of age are typically referred to as puppies while dogs over 12 months are considered adults. As a general rule, puppies can be safely switched to adult dog food when they reach 80% of their expected adult size.
However, just because your puppy is technically of adult age, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready for adult dog food. There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to determining when to switch to adult dog food, primarily your puppy’s breed size. For small breed dogs that’s typically somewhere between 9-10 months, while for medium breeds and larger dogs, it might be closer to 12-18 months.
Breed Considerations When Switching to Adult Dog Food
Toy and Small Breeds
Small breed dogs weigh less than 20 pounds at maturity and toy breeds typically weigh less than 12 pounds as adults. Toy and small breeds reach maturity much faster than larger breeds, so you may need to switch to adult food sooner to maintain the optimal balance of protein, fat, and calories. Toy breeds may reach maturity as soon as 7 months while small breeds may take up to 10 months.
Feeding your puppy a small-breed puppy food ensures he gets the higher protein and fat percentages needed to sustain rapid growth. Small dogs burn calories at a higher rate than larger dogs, so, once he reaches maturity, switching to a small-breed adult dog food will provide him with the protein and calories needed to maintain a healthy body weight.
Medium breed dogs are those that weigh between 30 and 50 pounds at maturity. For the most part, these puppies reach their adult weight around 10 to 12 months of age, though puppies at the higher end of this breed size range may take up to 14 months to mature.
Puppies of this size generally don’t require a size-specific diet, they just need a healthy balance of protein and fat to fuel their metabolism and support their growth and development. As an adult, your medium breed dog’s calorie intake should be determined by his body weight and activity level.
Large and Giant Breeds
Large breed dogs weigh 50 to 80 pounds at maturity while giant breeds weigh over 80 pounds. Large breeds often take more than 12 months to reach their adult size and giant breeds may take 18 to 24 months.
The primary concern with these puppies is controlling the rate of growth. If large and giant breed puppies grow too quickly, it can stress the developing bones and joints, increasing the puppy’s risk for orthopedic problems in adulthood. These growing, large breed puppies should be fed a diet of specially-formulated large breed puppy food, such as American Journey’s large breed puppy food.
As adults, large and giant breeds need significantly more calories than smaller dogs. Their needs for protein are quite high but controlling the fat content of your dog’s diet is essential for preventing obesity. A large-breed adult dog food contains the ideal combination of protein and fat for bigger dogs.
Make the Switch Slowly
When it comes to transitioning your dog onto a new recipe, slow and steady is the way to go. Making sudden changes to your dog’s diet can trigger digestive upset which can be unpleasant for both you and your pup. Simply mix a small amount of adult dog food with your puppy’s current food, slowly increasing the ratio of new to old food over the course of a week or so.
If your puppy experiences digestive symptoms along the way, revert to a lower ratio for another day or two before moving back up. Most brands of food recommend making the transition over 7 to 10 days, however, the experts vary on this. According to Merck, “new food should be introduced gradually throughout 5–7 days,” though DVM Sarah Lynn Wallace indicates here that the transition could take up to a month.
It’s important to work with your veterinarian to meet the individual nutritional needs of your pet.
Beyond the Bowl
As you make the transition from puppy food to adult dog food, you’ll need to keep an eye on your dog’s weight and body condition. Using these metrics as guides, you should adjust your dog’s daily portion as needed to support his metabolism and prevent obesity.
Ideal body condition for dogs includes a visible waistline and an obvious tuck where the abdomen slants upward between the ribcage and hind legs. You should also be able to feel the ribs, pelvis, and backbone with a thin layer of fat. Your veterinarian can help you determine the healthy weight range for your dog’s breed and if the scales start to tip in the wrong direction, you can adjust your dog’s portion size. In some cases, your vet may even recommend switching to a weight control formula.
A healthy diet is essential, but it’s just one aspect of optimal wellness for your pet. Training, socialization, daily exercise, mental stimulation and enrichment, adequate shelter, a place to call their own, such as their own crate, and most importantly, your protection, praise, and love, are also vital for your dog’s overall wellbeing. With these needs cared for, you’ll reap the benefits of your pet’s unconditional love for years to come.