Can Adult Dogs Eat Puppy Food?

Updated: 12/4/20232-4 minutes
woman giving her beagle a bowl of food

Your adult dog and new puppy are enjoying their dinner. Suddenly, your adult dog decides that your puppy’s food smells irresistible and shifts to that bowl.

It’s a common occurrence in multi-dog households—one that prompts a question equally common to multi-dog owners (especially at mealtime): Is puppy food bad for adult dogs?

To answer this question, we first need to look at how puppies and more mature dogs are different, and how those differences play a role in the nourishment they need.

Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs Change With Age

Puppies, adult dogs and senior dogs all need the nourishment provided by a combination of nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. While the nutrients remain the same for all life stages, the amounts can differ.

For example, a puppy’s body has a huge job to do during its first year (or up to two years for large and giant breed puppies). It has to develop into a physically mature dog.

That’s a tall order, in a short amount of time! Young puppies often need more than twice as many calories per pound of body weight as adult dogs require to support this incredible growth, in addition to extra nutrients for healthy muscle and bone development.

Unlike puppies, most adult dogs need maintenance nutrition to support their good health and lifestyle. And senior dogs can benefit from specialized nutrition that does more to support their bodies as they age.

The Difference Between Puppy, Adult and Senior Dog Food

Dogs have different nutritional needs at different stages of life. So, their diets need to change to accommodate those needs. The advantage of life stage nutrition is that the foods are formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition for dogs at specific stages of life.

Puppy Food

Since puppies’ bodies are doing more (a lot more) at this stage, they need a diet formulated for puppies that gives them more of certain nutrients than they will need as adults.

For example, the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends puppies consume about 1.2 x more protein on a caloric basis than adult dogs.  Puppies also need more fat in their diets. AAFCO recommends puppies consume 1.5 x more fat on a caloric basis than adult dogs.

These are just a couple of reasons puppies need to consume a diet specifically tailored for growth, and why a diet for adult maintenance nutrition likely won’t provide all the nourishment they need for healthy growth and development.

Adult Dog Food

While the goal of a quality puppy food is to fuel healthy growth, the role of a complete and balanced adult dog food is to help dogs maintain optimal overall body condition and health during their adult years.

Senior Dog Food

As dogs reach their senior years (age 7 or older, depending on breed), they may become less active, and their bodies may start to show signs of age. A dog food complete and balanced for senior dogs will provide nutritional support tailored to help their bodies maintain lean muscle mass, a healthy weight, joint health and mobility, and more. 

When to Take Your Dog Off of Puppy Food

A puppy is ready to transition from puppy food to adult dog food once they have reached skeletal maturity. While the conventional wisdom is that this transition point happens at one year of age, the actual point can vary depending on your dog’s breed and size.

Medium-size m breed dogs are typically considered adult dogs at one year of age. Toy and small breeds may reach maturity slightly earlier. Large and giant breed dogs, however, can take longer to reach adulthood, and may continue to grow until two years of age.

Is it Bad for Adult Dogs to Continue Eating Puppy Food?

Because puppy foods are formulated to deliver higher amounts of protein and fat, along with other nutrients needed for a puppy’s rapid initial growth, feeding puppy food regularly to a healthy adult can cause unwanted weight gain, among other health problems. Can older dogs eat puppy food? While puppy food is generally safe for adult dogs, it may not be ideal or provide optimal nutrition for older life stages.

Can Senior Dogs Eat Puppy Food?

In rare cases a veterinarian may recommend a higher calorie puppy food for a senior dog who is underweight or becoming picky about eating. Unless your veterinarian has recommended this for your senior dog, your best option is a diet formulated for adult maintenance or a senior dog food.

How to Keep an Older Dog from Eating Puppy Food 

Let’s go back to our initial challenge of keeping the adult dog from gobbling up the deliciously different food in the puppy’s bowl. If this sounds like feeding time at your home, there are some simple ways to feed multiple dogs, while keeping your adult dog from trespassing: 

  • Give each dog their own space. Feed them in their own rooms or use dog gates to keep them separated until all bowls are empty. 
  • Pick up bowls between meals. This is especially important if one of your dogs doesn’t lick their bowl clean.  
  • Establish a regular feeding schedule. Free feeding is an invitation for trouble, especially when puppy food is involved. Regular mealtimes allow you to make sure both your puppy food and adult dog food are eaten by the dogs for which they are intended.  they are intended for.

Whatever Your Dog’s Age, Feed the Right Food for the Right Life Stage 

Choosing the right food for your dog is the best way to provide the nutrition they need as they grow and age. While puppy food might be irresistible to your adult dog, there are also a wide variety of tasty, nutritious adult dog foods they can enjoy. And remember— feeding them a quality adult dog food formulated for their life stage is an important way to help them live a long and healthy life.

For more expert tips on feeding your dog, explore our other dog feeding articles.

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