In this article we answer your questions about feeding your Labrador puppy. You’ll find how to choose the best dog food for Lab puppies. You can also check out more information about puppy feeding using the links in the green box below
You’ll also find out how much to feed your Lab puppy and how often to feed. Together with schedules, quantities and even a handy puppy diet chart.
- Best puppy food for Labs
- Feeding your puppy on kibble
- What should you add to kibble
- Feeding your puppy a raw diet
- How much to feed your puppy
- Labrador puppy diet chart
- Choosing between different brands
- Keeping your puppy’s weight right
- Helping thin puppies
- How often to feed
- What time to feed
- Hungry puppies!
- Giving puppies milk
- Changing to adult food
- Switching between brands
- Adding variety
- More information and resources
- ASK A QUESTION!
There are often questions on the website about feeding Labrador Retriever puppies. People ask if it is OK to give puppies eggs, or rice, or milk, and so on.
They also want to know how much to feed their puppies, and how often.
When I was small, puppies were fed on all sorts of things, including scraps, raw meat, canned puppy food, puppy meal, weetabix and milk, etc.
Best puppy food for Labs
We all want the best for our puppies. But what is the best puppy food for labs? Most puppies are fed on commercially produced dry dog food known as kibble. We’ll look at different brands of dry puppy food in a moment.
But it is possible to feed a puppy on home cooked food or on a totally raw diet. You’ve probably heard of BARF or biologically appropriate raw food.
Feeding dogs this way is growing in popularity, and there are pros and cons to raw feeding puppies, which we’ll be looking at here.
The alternatives are
- Kibble (dry food)
- Barf (raw food)
- Wet food (cans and pouches)
- Home cooked puppy food
Let’s look at what the experts say
Experts disagree on puppy feeding
Even experts disagree on what is the best food for puppies, and people often feel very strongly that one way of feeding is better than another.
You will find veterinarians on youtube pronouncing that BARF is the only way to keep a dog healthy, and veterinarians pronouncing that kibble is the only way you should feed your puppy, with dire consequences if you attempt to go ‘natural’
Dog breeders too tend to be divided into those that feed a natural raw diet, and those that feed kibble. And you will find plenty of wild claims for the benefits of one method over the other.
The truth is, there is no good quality evidence that kibble is better for the long term health of your dog, or that raw feeding is better for the health of your dog. And there are risks and benefits to both.
Choosing which puppy feeding method to use
Some dogs and some families are better suited to raw feeding, and many dogs and their families are probably better suited to feeding kibble. And you can choose the method that suits you best.
If like most people, you choose to feed your puppy on commercial dry puppy food, you should not feel that you are letting him down in any way. Let’s look now at feeding puppies kibble. This is how most modern puppies are fed in the USA and the UK
Feeding your Labrador puppy on kibble
In most parts of the world you can buy ready-made pelleted puppy food of good quality.
Otherwise known as ‘kibble’, these dried, pelleted foods come in sacks or cartons.
They store well provided that you don’t get them damp.
Most vets and breeders believe that kibble is the best way to feed a puppy. And you are likely to get support from your vet if you decide to feed your puppy on dry food.
What other food should you feed with puppy kibble?
I cannot stress this too strongly: if you are feeding kibble you don’t need to feed anything else apart from water.
Puppy kibble from a reputable manufacture is intended to be a complete and balanced food. There is no need to add anything else to it, and doing so may do more harm than good.
What about feeding puppies on raw food?
Some people feel that kibble is not the best way to feed a dog.
Some people are worried about the long term effects of feeding kibble, and believe there are advantages to feeding a more natural raw diet.
I feed my own dogs this way.
But, I would caution people from switching puppies to raw in a hurry. There are pros and cons to raw feeding which need to be carefully considered before plunging in.
If this way of feeding appeals to you, do get yourself a good book on raw diets for dogs. Tom Lonsdale’s book is a good choice, and check out the articles below.
You need to do a fair amount of research on the nutritional needs of puppies in order to maintain a balanced diet during this period of rapid growth.
Here is a link to the articles you need to help you decide whether or not raw feeding is for you:
How much should I feed my lab puppy?
People often tell me how much their puppy weighs and ask me how much his food should weigh.
I have put up a puppy diet guide below, to give you an idea of what quantities you should be feeding.
Risks of overfeeding your puppy
It is very important that you don’t overfeed your puppy. Overfed puppies may grow too fast and this can be very bad for them.
That’s because rapid growth doesn’t just put weight on a puppy, it leads to larger but less dense bones and associated skeletal abnormalities
Labradors and other larger breed dogs are particularly at risk if they grow too quickly.
Labrador puppy diet chart
Choosing best brand of puppy food
A good brand of dog food is one that will provide all your puppy’s nutrients, and keep him healthy, without costing you a small mortgage each week.
It’s important to give your little on food specifically designed for puppies, don’t feed kibble sold for adult dogs
The right brand will be designed for medium/large breed puppies. Check the pack carefully.
