If you have more than one pet, mealtime might be something of a pain. Your puppy eats this food, your other dogs eat that. But what if you could simplify it by feeding everyone the same food? We’re here to answer the question – Can adult dogs eat puppy food?
Juggling different diets is difficult enough, but you also have to worry about your pets sampling each other's meals. So can adult dogs eat puppy food, or the other way around? Technically yes, but that’s only part of the answer.
Puppies and adults have different dietary needs, so let’s start by pointing out what it is that puppies need that an adult dog doesn’t.
Dietary needs of puppies
While there are some subtle differences between dog foods designed for growth and those designed for maintenance (meaning puppy vs adult) we need to be aware of the amount calories in the food and where they come from.
During their growth stage, your puppy needs higher calories to provide the energy needed to develop muscle, bones, connective tissues, and many vital systems and organs.
For example, if we compare Acana Large Breed Puppy formula and Acana Large Breed Adult formula, the puppy food has more calories than the adult version. The protein and fat contents may be similar, but the calories per cup should be slightly different.
This information can be found in the guaranteed analysis of your pet's food package. To learn more about breaking down your pet food packaging, check out Understanding Pet Food Labels.
A more calorie dense food allows your puppy to support his energy requirements without having to feed absurd portions. Cup per cup, puppy food offers more than adult.
The Best Type of Calories for Puppies
Feeding a more calorie dense food is important, but make sure those extra calories are coming from healthy proteins and fats. Compared to calories from carbohydrates, protein and fat contain not only a longer lasting energy source to feed their brain, but also the nutrients that your pup needs to properly develop.
Omega fatty acids like EPA and DHA, as well as appropriate quantities of all essential amino acids, are vital to proper growth and development.
Adult food often contains these nutrients, but not necessarily in the same quantities needed for a growing pup. Learn more about your puppy’s dietary needs in What Should I feed My Puppy?
Can Adult Dogs Eat Puppy Food?
Short answer – yes, but they probably shouldn’t. Puppy foods are specifically designed to accommodate growth. Once your dog has reached adulthood, the only way a puppy food will help them grow is out.
Obesity is already a big problem for pets, so feeding a high calorie food, like puppy food, to a dog that doesn’t use those calories will lead to unwanted weight gain.
This is not to say that puppy food is never recommended for adult dogs. Under special circumstances, and with a vet's recommendation, puppy foods can be fed to adult dogs temporarily. Here are a few situations that might warrant feeding puppy food:
- Pregnancy/weaning - pregnant and nursing dogs are giving most of their calories and nutrients to their pups. Puppy food is a great way to ensure that mom is getting enough of the right nutrients until the pups are done being weaned.
- Underweight – in some cases of severe weight loss caused by starvation or illness, your vet might recommend feeding a calorie-dense diet like puppy food to help get more calories in smaller portions. This will allow your skinny dog to build muscle faster.
- High energy – Some breeds have a need for speed and a typical diet just can’t meet their energy needs. To maintain muscle and energy, a puppy formula might help to keep them energized and strong.
Outside of the above special cases, feeding a puppy food to an adult dog full-time isn’t recommended.
This brings us back to the initial conundrum though - How do you simplify mealtime when you are feeding dogs of varying ages? Your best bet is to try an all life stage diet.
All Life Stage Foods
All life stage foods are designed to meet the needs of puppies through senior pets so long as they are fed in appropriate quantities.
It may seem a little hard to believe considering we just went over the differences in the dietary needs between puppies and adult dogs, but all life stage foods are good for most pets.
Key nutrients needed by puppies, like omega fatty acids, are something that both puppies and adults needs. In an all life stage formula, these nutrients are elevated to levels that are safe for adults, but also suitable for puppies.
The trick with all life stage diets if portion control. The key nutrients are measured out to meet the needs of each life stage so long as they are eating the right amounts of food. Although they’d be eating the same food, a puppy might need up to twice or three times as much food, based on their current weight.
Check out How Much Should I Feed my Dog to learn more about finding the right portions to meet your dog’s needs.
To give you an example, let’s consider the diet of your dog’s ancestors, wolves. A wolf cub, like a puppy, requires more calories and certain nutrients than an adult wolf of the same weight, but they are not eating a specialized diet to accommodate this. So how does it work?
First, wolves eat a natural diet. Raw, unprocessed, whole animal diets to be precise. This allows them to get the most digestible sources of the nutrients they need to thrive.
Second, the wolf isn’t hunting or finding different food for her cubs. They eat the same things, just in different quantities. This same argument can be made for an all life stage dog food.
Can a Puppy Eat Adult Dog Food?
You might be thinking that like an all life stage formula, you can just feed larger quantities of adult food to your puppy. Problem solved, right?
Not quite. The little differences in dietary needs, like vitamins and minerals, are specifically measured in an all life stage food to meet a puppy’s needs. When feeding an adult food, the nutrients aren’t properly balanced for a puppy; therefore you might be able to feed enough to meet some of their needs, but could be feeding too much of another.
This is why we recommend sticking to either a puppy specific diet or an all life stage formula for your young dogs.
The Grass is Always Greener...
Even if you aren’t worried about feeding separate foods to your dogs, you should still be aware of any food sharing. It’s common for one pet to want a taste of what the other’s got. A little nibble of each other's food every now and then is fine, but try to avoid letting them make a habit of this.
If you can, feed your dogs in separate rooms and don’t leave food sitting out. Scheduled, monitored feedings are best when feeding a variety of pets. If separating them is too difficult, then switching to an all life stage diet might be a better choice.
If your dog speed eats just to get a chance to sneak over to his siblings dish to steal a bite or five, then try to slow him down with some of the tricks from My Dog Eats Too Fast.
This can help to ensure that all of your dogs are eating the appropriate portions and calories at each meal, and helps to reduce competitive mealtime behaviours.
Got tips for feeding multiple pets? Share them with us in the comments below!