Hollywood Feed University pet wellness education Highlights from Proper Puppy Nutrition with Dr. Gregory D. Sunvold

Highlights From Proper Puppy Nutrition: Advice on How to Feed Your New Puppy for a Long and Healthy Life

Reading Time: 11 MIN

Get It Right from the Start

Apply nutritional principles to choosing a pet food. There is a sea of products available, so knowing what to look for in a quality pet food is key. The three important and universal components of puppy development include the gut, brain, and bones, and these components can serve as a guide to which food to feed.

The Gut

Puppies undergo a tremendous amount of gut bacterial changes as they grow. Gut flora changes can be associated with some unhealthy and undesirable events. We all want to avoid situations like diarrhea or constipation with new puppies.

How to Avoid Digestive Upset

Healthy intestinal bacteria foster a healthy gut. Prebiotics feed the gut bacteria and promote the healthy growth of probiotics. Probiotics then outcompete pathogens and prevent bad bacteria from growing.

Other gut enhancers include postbiotics and digestive enzymes. Postbiotics are byproducts of the fermentation process produced from probiotics. Examples of postbiotics added to pet foods include brewers’ yeast, lactic acids, and yeast culture. Digestive enzymes can help puppies absorb nutrients from food. Proteases (proteins), amylases (carbohydrates), and lipases (fats) can all be given to help a puppy’s digestion.

There are some recommended products like Prudence Absolute Immune Health that helps boost gut health. Prudence contains live probiotics which improve intestinal bacterial composition. It also contains beta-glucans which boost the immune system.

For food, Eukanuba Puppy is formulated to support good gut health. It contains fermentable fiber (beet pulp), has prebiotics, and is highly digestible.

70% of the immune system is in the gut. It is called Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT). What happens in the gut affects the rest of the body. The gut is foundational to immune health, and nutrition can play a role in enhancing your puppy’s immune health.

The Brain

Key nutrients needed for healthy brain development in puppies include Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are typically found in plant oils like corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil, while Omega-3 fatty acids come from flax, fish oil, and algae oil.

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires EPA + DHA at a minimum of 0.05% for growth and reproduction. Studies have shown that puppies fed increased DHA had better trainability and vaccine titer response.


Minerals like calcium and phosphorus are used to form bones. Calcium is found in both animal proteins and grains. Phosphorus is generally higher in animal proteins than grains. AAFCO requires that the maximum calcium level for large breeds be reduced. The calcium to phosphorus ratio should be between 1:1 and 2:1.

Large breed puppies raised on a diet high in calcium can experience severe skeletal abnormalities and fast-growing bone disease. The breeds typically affected are Great Danes, Collies, Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Saint Bernards. Diets that do not follow the 1:1 or 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio should always be avoided for large breed puppies.

Practical Diet Tips for Puppy Diets

Puppy formulas are more energy dense than adult formulas. For large breed puppies, there are moderate levels of protein and fat to help skeletal development keep pace with their weight.

Protein sources that are highly digestible include chicken, beef, lamb, fish, elk and venison. By-product meals are generally more digestible than named species. For example, chicken by-product meals are more digestible than chicken.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for proper metabolism. For minerals, a blend of organic and inorganic minerals is best to assure the best use of minerals.

For gut health, moderately fermentable fibers like beet pulp or tomato pomace are beneficial to puppies. Prebiotics are essential for healthy intestinal development as well as live probiotics.

Dr. Sunvold’s Responses to Unanswered Questions from Class

I have heard that wheat germ is important for heart health. Is that true What is it and what does it do?

WG is a source of protein but also contains a significant amount of fat.  Some thought that the fat is healthy for skin and coat.  Better option is a fish oil, algal oil, or Ahiflower.

I have been adding 1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt in my puppy’s Royal Canin food in the morning and then 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in the dinner serving.  Is this good for him and would using virgin coconut oil be better for him instead of the extra virgin olive oil?

I love coconut oil over olive oil because it contains medium chain triglycerides.  MCT’s are unique FA that can cross the blood brain barrier.  MCT’s can be healthful for neural tissue development – just what a puppy needs to get a good foundation in life.  Good on you the Greek yogurt – lower sugar form of yogurt and possible source of probiotics.  If you can afford it, a better form of probiotics could be an actual probiotic supplement designed for development of puppies’ intestines.  I admire your commitment to good healthy nutrition.

There is so much controversy regarding grain free vs food with grain. Any insight?

