It is estimated that it can cost about $40,000 to provide adequate feed and care for a working dog over its lifetime. As such, it makes economic sense to take whatever steps are necessary to optimise the health, performance and longevity of your dog.

Like human nutrition, diet can have a significant impact on health and life expectancy. For young dogs, a balanced diet means a lot more than providing a rich source of protein and energy. It is providing the right combination of more than 40 essential nutrients in the right amounts, carefully matched with the levels of protein and energy they need to match their rapid growth.

Puppies have different nutritional requirements to adult or senior dogs. Providing optimal nutrition throughout the puppy stage will ensure they have the very best start to an agile working career and a long, healthy life.

The puppy stage can vary from nine to 24 months, depending on breed. Some working dogs are considered to reach adulthood at about 12 months of age while other larger breeds like the Huntaway can be growing for at least 18 months.

Specific puppy nutrition is easy to justify during early development (up to three months) because the rapid growth is visible to the owner. However, the importance of continuing to provide specific puppy food is often overlooked during the juvenile period, which can last from six months to 21 months. As a result, many owners transition their juvenile dog to adult food too early. However, as there are still important changes occurring in the body changing diets too early may impact the dog’s optimal growth and development.

Inadequate nutrition during the juvenile stage can leave dogs susceptible to poor growth rate (low levels of zinc, iron, protein or Vitamin A), poor bone structure (imbalance of calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D) and reduced stamina (low levels of iron, fat and protein).

It is strongly recommended they are fed a specific puppy diet until they have completed growing. Supplementation of specific nutrients is not recommended due to the high risk of overdosing or upsetting the balance of nutrients, which can cause lifelong and irreversible issues. For example, while a deficiency of calcium can cause soft bones and increased fractures, an excess of calcium can cause joint problems and osteoarthritis in later life, especially if it is not balanced appropriately with phosphorus.

Optimal nutrition is more important than maximal nutrition, meaning it is vital to not overfeed a puppy. Obesity can cause health issues throughout life. A scientifically-formulated puppy food takes the guesswork out of what nutrition to provide the pup, including the volume of each meal.

When choosing what food to buy, look for high quality ingredients, such as meat and brown rice, which are highly digestible, and for elevated levels of essential fats, DHA, zinc, manganese and Vitamin A. A good choice is a ‘complete and balanced’ ration formulated specifically for puppies.

  • Scott Williams is CopRice’s nutritional and technical manager for companion animals.

Massey University says there are minimum levels for all of the essential elements in the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) regulations. New Zealand pet food conforms to these standards. – Editor.