Puppies in their first year need a lot of nutrition to grow and develop strong bones and muscles. Especially in the case of Labradors and other large breeds, they grow extremely fast in their first few months and take more time to mature.
Knowing when to switch your Labrador puppy to dog food will ensure you are hitting all the needs of their growing body. Here’s a complete guideline on when to switch Labrador puppy to dog food.
What is the difference between milk, puppy food, and adult dog food?
To understand why it’s important, let us first set apart the three types of food your dog will consume in their lifetime.
When a puppy is born, their immune system and other organs are not yet fully developed. This makes them susceptible to diseases and malnutrition.
Their mother’s milk is full of nutrients and natural antibodies to help fight off any infections as they develop.
Ideally, a puppy should only be separated from their mothers after they stop relying on their mother’s milk. But in other cases where a puppy cannot drink its mother’s milk, commercial milk replacements are available.
Now in case of an emergency, there are recipes online for backup puppy milk replacement like diluted goat’s milk or evaporated milk.
These won’t give your puppy the right nutrition it needs, so milk replacers are still necessary.
However, avoid full-fat cow’s milk as it can cause diarrhea.
High quality puppy food
Their next food should be high-quality puppy food. After weaning off milk, your puppy’s body will concentrate on complex nutrition.
Dog food created for puppies is especially formulated to supply their body with the nutrients they need.
High in calories and packed with nutrients, quality puppy dog food has the right balance of nutrients that your pup needs to grow well, as they settle into their adulthood.
Adult dog food
Finally, we have adult dog food. This type of dog food is for maintenance, so their body remains strong and healthy over the years.
Finding the right type of dog food for your growing Labrador may be a bit more challenging, as large breeds need all sorts of specific nutrients.
Your choice of food for them will depend on certain factors, like their activity level.
If your lab works with you on a farm, is a show dog, or is just a sweet family pet, there are especially formulated adult dog foods for them.
Since Labradors are prone to diseases like hip dysplasia and diabetes, there are some dog food brands that carry specialty formulas to target the prevention of these predisposed diseases.
Why is it important to get the right timing?
Each type of food your puppy eats targets different growth and nutrition goals.
Feeding the right amount and understanding when your puppy’s body is ready for its next step is essential.
Switching to adult food too soon can result in nutrition deficiencies, leading to developmental problems and bone abnormalities. But don’t be too scared. Just remember that with puppy food, it’s better to feed it for longer than less.
When do I switch puppy milk to dog food?
Let’s break down the timeline to get a better idea of when to switch from milk to dog food.
1-4 weeks old
From birth to around four weeks, your puppy will still rely on the nutrients from their mother’s milk. At about 3-4 weeks, they will start to get a bit more active and start teething, which is a sign that they are ready to explore the world of solid foods.
4-7 weeks old
This is what owners and vets call the weaning period. At this point, puppies are ready to start consuming solid foods, but they still rely on their mother’s milk.
You can start weaning them off by introducing them to a few grains of kibble softened with warm water, diluted salt-free broth, or diluted wet food.
The goal at this age is to get them used to the idea and taste of solid foods but still not entirely off of milk.
8-12 weeks old
At this age, puppies usually start eating puppy food as their main diet. This is when they are the most active, socializing with the world and growing the most.
Some mothers produce milk even when their puppies are ten weeks old, but the puppies should start relying on kibble so that the mother can rest.
Continuously monitor your puppy’s weight and condition to ensure you aren’t overfeeding or underfeeding them.
Some vets also suggest that diluting kibble in water even when they are past the weaning age helps the puppy’s body to digest food and absorb the nutrients better.
52 – 60 weeks old/ 12 – 14 months old
This part is more of a Labrador and large breed-specific timeline.
Their bodies are bigger, but it takes a bit longer for their bodies to reach full maturity. Some studies even suggest that a Labrador doesn’t stop growing until they are two years old.
But they should start switching to adult food when they are around 12 to 14 months old, so their bodies get the proper nutrition it needs.
Tips and tricks in feeding a Labrador puppy
Here are some tips to use for feeding your lab puppy to ensure you’re on the right track.
Feed small amounts in multiple sessions
Overfeeding happens the most during the weaning period. Remember that during this time, they are still drinking from their mother’s milk or milk replacements.
The trick to avoiding this is feeding them in small amounts and multiple times daily.
For the first 1-2 weeks of weaning, your aim should be getting them comfortable eating solid foods.
After that period, start increasing the amount slightly so they understand that instead of drinking milk, they can also get full by eating what you feed them.
Also, a quick reminder, anything not eaten after 10 minutes should be disposed of, may it be milk replacement or weaning foods.
Get heavy bowls
In the weaning period, puppies eat and leave a lot of mess generally, and some may even flip their bowls. To prevent this from happening, buy heavy ceramic bowls or those with a suction cup. Both glass and ceramic bowls are slightly expensive, but they can be harder to flip. They are also less likely to accumulate bacteria when compared to plastic bowls.
Drinking water must always be ready
Puppies are very prone to getting dehydrated, so make sure you have a bowl of water on standby. This is extremely important when switching to dog food especially as kibble is extremely drying to their throats.
Gradual is best
The number one rule when switching to dog food is to do it gradually. This does not only apply to change from puppy to adult food but also switching from one brand to another.
Your dog’s stomach adjusts to digesting what you are feeding them so they can absorb nutrients in the most efficient way possible.
Suddenly switching from one food to another can upset this cycle and cause your dog to suffer from diarrhea and severe gastrointestinal issues.
Divide the food you’re currently feeding them into ¼ cups and gradually switch it a portion with their new dog food to give their tummies the time to adjust. You can also use this trick if you are unsure whether it is the right time to switch to adult food, so they still get enough nutrients while getting used to the change.
No table food
Time and time again, vets have warned owners never to feed their dogs what they eat.
Remember that human food is packed with salt and other ingredients that may be safe for us but not for them. The same explanation from the previous tip also applies.
They can be more prone to obesity and high cholesterol because of table food. You can feed them unseasoned food like carrots or boiled chicken, but it’s still advised to stick with dog food.
No to a lot of treats
Labradors are extremely easy to train because of how intelligent they are and how intense their food drive is. But feeding them too many treats plus their dog food can once again cause obesity. Keep the treats to training times and special treats to special occasions.
Consult your vet
When in doubt, call your vet. No two dogs are the same, and their food habits and preferences may be different from one to another. If you’re in doubt, you should be able to consult your vet about when to switch from puppy to dog food. You must also work closely with your veterinarian to monitor the weight of your puppy and recommend foods when switching from puppy to dog food.
Labradors are a fantastic breed of dogs and are on the healthier side, so you won’t have to worry too much. As for switching from one food to another, it’s better to wean from milk to solids at 4 to 7 weeks old and from puppy to adult at around 12 to 14 months. Keep them healthy and strong with the proper diet and exercise, and your Labrador puppy is set to conquer the world!
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