Ahh the proverbial question about Grain Free and DCM in dogs.  In a nutshell, the science is not settled.  There was a lot of hype to begin with in promoting Grain Free diets.  Now it seems the hype has swung completely the other way.  FDA’s report in June 2018 rattled the industry about the possible association between Grain Free and DCM.  Unfortunately the only thing we really seem to know for sure is that genetics plays a role in DCM.  Does the diet’s composition?  That is far from being conclusively understood one way or another.  As an industry technical insider, I can tell you that most reputable manufacturers have modified diets as a preemptive move IF an association between certain diet ingredients and DCM is found to exist.  In closing, the burden of proof has now shifted to the accused (Diet is guilty!) to prove its innocence.  Unfortunately, “In the world of science, the absence of a negative is almost impossible to prove.”  You can quote me on that. Trustworthy, well-designed experimental studies will take long periods of time to conduct, will have multiple outcome variables, and will be expensive to conduct.  As a result, I suspect for the rest of my life we will be debating whether DCM is diet related.  I hope I am wrong, and we have more insight sooner as I prefer more ingredient options to be available.  The more ingredient options that are available, the more sustainable world we will all live in!

What is your opinion on starting free feeding at a puppy stage?

Good question.  It really depends on the food you are feeding, the puppy himself, and the puppy’s activity level.  We have a little more latitude in small/medium breed puppies.  Large breed puppies are susceptible to fast growing bone disease – hypertrophic osteodystrophy.  So LB puppies need to be very carefully monitored to assure they don’t gain weight too fast.  Regardless of breed size, take care to monitor backfat condition.  How do you do that?  Rub your fingers over your closed fist.  Fingers over knuckles represent malnourished.  Fingers over back of hand tendons represent too much condition (fat).  Fingers over clenched fingers next to your knuckles represent about right.  Translate that sensation to your puppy’s ribs to understand where your puppy is at.

Food recommendations for puppies with chicken and fish sensitivities?

Best recommendation is to switch diets to diets that don’t have chicken or fish in them.  They exist.  Many manufacturers have broad ranging lines of different protein options for just that specific reason.  I hope you can find a diet soon.  But don’t give up.  It’s out there.

Some articles I have read have said that other animals can get covid 19. Is that true or are they getting different disease?

There are a few scattered reports that seem like the owner received Covid-19 from a pet or vice versa.  But look, if it was easy to get Covid-19 from pets or other animals, we would know that by now.  Even if there is a risk, I’m keeping my pet.  Millie gives us way too much unconditional love!

Why are you saying by product is good when you should only have the protein and then protein meal?

Not exactly sure what’s being asked.  But here’s my thoughts on, for example, chicken by-product meal.  CBPM can, and most often is, be of very high quality.  CBPM and chicken meal are quite similar in how they are processed with the difference being things that may be included in CBPM such as necks and feet which don’t sound good to us – this becomes the “selling point” against CBPM vs. chicken meal (which doesn’t allow necks and feet, for example).  However, as stated the process by which either CBPM and CM are obtained is similar.  And it’s a good process because it involved cooking which helps liberate some of the amino acids ahead of process.  More importantly this process of obtaining CBPM and CM allows one to remove some of the undigestible components such as ash from the chicken.  Ash of course comes from bone.  This creates a more highly digestible/available form of chicken.  In contrast, chicken involves whole chicken which doesn’t normally undergo pre-processing like the meals.  Thus, you get everything with the chicken, not just the refined meals as with CBPM and CM.  Another important point about protein quality here is that processing methods can vary considerably.  So it’s up to the manufacturer to select different qualities of protein sources depending on the product design.  As a consumer I admit it’s impossible to understand the digestibility/nutrient availability of a pet food.  But just remember that not all by-product meals are of poor quality.  In fact, on balance they are generally more refined than specific named species such as chicken.  Sorry, just because something’s been marketed a certain way, doesn’t make it so.

Is it okay to mix two different brands of Large Breed Puppy food at every feeding?

Sure, if you properly transition the animal.  And I think this is an excellent feeding strategy to “de-risk” your pets health.  Why?  Because if there were ever a problem with one of the foods, then your pet would have the other to rely on for its nutrition.  Hopefully that never happens but I personally like the “backup” strategy.

I’ve changed my dog’s diet from grains to no grains, and he’s still had drainage from his eyes in an allergic reaction. What should I do?

I’m sorry for your dog’s condition.  The quick answer is see your veterinarian for health issues.  More broadly I would recommend you first look at his environment.  Get down on your hands and knees at his level.  Is there something in his environment that may be irritating his eyes?  If nothing’s obvious then go back to thinking about his diet.  Candidly, changing from grains to no grains is probably less likely to identify an issue than to switch protein sources or seek a diet more greatly enriched in n-3 f.a.  It is possible that a protein source may be irritating him.  Seek a different protein source with an n-6 f.a. / n-3 f.a. ratio of less than 6:1.

I used to feed my poodle a raw diet, my vet said sometimes raw can actual cause upset stomachs. Is this true and If so why?

If a raw diet has a high load of spoilage organisms such as pseudomonas, the pet may react to it.  Further, if the raw diet has partially spoiled, the rotten meat may smell interesting to the poodle but may not be well tolerated due to protein breakdown products from the meat’s degradation.  To be fair, many folks feed raw products without issues to their dog.  Your veterinarian may be taking an extra cautious step.  Certainly your veterinarian is intending to act in the best interest of your pet.  Again, if you feed a raw product take extra care to handle it properly to reduce any pathogen or spoilage organism growth.  And take care around indiscriminate children who may want to enjoy your pet’s meal – a big no, no!  Of course wash your own hands after handling a raw diet as well.

