Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Puppy Meal Deal

What you need to know about feeding your puppy

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

If you have a new puppy, your head may spin as you walk through store aisles trying to decide what to feed him. Puppies have specific nutritional needs if they are to grow at an appropriate pace to adulthood, but no single food is right for every puppy. Among the factors that can influence your decision are age, breed, activity level and size at maturity. All of those can affect what an individual puppy needs from a food. Here’s what you should know as you make your choice.

First, read the food label. It should state that the food is complete and balanced and, ideally, that the nutritional value has been proven in feeding trials approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials. Look for a statement such as, “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A provides complete and balanced nutrition for growth.”

Size matters. Small dogs have high metabolic rates and require a food that will provide them with a steady flow of energy. If they are very young or unusually small, they often need frequent small meals throughout the day. Choose a food that’s easy for these dogs to chew with their little teeth.

While a small-breed puppy might be able to switch to an adult food before he’s a year old, a large-breed puppy may need to stay on an appropriate growth formula until he is nearly 2 years old. Large-breed puppies often undergo rapid growth spurts, but that’s not good for their musculoskeletal development.

Developmental orthopedic disease is one of the most common problems seen in large- and giant-breed dogs. Leaving food out all the time, feeding energy-dense foods or foods with high levels of fat, high calcium intake either from supplements or in the diet, and a rapid growth rate have been linked to developmental orthopedic disease in large- and giant-breed dogs who have the genetic risk for it, says Joe Bartges, DVM, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens.

The best choice for large-breed pups is a food that enables slow, uniform growth. These foods usually contain fewer calories and less calcium, while still providing all the nutrients a growing dog needs. Another option is to feed smaller amounts of a regular puppy food. In both cases, the goal is to avoid excess weight gain at an early age, which can stress developing joints.

Diet benefits the brain, too. The AAFCO and the National Research Council (NRC) now agree that DHA omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in puppy brain development, including the areas of learning and memory.

“A lot of the puppy foods now are containing them,” Dr. Bartges says. “AAFCO and NRC now recognize omega-3 fatty acids as important for both puppies and adults.”

When should you switch your pup from a food for growth to one for maintenance? A good rule of paw is to begin transitioning him when he has reached approximately 80 percent of his anticipated adult weight or size. Small dogs usually arrive at that stage when they are 6 to 8 months old, but large-breed dogs may not achieve it until they are 18 to 24 months old. There’s nothing wrong, though, with switching him to a food for adults once he reaches 50 percent of adult weight, Dr. Bartges says.

“It may slow down the rest of their growth a little bit, but it doesn’t stop them from reaching their genetic potential.”


That snorting sound?

It’s a reverse sneeze

Q: My little Chihuahua-mix makes a weird gasping sound at least once or twice a day. I thought she was choking the first time I heard it, but then she seems fine. What could be causing it? -- via Facebook

A: That awful gagging sound -- in veterinary speak called a "pharyngeal gag reflex" or "aspiration reflex" -- is more commonly known as a reverse sneeze.

The rapid and repeated inhalation through the nose is usually caused by throat, sinus or nasal irritation, but it can also occur when dogs are excited or exposed to cold air. As the dog extends his neck in an attempt to relieve the uncomfortable feeling, the throat narrows, making it more difficult for air to pass through. The dog breathes harder, causing the throat to narrow even more.

What happens is that the dog rapidly takes in long breaths as the head and neck are extended. The result is a snorting sound. Once it’s over, he’s back to normal.

We typically see this problem in small dogs, probably because their throats are already small and then become constricted further, but it can occur in any dog. I recall a greyhound client who was known for the frightening sounds she would make during her reverse sneezes. Brachycephalic dogs -- the ones with big heads and flat faces -- are also prone to reverse sneezes. Reverse sneezes may also occur right after a dog wakes up or after he’s been eating or playing.

The good news is that although the snorting and gagging sound scary, this is a harmless behavior and doesn’t require any treatment. There’s no cure, but you can help to end it by gently blowing in your dog’s face and stroking his throat. That interrupts the behavior by causing him to swallow. Petting may also help him to relax. While medication isn’t necessary, if reverse sneezing is related to chronic allergies, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication that helps to reduce its incidence. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


New cat museum

opens in North Carolina

-- Cat lovers in North Carolina or traveling through the state will want to visit the newly opened American Museum of the House Cat in the mountain town of Sylva. The museum's collection includes folk art, cat-themed advertisements, vintage and antique toy cats, original art, books, jewelry and more. It was founded by Harold Sims, nicknamed Cat Man, who collected the items over a 35-year period. The proceeds from the small admission fee support the Catman2 Shelter, which places cats in homes and operates a spay/neuter program.

-- The internet makes it easy to make your dog a star. Check out some of our favorite canines with social media status. Boo, a Pomeranian, claims the title World’s Cutest Dog and is “liked” by more than 17 million people on Facebook; Instagram sensations Toast and Muppet live a dog’s life in New York City; Snapchat star Marnie, a shelter Shih Tzu, now lives the good life -- including 1.7 million followers; French bulldog Manny uses his social-media stardom -- can you say 1 million Instagram followers -- to fuel his “philanthro-pup” activities; and Samoyed show dog Floppybear's social-media cred includes 20,000 followers on Facebook, plus TV commercial and film credits.

-- Which foods are toxic to pets? Here are a few you should keep out of reach of Max and Mittens. Baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate contain theobromine, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea or more serious symptoms. Chocolate is toxic to parrots, too. Dogs who munch too many macadamia nuts can suffer weakness in the rear legs, tremors and a low-grade fever. Pets who eat baked goods or other foods sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol, can develop sudden and life-threatening low blood sugar, seizures, vomiting and fatal liver failure. Grapes and raisins, even in small amounts, can cause kidney failure in dogs. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.