Feeding your Labrador puppy can be deceptively difficult. There are so many types of food that it makes it difficult to know how much to feed them. Feed them too much and they will get fat.
On the other hand, feed them too little and they might be undernourished, affecting their growth and development.
It really is a worrying time for many first time puppy owners. Don’t worry, because even experienced owners sometimes struggle!
In this article, we will give you a few pointers for feeding your Labrador puppy. We will show you the best puppy foods, whether dry, wet, or raw, and how much you should give. You will also find out if it is safe to give human food to Labs.
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.
Finally, the article will include some reviews of the various brands, and will help you cope with the all-important transition to adult food.
Some Useful Links
Still with us? Great! Let’s start by giving you a few useful links if you want more information about dog feeding in general.
If you have a specific question, you can always use this handy navigation chart to skip straight to the answer.
- 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!
Lessons From the Past
We often receive questions on the website about feeding your 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. Fortunately, while feeding your Labrador puppy can seem complex, modern foods make it much easier to give your little one a balanced diet.
We’ll give you a few pointers and you will soon be on your way!
When I was small, we fed puppies all sorts of things, including scraps, raw meat, canned puppy food, puppy meals, or breakfast cereal and milk.
So, what is the best puppy food?
Best Puppy Food for Labs
Naturally, we all want the best for our puppies and want to give them a diet that is nutritious, healthy, and tasty.
So, what is the best puppy food for labs? Most people feed puppies with commercially produced dry dog food sometimes known as kibble. That’s fine and can give a perfectly balanced diet. We’ll look at some of the different brands of dry puppy food later.
Others like to mix in some commercial tinned dog meat, which is another healthy alternative. Pick a good quality brand that is specially formulated for puppies.
Feeding your Labrador puppy on home cooked food or on a totally raw diet is also possible. 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. That’s another area we will explore later on.
Let’s break this down. The main alternatives are:
- Kibble (dry food)
- Barf (raw food)
- Wet food (cans and pouches)
- Home cooked puppy food
All of these have their pros and cons. Perhaps the experts will be able to help us pick the best option. What do the experts say about puppy feeding methods?
Experts Disagree on Puppy Feeding
One problem for puppy owners is that even the experts disagree on what is the best food for puppies. People often feel very strongly that one way of feeding is better than another, and you can always find evidence to support your view.
You will find veterinarians on YouTube pronouncing that BARF is the only way to keep a dog healthy.
Other veterinarians and nutritionists argue that kibble is the only way you should feed your puppy, warning of dire consequences if you attempt to go ‘natural.’
To make things even more complicated, dog breeders also tend to be divided into those that feed a natural raw diet and those that feed kibble. Take a look online – you will find plenty of wild claims for the benefits of one method over the other.
The truth is that there is no good quality evidence showing that kibble is better for the long term health of your dog, or that raw feeding is better. There are risks and benefits to both, and the main thing is to ensure that your dog has good quality food to eat.
So, we’ll now take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of the different puppy foods.
Choosing The Best 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. Really, you can choose the method that suits you best.
If like most people, you’ll be feeding your Labrador 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 your Labrador puppy kibble. This dried food 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 puppy food made into pellets. Of course, some of this food, known as kibble, is poor quality, using grain, ash, and other by-products to add cheap bulk.
Other kibble brands are of excellent quality and provide your puppy with all the nutrients it needs.
Dried, pelleted foods come in sacks or cartons in a range of flavors and textures, making it easy to find something that your puppy enjoys.
Kibble stores well provided that you don’t get the food become damp. An airtight plastic container or tin will do the job, although you should make sure it is food grade quality. This will prevent chemicals leaching into the food. These can be toxic or they can affect the taste.
Most vets and breeders believe that kibble is the best way to feed a puppy. As a result, you are likely to get plenty of support from your vet if you decide to feed your puppy on dry food.
A good puppy kibble will contain every nutrient your Labrador puppy needs in order to grow and remain healthy. It will be tasty, good for keeping teeth healthy, and free from additives that can provoke allergies or stomach problems.
