Labrador’s are a very popular family pet and getting one as a puppy is a common way to go. You’ll be there for all the stages of its growth and development, taking care of it, loving it, and giving it all that it needs to thrive. When it comes to food, what type is best for your Labrador puppy?
(image of Labrador puppy eating from a bowl)
There are several schools of thought about what type of food is the best for Labrador puppies, and there’s merit to all the different arguments. Each breed of dog will require different kinds and concentrations of nutrients so once you know what kind of puppy you’re getting, you can start to flesh out exactly what it needs.
Labradors are fairly large dogs and although they’re obviously much smaller in their puppy stage, lab puppies are bigger than puppies of a lot of other breeds. They need a fair volume of food when they’re growing, and you can find out more about giving your puppy the correct quantity of food here.
As mentioned above, there are several types of food that people generally give to their puppies, and we’ll go through each on in detail so that you’re in a better position to make an informed choice. Before doing that though, it’s also vital to understand that your puppy’s needs will change with age.
From Birth to Six Weeks
When Labrador puppies are born, they are completely reliant on their mothers for sustenance. Labradors generally have litters of between 6 and 10 puppies, although it’s not uncommon for Labradors to have larger litters of 12 or more.
Regardless of how many pups in a litter, the mother will provide food for her babies in the form of milk. Puppies nurse from their mother’s teats until around 6 weeks of age where they are usually fully weaned. Puppies start growing their milk teeth around 3 weeks so the mother will start gradually weaning soon after this to avoid discomfort.
(image of litter of Labrador puppies nursing)
If for some reason, the mother lab is unable to feed her puppies or in circumstances where there is no mother, puppies can be bottle fed canine milk replacement by people. As early as 3 weeks of age, you can then start to introduce very softened solid foods in tandem with bottle feeding to help wean the puppies as well as ensure they have all the necessary nutrients.
Once puppies have been fully weaned (either from the bottle or their mother), they are ready to begin eating soft, solid foods.
The First Few Weeks After Weaning
This is where the different dog food options begin to come into play. The key types we’ll be looking at are wet food, dry food, raw food, and home-made food.
You might be thinking “wow, who knew picking a puppy food could be so complicated?” but once you know what your puppy needs and what will suit you best, the decision becomes much easier. It’s all about understanding the pros and cons of each option.
No matter what your ultimate choice, very young puppies that have just finished weaning off their mothers or bottle-feeds will still require soft, moist food. Making your chosen food into a paste or gruel and mixing it with a bit of milk replacement will create the optimal consistency and nutrient mix for 6-week old pups.
Exploring Your Options
Once your puppy is able to manage this paste-like meal with ease and its appetite starts to grow, it will be time to start considering the different options mentioned above to see which will be most appropriate for you and your puppy.
While there are merits and drawbacks to each kind of dog food, you’ll need to use your best judgement to decide which option is going to work best. It might be a case of experimenting between different types, or maybe you’ll know immediately what suits you and your lifestyle straight after reading this.
(image of a pouch of wet dog food)
One of the first options people consider, and the one that seems the most intuitive for puppies getting used to solid foods is wet food. This kind of dog food commonly comes in cans or pouches and there are many types that are specifically formulated for puppies.
If you’re going to try wet food, make sure you buy a reputable brand as well as a variety that’s going to be appropriate for your Labrador; a pouch of small dog wet food is not going to give a growing lab puppy the right nutrients to help it thrive. Depending on the contents of the wet food you choose, you may need to supplement it with some dry food.
Some pros of wet food:
- Lots of options to choose from.
- Tasty for your puppy as well as nutritious.
- Easy to chew and digest for younger puppies.
Some cons of wet food:
- Tends to be smellier than dry food.
- Can get sticky or harden on bowls if left too long, making clean-up difficult.
- Cheaper brands might contain a lot of fat.
(image of a bag of dry dog food)
Dry food, often referred to as biscuits, kibble, or pellets is also an exceedingly popular option and there is a lot of variety across brands and purposes. A high-quality dry food suited to large dog breeds will be perfect for giving your puppy all it needs, and dry food can be upgraded/changed as your dog grows.
For younger puppies, you could always try dampening kibble with some milk replacement or water to make the biscuits a bit easier to handle, until your pup is more used to it.
