The Labrador Retriever is America’s number one dog breed and has been for 30 years and counting. He is friendly, infectiously happy, fun, obedient, affectionate, and more. But for him to grow into the typical Labrador that we all know and love, he needs to be cared for properly. Feeding him the best nutrition plays a huge role.
But there’s more to it than just feeding the best nutrition. And you’ve probably got a few questions on your mind. How much do you need to feed your puppy? How does it change as he grows? And how do you know if you’re feeding him the right food? Puppy nutrition can be a little tricky, but this guide answers all of these questions and much more.
Whether you’re about to welcome a Lab puppy into your life (congrats!) or you feel out of your depth and not sure if you’re feeding your pup correctly (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), you’ve come to the right place. So, let’s get you started on your Labrador puppy feeding journey.
Lab Puppy Feeding Chart At A Glance
|Age||Type of Food||Cups a Day||Meals a Day|
|0 – 30 days||Mother’s Milk||n/a||Unlimited|
|4 – 6 weeks||Mother’s Milk & Softened Kibble||n/a||Unlimited|
|8 – 12 weeks||Puppy Kibble||2 – 3||3 – 4|
|12 weeks – 6 months||Puppy Kibble||2 – 3||2 – 3|
|6 – 15 months||Puppy Kibble||2 – 3||2|
How Much Should A Lab Puppy Eat?
Remember that all dogs are different, but here are the general rules of how much a Lab puppy should be eating week by week. If you are curious about more details regarding your dog’s growth milestones, you can consult our Labrador Retriever growth charts.
In the first few weeks of your pup’s life, he eats (or drink) his mother’s milk. The first week is crucial for puppy development, and it determines just how healthy a pup he will become. Mother’s milk is full of colostrum, which provides the pups with the infection and germ-fighting protection their immune system needs. Receiving these antibodies in the first few days is essential for your pup’s health.
It’s important to let the mother nurse their pups as much and for as long as possible. Unfortunately, some mothers reject their pups, and some are simply unable to produce any or enough milk due to health problems. If this happens, you need to contact your vets, who provide the supplements that your Lab pup needs.
At two weeks old, your Lab pup still feeds on his mother’s milk. Already, you’ll probably be able to see the difference between the strongest and weakest pups in the litter. If you can, try to help ensure that the smallest pups get to their mother’s milk before the stronger pups. If not, you can make up the difference with puppy formula yourself. It’ll be hard work, but you need to give them the best possible start to life.
At three weeks, curious Lab puppies have figured out how to coordinate their legs to explore. This means that they’ll need extra fuel as they are now moving more. Many puppies also begin to develop their puppy teeth at this stage too. Some breeders introduce their pups to softened kibble or fresh food at this point. But it’s best to let their mother continue nursing them for a little bit longer.
The arrival of the fourth week brings with it an exciting time for Lab puppies because now they get the chance to experience something other than just their mother’s milk. Although their diet still is predominantly milk, softened food should be introduced to their diet. Any drastic changes in their diet can upset their stomach, so it’s important to introduce it gradually.
Mix a small handful of fresh food or kibble with water – the mixture should be 1/4 food and 3/4 water. Don’t be surprised if the pups turn their noses up at it the first few times. If they don’t seem keen, offer it to them several times a day. But never, ever force them. They’ll try it when they are ready. They continue feeding on mom as and when they want to.
Most Lab puppies have had their first taste of real food by now and a more willing to eat it most days. Although they still nurse when they can, they are now less dependent on their mother. Their mother knows this and enjoys the much-needed rest by spending less time with her pups.
The mother probably stands to feed the pups instead of laying down, as this gives her more control to walk away. This is normal – she’s not giving up on them. In fact, it’s a good sign that the puppies are becoming more independent. And mother is happy she has done her job well.
All Lab pups should be more interested in eating the new food mixture than their mother’s milk at six weeks. Although they still probably try to sneak in a few last milk sessions while they can. If your pup is doing well on the new food mixture without experiencing any adverse effects, it’s time to change it. The mixture should be gradually changed throughout the week until it becomes 3/4 food and 1/4 water.
At seven weeks, Lab puppies should be almost entirely weaned, if not completely. Some hungry pups might be still trying their luck with their mother’s milk, but that’s all down to mom now. She’ll either let them or not, but they no longer need milk. The mixture should be working well for them.
Eight week old Lab puppies should now solely be eating dog food and fully weaned. This is usually the time that most puppies are sent off to their new homes. A typical eight-week-old Lab pup consumes around two cups of food a day, split across four different meal sittings. Do not free-feed the pup because it’ll be tricky to monitor how much they are eating. Plus, two cups of food in one go might cause stomach upset for sure.
Some breeders give new owners enough food for you to gradually switch them to whatever new brand you choose to feed them. If not, you’ll have to ask the breeder what kind they used and buy a small bag of your own. Be sure to gradually switch them over, and follow the new package instructions. Typically, dog food transitioning takes between 10 and 14 days. Some new owners choose to stick with the same brand.