What happens if you choose feeding your Labrador puppy dry food? Can you give it other types as well?
What Other Food Should You Feed With Puppy Kibble?
If your are feeding your Labrador puppy kibble, there is no need to provide anything else apart from water.
Puppy kibble from a reputable manufacturer is intended to be a complete and balanced food. There is no need to add anything else to it, but many owners do like to mix in canned dog food or even scraps or raw food.
Some experts argue that feeding mixed food is harmful, while others argue that it is still healthy and can bring some benefits by adding moisture content and reducing calorie intake.
As always, check with your vet if you want to try it, especially if your puppy needs a special diet. You should never give any wet food intended for adult dogs, because most brands now offer special puppy food.
Another type of food, which has grown in popularity in recent years, is the raw food diet. We’ll take a look at the pros and the cons of this diet.
What About Feeding Puppies On Raw Food?
Some people feel that kibble is not the best way to feed a dog, and they are advocates for the raw diet, believing that it brings a lot of health benefits.
Some people are worried about the long term effects of feeding your Labrador puppy kibble and believe there are advantages to feeding a more natural raw diet. I feed my own dogs this way, but others happily feed kibble, so pick the best option for you and your puppy.
But, if you are interested, it’s best not to switch puppies to raw food in a hurry. There are pros and cons to raw feeding which you need to consider carefully before plunging in.
If this way of feeding appeals to you, it’s important to find a good book on raw diets for dogs, because these diets can be complex and need balance.Tom Lonsdale’s book is a good choice, and you can 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:
Whatever food you choose, the most important thing is portion control. Too much food and they will become fat: too little and they might not grow and develop properly.
How Much to Feed a Labrador Puppy?
People often tell me how much their puppy weighs, and ask how much food they should give him. In fact, one of the most common questions we hear is “how much should I feed my Labrador puppy?”
I have put up a puppy diet guide, below, to give you an idea of what quantities you should be feeding. Most food brands give you a Lab puppy feeding chart.
However, knowing how much to feed a Labrador puppy is sometimes a matter of keeping an eye on her.
If she look too fat, you might be overfeeding her.
Risks Of Overfeeding Your Puppy
It is very important not to over-feed your puppy. Overfed puppies may grow too fast, and this can be very bad for them.
Rapid growth doesn’t just put weight on a puppy, but 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. Try to follow the charts and feeding guides, and don’t forget booking a check up at the vet to make sure your Lab’s growth is normal.
Lab Puppy Feeding Chart
Many food manufacturers provide similar dietary charts on the bag of food or on their website. You can also check with a vet or dog nutrition specialist to make sure that your puppy grows to be strong and healthy with just the right amount of food.
The diet charts are always useful when selecting the best dog food brand for your puppy.
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 one food specifically designed for puppies, because they have different nutritional needs and their small teeth cannot handle large, hard dog biscuits. Don’t feed puppies the kibble sold for adult dogs.
When feeding your Labrador puppy, the right brand will be for medium/large breed puppies. Check the pack carefully and look at the dietary charts. Ideally, you want the optimal protein content and the lowest amount of additives.
Part of this always comes down to the cost, because the healthiest foods are usually the most expensive and may not be affordable for some families.
The Cost Of Puppy Food
Some brands of food are more concentrated than and contain a higher proportion of proteins, essential oils, and other nutrients. The cheaper brands may contain more ‘fillers’ in the form of extra carbohydrates, usually made from grain.
The absence of these fillers means that you can often feed lower quantities of more costly food, making them less expensive than they first seem.
You might also find that cheaper brands make your puppy poop more due to those extra fillers going straight through him. While some brands are beyond the budget of many families, it is usually good to buy a premium brand.
High Quality Brands of Puppy Food
Some brands of puppy food have developed a reputation for producing 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:
One 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 chickpeas as a source of carbs. These are much gentler on a dog’s stomach than grain, which can cause bowel irritation.
Both of these brands receive 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 in many parts of the world, and they have a valuable reputation to maintain.
So, the chances are, your puppy will be eating a good quality product if you choose one of these.
