Puppies are unquestionably cute and cuddly, but they also require specific care. They are babies and toddlers after all, and, like humans, they have different needs than grownups or even older kids. The extent to which those needs are met can impact the rest of their lives. So whether you have a puppy or you’re considering adopting one in the future, learn as much as you can about them now to set them up for a lifetime of health and happiness with you.

When do puppies reach their full adult size?

The answer varies by breed. All dogs are considered puppies until age 1, but many still continue to grow after their first birthday. Large and giant breed dogs take 18 to 24 months to become fully grown. Smaller breeds will stop growing earlier, with small breeds reaching full size around 6 months and medium size breeds around 12 months.

What should puppies eat?

Puppies have very specific nutritional requirements. They typically wean from mother’s milk when they’re 6-8 weeks old. After that, they need food that’s formulated for puppies’ growth and development. Look for puppy food that includes the following:

  • High levels of protein from high-quality sources, like real chicken or fish. Protein helps puppies build muscle mass and sustain energy for their growing bodies.
  • DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, which is critical for puppies’ brain and eye development. 
  • Healthy carbohydrate sources to give puppies energy.
  • Optimized levels of calcium and phosphorus for bone and joint development. Large breed puppies need less calcium and phosphorus per calorie than smaller breeds to promote slow and steady bone growth. 
  • Live probiotics to support sensitive tummies, healthy digestive tracts and immune systems. If your puppy’s food doesn’t offer probiotics, it’s simple to supplement with functional treats, like Dogswell® Gut Health Jerky Treats.

Water should be introduced as puppies begin to wean as well. Be sure to monitor your puppy’s water intake, as too little or too much water can be signs of trouble.

Why is DHA so important for puppies?

Dogs’ brains are about 50% fat. DHA makes up 10-20% of all fats and more than 90% of the long-chain polyunsaturated fats in the brain.1 Diets fortified with DHA has been proven to improve cognitive, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in growing dogs2 and improve their overall trainability. DHA also supports healthy joints, skin and coat, and immune system development. Coldwater fish, like salmon, offer high levels of DHA, so supplements like Dogswell’s pure Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil can be particularly beneficial for puppies.

How often should I feed my puppy?

Like human babies, young puppies have tiny tummies that fill quickly and require small, frequent feedings. As they grow, their number of meals will decrease. 

  • 2-3 months old: 4 meals a day
  • 3-6 months old: 3 meals a day
  • 6+ months old: 2 meals a day

The exact quantity of food for each meal will vary depending on your dog’s weight, so follow the food’s feeding guidelines carefully to make sure your puppy is getting all of the nutrients they need. 

How much exercise do puppies need? 

Puppies may seem like they have endless energy, but rigorous, prolonged exercise like running on pavement can be too hard on growing puppies’ bones and joints. Short, regular walks and play time provide plenty of activity and bonding opportunities with your puppy.

How often should puppies be groomed?

Like cleaning their teeth, early and frequent gentle brushing helps puppies get used to being handled and groomed. Train them to be comfortable having their paws, ears, mouth, etc. touched to minimize anxiety later. Every week or two, carefully trim their nails being careful to avoid cutting the quick, the vein in the center of the nail, and reward with treats during and after. 

Once they’re at least two months old, you can begin bathing your puppy too. Choose a gentle puppy shampoo, grab some towels, and have some fun, giving lots of praise and even some treats to create positive associations. Bathing once or twice a month should be sufficient, unless they get really dirty, and avoid bathing too frequently because it can dry out their skin.

After your puppy has completed all of their vaccinations (around 4 months old) and is used to being handled, you can bring them to a professional groomer. The frequency of grooming visits will depend on your puppy’s breed, with some long-haired breeds requiring visits as often as every four weeks.

When do puppies lose their baby teeth? Do they need to be brushed?

Puppies lose their sharp baby teeth when they’re 3-6 months old. Usually their permanent adult teeth have grown in by 6 months. Like human babies, losing and erupting larger teeth causes some discomfort, so they teethe and bite on things to find relief. Providing toys to chew on and consistently redirecting unwanted biting is important in this stage. 

It’s also important to brush their teeth – even their baby teeth – daily using canine toothpaste. Starting this early gets them used to having their mouths and teeth touched, and it sets them up for a lifetime of good oral hygiene and dental health

When should I start puppy training, and what do I need for it?

You can start training your puppy with basic commands and house training as early as 2 months old. Consistent rules and positive reinforcement should always be used, rewarding requested tasks with praise and low-calorie training treats; never rubbing their noses in mistakes or punishing them.

In addition to obedience training, it’s also important to socialize your puppy early. Introduce them to a variety of people, young and old, and get them used to being around strangers. Once your pup has had all of their vaccines, you can take them to training classes and dog parks to socialize with other dogs as well. As mentioned, touch training should also be started early to help them feel comfortable being handled during grooming, veterinarian visits, and so on.  

While puppies’ physical needs differ from adult dogs, each individual puppy is different as well. If you have questions or concerns about your puppy’s development, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian. Together you can establish a plan to give your puppy their best start.

1Oke, Stacey, DVM, MSc. Boosting Puppies Brains for Trainability with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. American Kennel Club, 19 May, 2016. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/boosting-puppy-brains-for-trainability-with-omega-3-fatty-acids/.

2 Zicker, et. al. Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1 Sept., 2012. https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/241/5/javma.241.5.583.xml.

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