After a week of your Lab puppy being in your home, you’ll have hopefully established a feeding routine that is working. Stick with this same routine until around 12 weeks. Tweaking it as and when you need to is fine. After all, it needs to work for both puppy and you. At nine weeks, you’ll be able to feed your pup cooked meats. Just don’t fall into the bad habit of feeding him from the table.
Your Lab pup is super curious this week exploring his new surroundings, so he’ll probably be hungrier than normal. But it’s important to stick with the routine and food allowance to ensure that he doesn’t put on too much weight. Labradors can be very greedy dogs, and they will eat anything and everything in sight.
After two weeks of intense exploring and adapting to his new surroundings, your pup should show his appetite more than ever before. It’s important to stick to the routine that you’ve set up. If your pup leaves his food, take it away after 10 minutes. He’ll soon learn to eat it when you place it down rather than go hungry for a few hours.
By now, you’ve probably visited your vet for his first check-up with you. Ask your vet how your pup is doing. Your vet will tell you whether your pup is lacking behind, at a healthy weight, or becoming too chunky. Whatever your vet’s observations, be sure to follow any new instructions. Too little or too much weight can lead to various health concerns, so it’s important to get it right.
If your Lab pup is forever begging for food and seems completely unsatisfied by his mealtimes, you can up his daily food allowance to three cups a day. This is because around week 11 is the most dramatic growth spurt he’ll face. But only if he is active, healthy, and you can see his waist. If not, he’ll have to make do with the smaller food allowance. Stick to the routine and do not feed him extra food in between mealtimes.
Twelve weeks is the next change in the Lab puppy feeding schedule. If you upped his food previously, be sure to reduce it back down to two cups. And instead of four meals a day, you can reduce it to three meals a day now. This should be more manageable than before. Three meal sittings are better than two because it helps with the developmental digestive period. Plus, it avoids stomach upset or a drastic change in blood sugar levels.
It’s important to stick to the new schedule and not feed him in between mealtimes. Labs are curious canines, and he’ll be forever on his paws and playing. And although you might think he needs more food, he doesn’t. Labs are notorious for Oscar-worthy starvation acting – but do not fall for it.
His forever-hungry belly leads him to toxic scraps on the floor, dangerous items in the garden, and inedible household objects. Watch out for his surroundings, and keep all food out of reach. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on his poop, as this can give you a good idea about what extra bits he is eating and shouldn’t be.
Your Lab puppy starts to lose his milk teeth at this stage, so he’ll be chewing whatever he can to soothe the pain. Eating dried kibble also helps alleviate the discomfort, so don’t be tempted to water down his food. But be sure to provide him with chew toys and sticks suitable for teething puppies.
Different Types Of Puppy Food
The main types of dog or puppy foods are:
- Fresh (human-grade)
- Kibble (dry food)
- Canned or pouch (wet food)
- Raw or BARF (biologically appropriate raw food)
- Home-cooked food
High-quality dog food like human-grade or kibble has been rigorously tested for its nutritional benefits and safety. So you can be sure that everything your Lab puppy needs to grow healthily is in each bite. Ollie makes one of our favorite grain-inclusive recipes.
Canned or processed foods are often higher in fats, which is not ideal for puppies who need to grow steadily. Especially the greedy Lab.
A raw diet (aka BARF) is often too rich for sensitive puppy stomachs, and it is not always nutritionally balanced.
And unless you are out of food or under your vet’s instruction, we would advise you not to feed your pup home-cooked food. It is not tested in terms of nutritional value or safety, which could lead to nutritional deficiency.
The Importance Of High-Quality Food
There is a huge difference between basic store-branded and high-quality dog food brands. Poor quality brands rarely contain enough animal protein or omega fatty acids for adults, let alone growing puppies. Plus, they are pumped with fillers with little to no nutritional value, artificial rubbish, preservatives, colors, and chemicals.
Labradors have three life stages; puppyhood, adulthood, and their senior years. Puppyhood is arguably the most important nutritional life stage because it sets the foundations for a healthy life and body. By skimping a few dollars on poor quality food, you are risking your pup becoming nutritionally deficient or developing abnormally. So, nothing else will do for your Lab puppy.
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Why Is Large Breed Puppy Food Important?
Your Lab weighs anywhere between 55 and 80 pounds at maturity, making him a large dog breed. Large dogs grow at a much quicker rate compared to smaller dogs, and this can lead to skeletal abnormalities and joint issues. Hip and elbow dysplasia is a common concern in Labs, so it is important to control skeletal growth. Large breed puppy dog food does exactly that.
The nutrition inside each piece is optimized for controlled bone growth. The specific nutrients that are optimized are calcium, phosphorus, fats, and vitamin D. Dog food designed for small or medium-sized pups does not control bone growth. Sometimes, even those brands that claim to be suitable for all-sized breeds are unsuitable for large dogs. So, like before, nothing else will do here.
What Nutrients Do Lab Puppies Need?
If you stick to high-quality food, you can rest assured that all the nutrients that your Lab puppy needs are found in their meal. But, it’s also useful for you to know what nutrients he needs and what ingredients to look out for. So, let’s take a look at the main components of a well-balanced Lab puppy diet.