Again, this is a rough guide only, and you should not follow the advice slavishly. Overfed puppies are prone to diarrhea, obesity, and too-rapid growth.
Following Puppy Feeding Quantity Guidelines
Just to complicate things, not every puppy in each age group will fall within the weights displayed on the chart above. Some owners may worry that there is something wrong with their puppy. However, don’t worry, because our cuddly Labrador pups vary so much.
Quite simply, puppies of the same age vary in weight and size, so that means the amount of food you need to feed them will be different.
We looked at the type of food and the amount, so we can now look at the feeding time routine. Let’s start with where to feed your puppy.
Where To Feed Your Puppy
If you’re feeding your labrador puppy in a family room when she is small, she will soon become used to eating with people milling around her. This should prevent behavior we call ‘Food Guarding.’
At some point, puppies may attempt to guard their food by growling. This is more likely if he is used to eating in isolation, but you suddenly expect him to eat in front of people.
Don’t panic if your tiny friend starts food guarding, because it is an easy thing to sort out if you are willing to learn a few tips and techniques.
For a start, don’t punish your puppy, because 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 your Labrador puppy some meals in his crate can be helpful, especially if he is a bit unsure whether the crate is a good thing or not. You can read more about this in my in-depth guide to crate training
Whether you’re feeding your Labrador puppy in the crate or outside, with family or in isolation, choosing the right bowls makes a difference.
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. Because they don’t scratch easily, food can’t gather in difficult-to-clean cracks and scratches, making it easy to keep the bowl clean and sterile.
The only disadvantage is that they can be a bit noisy when the puppy chases the empty bowl around the kitchen!
If you are worried about esthetics, there are plenty of much prettier bowls on the market if that’s 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!
Size can be important, too. If you buy a bowl that is too big, then it is easy to give your puppy too much food accidentally. Too small a bowl, and you might give her too little. The right size bowl is a useful tool for keeping your puppy at the right weight.
Keeping Your Puppy At The Right Weight
It is important that your dog does not get too fat or too thin. However, you have some leeway, and you should increase or decrease his rations accordingly as he grows.
The most common problem is puppies that get too fat. Although we all love cuddly Labrador puppies, they 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. Don’t forget, if you are unsure about your puppy, your vet is the best person to give you some great guidance.
Of course, the other side of the weight issue is puppies that look too thin. That can be another important issue.
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. Sometimes, it is just a matter of increasing the amount of food or changing the brand to a more nutritious option with fewer fillers.
Importantly, don’t just double her food overnight, because a sudden increase in quantity can upset her tummy and make matters worse.
The amount of food isn’t the only important part of feeding your little one. How often should you feed them?
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 entire day’s ration in one go, his digestive system will be overwhelmed and he’ll end up with diarrhea. 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.
Feeding your Labrador puppy little and often is a great way of preventing tummy upsets. If your puppy has rather loose stools on three meals a day, try breaking his ration up into four meals a day for a while.
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
This is all part of getting your puppy used to the feeding routine. Puppies tend to like predictability and feeding at set times.
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. For example, don’t try and cram all his meals into the evening. 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, because he’ll eat it all at once and make himself sick.
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. As a result, it really is not a good idea.
Choosing the right time of day to give your puppy his meals is important, because it determines whether you can keep your puppy clean and dry at night. Feeding schedules can also 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 she wakes you in the morning with her little face and puppy eyes begging you to feed her. You should resist the temptation because it can lead to problems.
Puppies love food, and crave the attention that comes with feeding time. If you’re feeding your Labrador puppy at 6am, because he has woken you and was hungry, the chances are he’ll wake you 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 coffee and wake up before filling the bowl.
Have a set time for breakfast and don’t feed her before then, even if she has been awake for two hours. She won’t starve in that short period of time, although she might make you feel like she is!
Be firm and resist the temptation.
Last Meal Before Bed
Try to space your puppy’s meals out fairly evenly throughout the day. Most importantly, don’t feed your puppy just before you put her to bed for the night.