The cost of puppy food
Some brands of food are more concentrated than others. The cheaper ones may contain more ‘fillers’ in the form of extra carbohydrates, usually made from grain.
The absence of these fillers means that you often have to feed lower quantities of more costly food making them less expensive than they might at first seem
You might also find on a cheaper brand that your puppy poos more as a result of those extra fillers going straight through him.
High quality brands of puppy food
Some brands of puppy food have developed a reputation for a high quality product and have many devoted supporters, including breeders that have fed them to generations of puppies.
We’ve selected some good quality brands in our Amazon puppy picks above
Another of our favourites is Orijen Large Breed Puppy Formula.
Orijen and Nature’s Variety (and some of the other more expensive brands), rely on legumes like lentils and chick peas as a source of carbs, rather than grain.
They both have good ratings on Dog Food Advisor, an independent dog food review site where you can find lots more information on the ingredients of different brands of dog food.
Availability of puppy food
The big brands are widely available now in many parts of the world and have a valuable reputation to maintain.
So the chances are, your puppy will be eating a good quality product if you choose one of them.
Again, this is a rough guide only. And should not be followed slavishly. Overfed puppies may get diahorrea and /or become obese and /or grow too quickly. I’ll explain below how to figure out if your puppy is getting too fat or too thin.
Following puppy feeding quantity guidelines
Not every puppy in each age group will fall within the weights on the chart above. This does not mean that there is something wrong with your puppy.
It’s simply that there is a big variation in weight between puppies of the same age, and for that reason, there is also a variation in the quantity of food puppies of the same age and weight might nee.
Where to feed your puppy
If you feed your puppy in a family room when he is small, he will get used to eating with people milling around him.
Some puppies may attempt at some point to guard their food by growling. This is more likely if he has been used to eating in isolation and is suddenly expected to eat in front of people.
Don’t panic if your tiny friend starts food guarding, it is an easy thing to sort out, but it does need to be done properly.
Don’t punish him, that will make things worse. You will need to follow the instructions in this link in order to stop your puppy growling over food.
Feeding in his crate
It can be helpful to feed your puppy some of his meals in his crate, especially if he is a bit unsure about whether or not the crate is a good thing. You can read more about this in my in-depth guide to crate training
Choosing the right food (and water) bowls
There is plenty of choice when it comes to choosing a food bowl for your puppy. You can if you wish, simply feed your puppy from one of your own plates or bowls.
My own preference is for a simple stainless steel bowl. They are dishwasher safe, don’t break, and last a lifetime.
The only disadvantage is that they can be a bit noisy when the puppy chases the empty bowl around the kitchen!
And to be fair, there are plenty of much prettier bowls on the market if that is what appeals to you.
I recommend a really heavy ceramic bowl for water, simply because they are so difficult for your puppy to tip up – and he will try!
Keeping your puppy at the right weight
It is important that your does not get too fat, nor too thin. But you have some leeway here, and should increase or decrease his rations accordingly as he grows.
The most common problem is puppies that get too fat. Labrador puppies should not be rotund!
By three months or so they should have definite waist just like older dogs. Check out this page for more information and don’t forget that if you are unsure about your puppy, your vet is the best person to guide you.
What if your puppy is too thin?
If you are worried about your puppy’s growth rate it is a good idea to take him along to your vet for check up.
Don’t just double his food, it’s possible that a sudden increase in quantity will upset his tummy and make matters worse.
How often should you feed your Labrador puppy?
Like most baby animals, puppies need feeding more often than adult dogs. Right now, your puppy’s growth is the fastest it will ever be in his life. He needs plenty of calories to fuel that growth, as well as the right nutrients.
If you feed his whole day’s ration in one go, his digestive system will be overwhelmed and he’ll end up with diarrhoea. So you need to make sure that your puppy’s daily ration of food is broken up into several small meals, fed three to four hours apart.
As a rule of thumb puppies fed on kibble require
- Four meals a day from eight weeks to three months
- Three meals a day from three months to six months
- Two meals a day thereafter
Mealtimes and schedules: or when to feed your puppy
Your puppy’s feeding schedule can fit in with your personal preferences up to a point. Don’t try and cram all his meals into the evening for example. If you have to work during the day, you’ll need to make sure someone comes in to feed him.
You can’t just leave a puppy’s food ration for the day down for him, he’ll eat it all at once.
Ad libitum puppy feeding
You may have heard of the ad lib feeding system where puppies can help themselves to food at any time from a hopper.
The idea is that the puppy will regulate his own food intake if food is never restricted. However, studies have shown that puppies fed this way have a higher incidence of bone and joint problems. So it really is not a good idea.
Choosing the right time of day to give your puppy his meals is important, because it is linked to getting your puppy clean and dry at night. And can influence how long your puppy sleeps for at night.
First meal of the day
It is tempting to fill up that little puppy bowl, as soon as your puppy wakes you in the morning. But I caution you against doing this.
