Veterinarians share tips on making the transition as smooth as possible.

By Erica Sloan
February 01, 2021
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In the same way that babies are not just small adults, puppies aren't miniature-sized dogs—they're biologically different, and as a result, require a unique set of nutrients to thrive. "Puppies are in a growth phase, which I describe as rapid-change mode," says Purina veterinarian Callie Harris. "Their cells and tissues are replicating and dividing at high speed, and that requires a ton of energy." Puppy-food formulas are designed to supply just that. Typically, they're high in calories and fat, as well as key nutrients like DHA, an omega fatty acid that supports brain development and vision, and calcium and phosphorous for strong bones.

By contrast, adult dog food is lower in caloric content, and often targeted for breed size, lifestyle (e.g., active or relatively sedentary), and health concerns, like weight management, or skin or joint issues. Generally, baby fluffers become full-fledged canines at about a year, which is when they should graduate to one of these grown-up kibbles.

Because maturation rates do vary, however, it's important to consider the breed of your dog (and not just his size) when determining exactly when to make the transition, says Harris: "Pet parents often look at a Chihuahua or a Yorkie and think, 'You're still small; I'll keep feeding you puppy food'—or the reverse, for big dogs, changing to an adult diet too soon." Little breeds reach their end-goal weight more rapidly and can make the jump as early as nine months, while larger ones like Great Danes or German Shepherds (i.e., any dog that will end up weighing over 70 pounds) may benefit from a growth formula for up to two years.

"The age at which your dog is spayed or neutered can affect their nutritional requirements, too, so it's important to discuss the appropriate transition time with your vet," says veterinarian Tory Waxman, co-founder and chief veterinary officer at dog-food company Sundays. That also applies if you adopted from a shelter and aren't sure of your dog's breed (or mix of breeds); in most of those cases, though, it's safe to stick to the one-year benchmark.

When the time comes to make the switch, transition gradually to avoid upsetting your pooch's stomach. Mix the new food in with the old in increments, says Harris, starting with a quarter of your total amount at each meal, then ticking up to a half, and so on over the course of seven to 10 days. "I often recommend buying the adult version of your pup's current food to make the switchover as seamless as possible," says Waxman. As your dog begins to adjust, you might consider decreasing the number of times you feed him per day, too. While Harris recommends three to four meals daily for puppies (whose metabolisms are in high gear and digestive tracts are still developing), she usually suggests just two per day for adult dogs: breakfast and dinner.

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