I like to leave at least a four-hour gap between the puppy’s last meal and her bedtime. This helps to reduce the risk that she will want to use the bathroom at 2 am.
Example Puppy Feeding Schedule
Just to help you on the way, here is an example puppy feeding schedule. Of course, you can adapt this to suit your own routine as long as you pay attention to the above advice.
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. A few minutes or even half an hour earlier or later won’t cause problems.
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 is, “what if my puppy is still hungry?” They have followed the guidelines on the packet, but the food doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy the puppy.
What if he wolfs down everything he is given, but he still begs for more? This is perfectly common and perfectly normal, so don’t panic.
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!
And, puppies are very good at using every trick in the book to win you round.
Slow Feed Dog Bowls
If your puppy seems ravenous, what you can do is to give your puppy her meal on a slow feed bowl or plate. These work very well and also prevent your puppy eating its food so quickly that it makes her sick.
Our favourite is the Northmate Interactive Feeder.
The large one will hold a full meal of Labrador kibble, enough for an adult.
In addition, as an added bonus, your puppy will have a lot of tail-wagging fun getting the pieces of kibble out from in between the ‘blades of grass’. Problem solving can be very enriching for your puppy.
What about the opposite problem, that your puppy is refusing to eat?
What if My Puppy Won’t Eat?
As most experienced Labrador owners know, 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
Accordingly, 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 call your vet for advice. Call 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.
Now, we’ll look at some other feeding-related issues, including a bad habit picked up by many old-school Labrador owners.
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 we invented kibble.
It is also very natural to want to give milk to a baby animal, and it sometimes feels like the right thing to do. However, don’t forget that 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 diarrhea if you feed it to them.
If you are feeding your Labrador puppy on complete kibble, your puppy does not need milk to drink, and fresh water is all they require.
Now, you have followed the puppy feeding advice and your dog is almost an adult. How can you change the feeding routine to help your puppy transition to the next stage of its life.
Changing From Puppy To Adult Food
Kibble manufacturers often recommend feeding your Labrador puppy kibble for puppies up to 12 months of age, before changing to adult kibble.
Most experts consider that puppies have completed their growth when they reach 99% of their adult weight, and the age at which this point is reached depends 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. Chat with your vet if you are not sure, and they will be able to give you a good idea.
Some breeders and experienced dog owners do switch their lab puppies on to adult food before this, but not usually before they reach six months of age.
Switching Between Dog Food Brands
If you haven’t brought your puppy home yet, make sure you get a diet sheet from the breeder, and feed her with the same brand for at least a week or two.
Of course, many owners feel that their puppy has a dull diet and want to add some variety.
Adding Variety To Your Puppy’s Diet
It’s very easy to give human attributes to puppies and assume that, because we would be bored eating the same thing, your small one will too. This encourages people to try to add scraps to the puppy diet or change brand.
Remember, adding your own extras, like cereals or milk, to kibble might make you feel caring, but it will only unbalance the whole diet. Changing brands can upset puppies’ tummy and make them sick.
In other words, don’t be tempted to fix what isn’t broken. If your pup has a balanced and tasty diet, why change it? Puppies probably don’t get bored from lack of variety, although there is rarely any harm in changing the flavor of food, as long as it is the same brand.
Perhaps changing kibble from lamb to chicken will make you feel that your puppy is not bored with their food.
You can also give them the odd treat, especially if it you use them as training rewards,
If you want to find out more, we have plenty of new resources for you to look at.
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 lots of other new puppy owners and experienced Labrador owners are only too happy 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, because we simply love puppy pictures too.
Unfortunately, this article is almost at its end. We hope that you learned a lot about how to feed your Labrador puppy as it grows into a beautiful adult dog.
You now know that dry diets, wet diets, and raw diets can work for your Lab, with a little work, and we have given you some advice on feeding amount, frequency, and schedule.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment and, as always, we regularly update articles with new information from our readers
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
- Roudebush, P., Bloom, P.B., and DJ Jewell. Consumption of essential fatty acids in selected commercial dog foods compared to dietary supplementation, QBC Europe.
This article has been revised and updated for 2019