Let’s say by-product is better if processed correctly. There is no way to know how it was processed on the bag, so how would you know? Typically I’ve seen by-products in cheaply made products more so that I have no trust in.

You are an astute consumer.  This is exactly the problem.  I believe we have the world’s greatest regulatory agency governing pet food – AAFCO.  And yet there are still opportunities to improve our ingredient labeling and label disclosure process.  Ideally pet food manufacturers would test each product they market and disclose those results.  Even large manufacturers cannot afford to do this however. There is no obvious way to improve this communication.  But you are on to something.  Cheaply priced food often is just that – cheap.  Even though I’m a bit of industry technical insider, I still face the same dilemma you do.  How do I handle it with our own pets?  I try feeding different products.  Does the stool smell foul?  Do they seem to create excessive piles?  What happens to their skin and coat?  Breath?  Activity/energy level?  And so forth.  From a label perspective let me share one further insight – I like to see more ingredients rather than less.  Why?  Because more ingredients tend to decrease the variability of the product from bag to bag.  Limited ingredient diets have a place – addressing skin allergies as an example.  However, a risk with “concentrating” the nutrition from fewer ingredient sources is that from bag to bag the product is more susceptible to variation in changes in the few ingredient sources.  Hope that makes sense!

Isn’t meat protein more important to feed than plant since dogs are carnivores?

Good question.  I tend to stick with meat sources since they are more similar in their amino acid balance to the animal’s body composition.  However, I deeply respect folks that choose a vegan lifestyle for themselves and sometimes their pets.  It is most definitely true that all required nutrients can be met through plants/vegan diets.  So if veganism is your pursuit, those products exist which are definitely complete and balanced.

I have a lab mix puppy, and we are not sure what the mix is, but he has super long legs and big paws so we think he will be large when full grown. He was getting kind of chunky, but he is a 7-month-old baby, so should we be feeding him less or let him eat the recommended amount of Fromm puppy food?

Congrats!  Sounds like a lot of fun!  Large breed puppies are susceptible to fast growing bone disease – hypertrophic osteodystrophy.  So LB puppies need to be very carefully monitored to assure they don’t gain weight too fast.  Take care to monitor backfat condition.  How do you do that?  Rub your fingers over your closed fist.  Fingers over knuckles represent malnourished.  Fingers over back of hand tendons represent too much condition (fat).  Fingers over clenched fingers next to your knuckles represent about right.  Translate that sensation to your puppy’s ribs to understand where your puppy is at.  Feed accordingly.

Can you briefly summarize what you are recommending we add to the diet for our puppies?

The way I understand your question is what can we add to help our puppy’s development that is beyond what may be in a complete and balanced food.  My answer is:  live probiotics (speeds normalization of intestinal microbiota and may help fight off infection), digestive enzymes (helps with nutrient digestion), beta-glucan source (helps boost immune system), prebiotics such as galactoligosaccharides (helps push the intestinal microbiota towards a more protective, beneficial type such as bifidobacteria).

The vet told my grandma last week that wheat germ is essential for heart health. Is this true?

Well, he/she may be thinking about the n-3 f.a. ALA found in WG.  Better forms of n-3 f.a. are from marine sources such as fish oils or algal oils.

How do you feel about the presence of aflatoxinsmycotoxins in low quality carbohydrates and is there any link to cancer?

Yeah, this is a problem in the industry.  And the industry just has to be vigilant and on guard.  What happens is that crops grown under a variety of conditions can get fungus/molds growing on them.  And farmers don’t really know it or can control it well either.  Every growing season is different.  So again there are monitoring protocols in place that attempt to screen this out.  Unfortunately mistakes get made or “conveniently overlooked” due to obtaining “cheaper” sources of grains.  Okay to your specific question, there seems to be an association, at least in humans between aflatoxins and cancer.  But this is generally over a prolonged exposure period at low levels.  Higher levels are going to have acute effects ranging from digestive upsets to organ impairment.   My greater concern with fungal derived toxins is with acute affects due to “mistakes.”  Otherwise proper screening of grains should result in grains with no more than ordinary risk levels to the pet (or humans for that matter!).

Dandruff, even with omegas, can it be a yeast allergy? Is goat’s milk good for this?

Yeah, I suppose a topical yeast infection is always possible.  Goat’s milk topically or orally?  Not sure from the wording of the question.  Since we’re talking about nutrition, I’ll take it as “Is it helpful to feed Goat’s milk to control dandruff?”  I think that dandruff control is probably a stretch as to a benefit that can be gained from your pet consuming Goat’s milk.

Can dead dogs be in by-products How do you know what is in byproduct meal?

I do not know of any pets that are rendered into protein meals.  You can look here on AAFCO’s website for a definition of meals used in pet food.

For more information on pet nutrition, check out Dr. Sunvold’s blog here.

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