Dog Food Nutrition

Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

December 22, 2023

Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

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Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

Those who own a dog or puppy are aware that there are a plethora of different types of dog food available, and you must be cautious about what you feed your dog. A common question among new dog owners is, “Can puppies eat adult dog food?”

That question does not have a simple yes-or-no answer!

We will explain it more below.

Changing your Puppy’s Food

If you have a new puppy, ideally the puppy’s breeder or the shelter should send home a sample of his food so he can continue to eat what he’s used to eating. They should tell you the name of the food so you can buy some in the short term.

No matter what kind of food you want to feed your puppy in the future, when you first bring him home, it’s a good idea to continue feeding him his regular food. Any sudden changes in diet can lead to an upset stomach. You can change his food slowly later if you want to change foods.

What’s the Difference Between Puppy Food and Adult Dog Food?

As far as puppies eating adult dog food, there are nutritional differences between puppy food and adult dog food.

Puppies grow like weeds during their first few months, and they need a food that can provide more protein and energy to meet their requirements. Certain amino acids, not just more protein, are especially important for growing puppies. Many puppy foods are also higher in calories than adult dog foods.

Puppies also need some nutrients that adult dogs don’t particularly need, such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that helps with neural development. It’s important for a puppy’s brain and visual development.

Puppies also require specific levels of calcium and phosphorus. These levels have to be precise, especially for large breed puppies. Large and giant-breed puppies that don’t get the right levels of calcium and phosphorus can be prone to orthopedic diseases such as hip and elbow dysplasia.

Adult dogs don’t need many of the extra nutrients that puppies require while they are growing. Most adult dogs are fairly tolerant of a wider range of nutrient levels. Most adult dogs do well eating dog foods with moderate protein and fat levels unless they are very active or involved in performance work, when they would need a food that provides more energy.

In fact, most adult dogs need fewer calories to avoid gaining weight instead of the higher calories required by growing puppies. Adult dogs that eat as many calories as a young puppy usually end up with a weight problem because their metabolism is slower.

Nutrient Requirements for Puppies vs Adult Dogs

If we compare the nutrient requirements for puppies versus adult dogs, some of the things that stand out include the following:

  • Protein for puppies: 22 percent minimum
  • Protein for adult dogs: 18 percent minimum
  • Fat for puppies: 8 percent minimum
  • Fat for adult dogs: 5 percent minimum

Most dog and puppy foods exceed these minimum levels for protein and fat.

Puppies also require far more calories than adult dogs.

Their muscles are developing, and their metabolism is using energy at a much higher rate than adult dogs even when they are resting. Puppies also burn lots of energy during play. Puppies burn the most energy up to the age of four months because they are growing fastest during these months.

They still use lots of energy between four and 12 months, but their energy requirements start to level off as they approach maturity.

Most puppies are eating about the same calories when they are six to nine months old that they will eat as an adult dog, even though they have not yet reached their full size. That’s because even though they will get a little bigger, their metabolism will also start to slow down as they become adults.

There are some good calorie calculators online that include calories for puppies up to the age of 4 months (based on a puppy’s weight) and between the ages of 4 and 12 months. You can also do some calculations to figure out the calories your puppy needs.

Or, you can use a chart such as this one, keeping in mind that it only provides a guesstimate for your puppy’s requirements:

Puppy Feeding Chart

Weight at MaturityWeight at Maturity1-1/2 – 3 Months4 – 5 Months6 – 8 Months9 – 11 Months1 – 2 Years
3 – 121.4 – 5.41/2 – 12/3 – 1-1/31/2 – 1-1/2Feed as AdultFeed as Adult
13 – 205.9 – 9.11/2 – 1-1/41-1/8 – 23/4 – 1-1/31 – 1-1/2Feed as Adult
21 – 509.5 – 22.71/2 – 1-1/21-1/2 – 2-3/41-1/8 – 2-1/32 – 32 – 4-1/4
51 – 7523.1 – 34.05/8 – 2-1/31-1/2 – 41-1/2 – 3-3/42-1/2 – 4-3/42-5/8 – 6-1/4
76 – 10034.5 – 45.41 – 2-2/32-7/8 – 3-3/42-7/8 – 6-1/33-7/8 -75-5/8 – 11
101 lbs and overOver 45.4 kg2-2/3 cups plus 1/3 cup for each 10 lbs of body weight over 100 lbs3-3/4 cups plus 1/3 cup for each 10 lbs of body weight over 100 lbs6-1/3 cups plus 1/3 cup for each 10 lbs of body weight over 100 lbs7 cups plus 1/3 cup for each 10 lbs of body weight over 100 lbs11 cups plus 1/3 cup for each 10 lbs of body weight over 100 lbs

*These are generic recommendations only.  Please check the package for product-specific feeding recommendations.

What Happens if you Feed a Puppy Adult Dog Food?

Puppies can eat a couple of kinds of dog food, including food that adult dogs eat. One food has an AAFCO nutritional statement known as “Growth and Reproduction.”

These are puppy foods, though they can also be fed to expectant mother dogs and mother dogs that are nursing. These foods are specifically formulated to have all of the calories, protein, fat, DHA, calcium/phosphorus levels, and other requirements for puppies.

The other kind of food you can feed your puppy is called an “All Life Stage” formula. These foods are formulated to be nutritionally adequate for dogs of all ages, including puppies.

They also have the protein, fat, calories, DHA, calcium/phosphorus levels, and other nutrients that puppies need. They can also be fed to adult dogs, nursing mothers, active dogs, and senior dogs. So puppies can eat this kind of adult dog food.

If you have a large-breed puppy, you should look for a formula that states it is made for puppies that will weigh more than 70 pounds as a mature adult.

If you have a smaller-breed puppy, look for a formula that states it is made for puppies that will weigh less than 70 pounds as adults. This statement should be included in any food that is suitable for a puppy to eat.

The one kind of food that you should not feed to puppies is adult-maintenance dog food. Adult maintenance dog foods are formulated only for adult dogs that don’t require a lot of calories or any special nutrients.

Maintenance dog foods are a good choice for many pets. However, they are lacking the kind of extra nutrition that puppies and nursing mothers require.

A puppy fed this kind of diet would not get enough calories, protein, fat, or DHA for brain and vision development. Calcium and phosphorus levels for bone development could be incorrect, along with some other important nutrients.

Your puppy could have bone and other health problems later in life because of an inadequate diet at a crucial stage of development.

Final Thoughts

Puppies can eat adult dog food as long as the food has a nutritional statement that says it is for “all life stages.” Puppies can also eat foods with a nutritional statement that says the food is for “growth and reproduction.” However, puppies should not eat adult dog food that is made for “adult maintenance.” These foods do not have the extra nutrients that puppies require for their development.

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Carlotta Cooper is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine DN Dog News. She's the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, a Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) award winner. In addition, she is an American Kennel Club Gazette breed columnist and the author of several books about dogs. She has been reviewing pet foods and writing about dog food for more than 10 years.
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