Examine Your Puppy’s Diet
Diets devoid of an essential balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates may also be to blame, says Jeffrey, whose professional interests include preventative care.
“You should be feeding your puppy a diet that is AAFCO-approved (complete and balanced) for growth, as well as choosing a diet that is appropriate for the presumed adult size,” Jeffrey explains. “For example, large and giant breed puppies should eat a diet labeled for large breed puppies.”
Despite what you might think, diets formulated for growth aren’t always high quality. “Consider changing the diet to a more well-known diet from a larger pet food company or even feed a therapeutic diet,” advises Bartges, who is board-certified in veterinary internal medicine and veterinary nutrition.
A raw food diet isn’t a cure-all, either. “While I help people with raw food diets if that is what they want to feed, I discourage pet parents from feeding raw food diets to puppies,” he says. “The margin of safety is narrow during growth and this can be an issue not only for nutrient imbalances but also infectious disease.”
What to Avoid
You may be tempted to add a nutritional supplement to puppy food to encourage growth, but using supplements without consulting a vet can harm your canine companion. For example, “excess calcium can increase the risk of developmental orthopedic diseases in large breed puppies; excess vitamin D can lead to toxicity,” Su says.
Another potential problem to avoid is obesity. “Many puppies that owners deem too thin are at a healthy weight and the owners are trying to make them fat because they don’t have a good understanding of what a healthy puppy looks like,” Heinze says. “Unless the puppy has a known health issue, being slightly ‘ribby’ is generally healthier than slightly overweight, especially for large and giant breed dogs.”
Vets recommend frequent weight checks to ensure your puppy doesn’t become overweight. “And if weight gain is faster than desired, calorie adjustments can be made before weight gain becomes excessive,” Su says.
In addition to ruling out underlying conditions and ensuring your dog’s diet is balanced and provides the appropriate number of calories, you may want to examine your feeding methods. “Some puppies need several small meals throughout the day instead of two large meals,” Jeffrey says. “Feeding small meals may help with weight gain.”
Also look for behavioral clues. “If the puppy is having to compete to eat with other dogs in the house, the puppy should be fed separately,” she says. “Not only will this help reduce stress, it will allow the owner to determine the exact amount of food the puppy is eating.”