Some pros of dry food:
- Often comes in bulk bags making purchasing easier and more cost-effective.
- Easy to clean up if it spills.
- Most brands offer a fully comprehensive set of nutrients ideal for different dog breeds and ages.
- Good for keeping your puppy’s teeth clean as well as fuelling their bodies.
Some cons of dry food:
- Doesn’t store well if it gets damp.
- Low moisture content means puppies don’t get the same hydration boost as with wet food.
- Some brands will have added colours and chemical preservatives (try to avoid these!).
(image of a Labrador chewing some meat or a bone)
Raw food is less commonly accepted by dog owners but there are some people that absolutely swear by giving their dogs a raw food diet. The main belief is that feeding your puppy or dog raw food will give it a host of health benefits not present in kibble and wet food.
If you’re going to try a raw food diet for your puppy, you need to do a lot of research to ensure you know exactly what kinds of food your Labrador puppy can handle and what foods will provide it with the right nutrients. It’s also advisable to make the transition gradually to avoid any shock.
Some pros of raw food:
- A healthy and natural alternative to store-bought, mass-produced wet or dry foods.
- You know exactly what your dog is eating when you give them a raw diet.
- Easy to monitor and mitigate weight gain as raw food doesn’t contain excess carbohydrates or fillers.
- Tasty and “authentic” feeding experience for your puppy or dog.
Some cons of raw food:
- Risk of bacteria being ingested which could lead to infections (eg salmonella) and stomach troubles.
- Difficult to ensure your puppy is getting the right amounts of the right nutrients as opposed to more balanced wet or dry food.
- Can be expensive, time consuming, and inconvenient for owners.
(image of home-made dog food in a bowl)
The idea of cooking your dog home-made meals might seem like the height of privilege ad luxury that only influencers on Instagram could afford or bother with, but there is a growing community of people turning to home-made dog food as an alternative to generic store-bought foods.
Preparing home-made food for your dog requires a lot of research as we all know there are many foods out there that are dangerous or even lethal to dogs. If you’re going to go the way of home-made food, make sure you get some expert advice before continuing.
Some pros for home-made food:
- You know exactly what’s going into each of your dog’s meals and can monitor the effect different foods have on your dog.
- A creative exercise that can help you to bond with your puppy as well as appease fussy eaters (although Labradors are very rarely considered fussy!).
- You can ensure your dog is getting a varied, tasty, and exciting diet.
Some cons for home-made food:
- Greater risk of cross-contamination during preparation which could lead to infections.
- Expensive, time consuming, and inconvenient for busy owners.
- Risk of not being able to prepare meals that are fully nutrient-comprehensive, leading to deficits in your puppy’s health.
- Food prepared cannot be stored for as long or as easily as dry food.
Some Foods That Are Definite No-Nos
We’ve all heard before that chocolate is bad for dogs, and more recently you may have learned that some things that people popularly give their dogs such as peanut butter might contain ingredients that are also harmful, in this case, xylitol.
(image of a stop sign)
To give you some extra peace of mind when feeding or treating your new Labrador puppy, here is a list of things that you should DEFINITELY NOT give your dog:
- Alcohol (this probably goes without saying, but don’t give your puppy booze!)
- Chocolate/ cocoa products
- Xylitol and other artificial sweetening agents
- Grapes (the skins are highly toxic to dogs)
- Macadamia nuts
- Mouldy foods (old bread or purposefully mouldy cheeses such as blue cheese)
- Citrus fruits
- Human medicines (for obvious reasons)
- Onions and garlic
- Overly salty, oily, or sugary foods
- Any products containing caffeine
- Raw eggs (risk of salmonella as well as interference with vitamin absorption)
This is not an exhaustive list but should give you some idea of things to avoid giving your puppy at any point. You can easily find out about more harmful substances by doing a quick Google search.
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, each feeding method described above comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Every one of them represents a perfectly suitable diet choice for a Labrador puppy if done correctly, but the cost and effort required are also important factors to consider.
After all, if an option doesn’t work for the puppy’s owner, then it won’t work for the puppy. As long as you feed your Labrador puppy quality food that is nutrient-rich and age-appropriate, you and your puppy will be just fine.