Puppies require higher levels of some nutrients than adults do as their brain is still developing and their bones are growing. You should always select a food specially formulated for puppies, but how do you know if they're getting what they need from their diet for optimum growth and health? Here's an overview of how to spot signs of nutritional deficiencies and the key nutrients your puppy needs while they're growing:
How to Spot Nutritional Deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies typically manifest as physical symptoms. If your puppy displays any of the following symptoms they may not be getting enough nutrients from their diet:
- Digestive problems - Food allergies can cause your puppy's digestive system to become inflamed, which prevents nutrients from being absorbed. If your puppy is allergic to one or more of the ingredients in their food they will develop diarrhoea or constipation. Left untreated, this can lead to chronic malabsorption, which can damage their organs and prevent them from reaching a healthy size for their breed. Have your dog tested for food allergies and switch to a brand of food that's hypoallergenic.
- Dramatic change in weight - If your puppy is gaining weight rapidly, but seems to have an insatiable appetite, they may not be getting the nutrients they need from their food. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to the brain sending hunger signals to the digestive system as a way of trying to get access to the nutrition needed for health. Try switching to a different brand of nutritionally complete food. Weight loss can result when your puppy just doesn't like their food, but eating too few calories can stunt their cognitive development and leave your dog with weak bones.
- Dry or blotchy skin - Red blotches or dry skin can be an early sign your puppy's not consuming enough essential fatty acids. Being deficient in essential fatty acids not only affects your puppy's skin, it can also impair brain development. Evening primrose oil and fish oil are common sources of essential fatty acids in dog food, but not all brands of dog food contain this nutrient so check the ingredients in your chosen brand.
Key Nutrients for Optimum Health
A balanced diet with a broad range of nutrients will support your puppy's overall health, but the following three nutrients are essential for optimum growth and development and should be present in their diet in high quantities:
- Protein - Protein plays a vital role in the development of healthy skin and hair, so a growing puppy needs a diet high in protein. Choose a food containing meat as it's easier for your puppy to absorb protein from a meat source than a vegetable source.
- Calcium - Calcium supports the formation of strong bones and teeth. Puppy food contains higher levels of calcium than adult dog food, so don't be tempted to switch to adult food while your puppy's bones are still growing. Calcium supplements are readily available, but these shouldn't be used without a vet's approval as they can cause digestive upset. You can safely add extra calcium to your puppy's diet by giving them one eggshell each week. The eggshell should be finely ground to prevent choking or injury and stirred into their food just before serving.
- Antioxidants - Your puppy's immune system is still developing, so they're more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections than fully grown dogs. A diet rich in antioxidants can support the development of your puppy's immune system, so check your chosen food contains at least one type of antioxidant. Common antioxidants used in dog food include butylated hydroxytoluene, vitamin E and citric acid.
If you'd like some help choosing a high-quality food for your puppy, ask your feed supplier (such as Geelong Farm Supplies) for their recommendation.