Protein is full of life’s building blocks, which are scientifically known as amino acids. Without these, his body and muscle mass would not have the right power to grow efficiently. Protein can be found in animal meats. The first ingredient in puppy ingredient lists should always be a named animal protein. Meat meals, such as chicken meal, are concentrated forms of protein that are high-quality and full of glucosamine for his joints. The protein content in puppy food should be at least 22%.
Protein alone is not enough to keep your pup fueled for the day. This is where carbs step in. Healthy carbs can be found in grains, such as rice, barley, and oatmeal. Or they can also be found in veggies such as peas, sweet potatoes, and lentils.
Although fiber technically has no nutritional content, it is essential to your Labs puppy diet. Fiber helps to regulate doggy digestive systems and helps his stools to be firmer and healthier. It is also a low-calorie component that helps to keep your Lab puppy feeling fuller for longer. Look for fiber-rich ingredients such as sweet potatoes, spinach, beet pulp, and chicory root.
Omega Fatty Acids
Although we keep stressing the importance of keeping your Lab trim, essential fatty acids are crucial for healthy puppy development. They help his brain and eyes develop healthily, keep his skin and coat nourished, assist with vitamin absorption, and boost overall wellness. Look for ingredients such as meat meals, fish, fish oils, flaxseed, and canola oils.
Vitamins And Minerals
Just like us humans, dogs also need vitamins and minerals to develop into healthy adults. Without them, their immune system does not develop properly, and they are more at risk from illness and disease. Many high-quality dog foods list real fruits and veggies such as blueberries and cranberries, as well as added supplements. Also, look for nutrient-dense ingredients such as dried kelp and seaweed meal.
How Much Do Lab Puppies Grow Each Week?
At ten weeks, he should weigh around 20 pounds. He’ll be roughly half his expected weight at maturity by the time he reaches 18 to 20 weeks old.
Of course, all dogs are different, and stronger pups grow faster than weaker pups. A great indicator for you to keep an eye on is his waist. If you can see his waist, he is growing well. If you can’t, he’s too chunky, and if you can see his rib cage, he’s too skinny. If you are concerned about his weight or growth, make an appointment with your vet.
Keeping Your Lab At The Right Weight
Labradors are one of the greediest dog breeds on the planet, and if you don’t believe us, science actually backs this claim up. Labradors are born with a faulty gene that makes them feel as though they are still hungry. So, it’s up to you to control how much they eat. Feeding a puppy can be just as demanding as feeding a human baby. It also comes with just as much responsibility.
Unnecessary weight leads to a whole host of health problems, such as bad joints, cardiac conditions, diabetes, and even higher risk of cancer, to name just a few. And considering that the Lab is already at risk of joint dysplasia and cardiac concerns, it’s really important to minimize the risks as much as you can.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although we have made the world of Labrador puppy feeding as simple as possible for you, we agree, it’s not as simple as ABC. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions relating to Lab puppies and their feeding schedules.
When do I switch my Lab puppy to adult food?
Lab puppies are not fully mature until around the age of two years old. But, like most other dog breeds, they should be switched to adult dog food between the ages of 12 and 15 months old. Like you did when you introduced him to food from milk, you need to make the transition gradually to avoid stomach upset.
What are the best brands for my Lab puppy?
When looking for a brand, it’s important to choose a well-known and high-quality brand. It’s also important to consider your puppy’s unique dietary needs. For example, if your pup is allergic to chicken, you’ll need to find a chicken-free recipe. You also need to consider the availability of that brand in your area, as well as your budget. We have a complete food guide dedicated to the best foods for Labs in their every life stage. So head over there for the best recommendations for your canine.
Should I feed my Lab puppy supplements?
If you choose high-quality dog food, everything your Lab puppy needs are in that. Puppy food is already enriched with extra nutrients compared to adult food, so you shouldn’t need to feed him any extra supplements. In fact, it could be detrimental to his health. For example, too much calcium can lead to skeletal problems. If you have any concerns, please speak to your vet before adding anything extra to your pup’s diet.
What if my Lab puppy refuses to eat?
Puppies love to eat, and Labrador puppies are even more so. Some puppies, especially the runts of the litter, are smaller, weaker, and slower than the other pups. They get less than their fair share of the food. If you can, give these guys a helping hand getting to their mom or the food bowl first.
If your puppy completely refuses to eat, it could be a sign that something is wrong, so you need to take him to the vet straight away.
The Labrador Retriever is the nation’s canine sweetheart. As you can see from our puppy feeding guide, he needs a little help to develop into that gorgeous Fido that we all know and love. Puppy feeding is a hard task, but for most of us who welcome them into our lives at week eight, most of the hard work and late nights have already been completed by the breeder or previous owners.
But, what you feed your Lab, how often you feed him, and tracking his development is your responsibility. It’s not difficult, but it requires careful attention and routine. You also need to resist your Lab’s puppy dog eyes when eating something naughty because he’ll want a slice of the action. Overall, by sticking to our puppy feeding guide and choosing a high-quality food, your Lab will have the best start to life for sure.