Puppies love food, and all the attention that goes with being fed. If you feed your puppy at 6am, because he has woken you and seems hungry, the chances are he’ll wake you at at 5:45 the following day!
Remember, feeding is a powerful reinforcer of behavior. If you don’t want to encourage your puppy to wake you up earlier each morning, don’t feed him as soon as you get up.
Have a set time for breakfast, and don’t feed him before then, even if he has been awake for two hours. He won’t starve in that short period of time.
Last meal before bed
Try to space your puppies meals out fairly evenly throughout the day. But most importantly, don’t feed your puppy just before you put him to bed for the night.
I like to leave at least a four hour gap between the puppy’s last meal, and his bedtime. This helps to reduce the risk that he will want to use the bathroom at 2 am.
Example puppy feeding schedule
My puppy feeding times for 8 week old puppies tend to be something like this
You don’t need to be a slave to the clock, but this is just to give you an idea.
Then at 12 weeks I go to
If you want to make an early start with training your puppy, you can use all or part of his daily rations during training sessions. Again, spread these out throughout the day and don’t feed too close to bedtime
What if my puppy is still hungry?
One of the things people most often ask me, is “what if my puppy still hungry?” They have followed the guidelines on the packet, and it doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy the puppy.
What if he wolfs down everything he is given and begs for more?
This is perfectly common and normal.
After all, your puppy doesn’t know for sure when his next meal will be along, so it makes sense to him to eat as much as he possibly can right now!
If your puppy seems ravenous, what you can do is to give your puppy his meal on a slow feed bowl or plate.
Our favourite is the Northmate Interactive Feeder.
The large one will hold a full meal of Labrador kibble, enough for an adult.
And your puppy will have a lot of tail-wagging fun getting the pieces of kibble out from in between the ‘blades of grass’.
What if my puppy won’t eat?
Not all puppies are greedy. And studies have shown that puppies in general eat more when they are fed in a group with other puppies
So it’s possible that your puppy may have a somewhat reduced appetite for the first few days that he spends without his brothers and sisters.
If your puppy won’t eat at all for more than four hours, then phone your vet for advice. Phone sooner if the pup is listless or showing any signs of being unwell.
Otherwise, a somewhat reduced appetite to begin with is probably nothing to worry about, just mention it to your vet when you take the pup for his first check up, or in the next day or two.
Should your puppy have milk?
Old habits die hard and a few older breeders still give puppies milk and cereal for two of their four meals. This is a throwback to the days before kibble was invented.
It is also very natural to want to give milk to a baby animal. It feels like the right thing to do. But dogs are weaned at a younger age than many other mammals.
At eight weeks old when you bring your puppy home, he is fully weaned. He does not need milk of any description. In fact many older puppies are highly intolerant of milk and will simply get diarrhoea if you feed it to them.
If you are feeding your Labrador puppy on complete kibble, your puppy does not need milk to drink. Only water. There would be fewer puppies with upset stomachs if all new puppy owners were advised to resist pouring milk down their little dogs.
Changing from puppy to adult food
Kibble manufacturers often recommend feeding puppy kibble up to 12 months of age
Most experts consider that puppies have completed their growth when they reach 99% of their adult weight, and age at which this point is reached varies depending on the size of the breed
So while a toy breed dog might stop growing at 9 months, a giant breed dog might need another six months to get to the same place.
Some breeders and experienced dog owners do switch their lab puppies on to adult food before this, but not usually before six months.
Switching between dog food brands
If you haven’t brought your puppy home yet, do make sure to get a diet sheet from the breeder, and to feed him on the same brand as the breeder for at least a week or two.
Adding variety to your puppy’s diet?
Remember, adding your own extras (like cereals or milk) to kibble, might make you feel caring but will only unbalance the whole diet.
Don’t be tempted to fix what isn’t broken.
And no, puppies probably don’t get bored from lack of variety.
More puppy feeding and growth resources!
You can find out more about feeding your puppy in our puppy feeding FAQ here.
If you want to find out the best way to feed an adult Labrador, then check out our article on how to feed a Labrador here.
One of the best places to get help and support in feeding your puppy is of course our wonderful forum. It is packed full of puppy advice and information and there are lots of other new puppy owners, and experienced Labrador owners there to advise and support you.
If this is your first puppy, don’t waste any more time – get yourself over to the forum now – we’d love to meet you. And don’t forget to bring some photos with you, we love puppy pictures too.
References and further reading
- James W, 1960. The Development of Social Facilitation of Eating in Puppies. Journal of Genetic Psychology
- Hawthorne A, et al 2004 . Body-Weight Changes during Growth in Puppies of Different Breeds. Journal of Nutrition
- Larsen J 2010 Feeding Large Breed Puppies (pdf). Vetlearn.com
- Dammrich K 1991 Relationship between Nutrition and Bone Growth in Large and Giant Dogs. Journal Of Nutrition
This article has been revised and updated for 2018