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Ask the Pet Expert: Switching to dog food

I've been feeding my 6-month-old Golden retriever puppy food, but the trainer we've started working with says regular dog food is fine and might help calm her down a little. What are the benefits of puppy food vs. dog food, and when should I switch?

Nutrition experts recommend selecting the appropriate food for your pet based on each stage of development. As puppies develop, they require more protein and calcium and higher fat contact for bone and muscle development, as well as for a healthy immune system. Once a puppy has matured into adulthood, nutrition intake becomes important for maintenance and strengthening as well as staying within a healthy body weight range. Nutrition experts caution against discontinuing puppy food based on age alone; rather, you should begin to switch your pet to an adult diet once he has reached physical maturity.

It is best to consult your veterinarian to determine when your pet will reach maturity, as different breeds and sizes have different timelines for development. A smaller puppy will mature much faster and is often full grown before one year, while a large or giant breed dog may not be considered fully mature until two years.

It is also important to switch foods slowly to avoid gastrointestinal upset. A sudden change in diet can cause symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. Switching food over the course of several days should involve careful mixing of new and old diets and monitoring for issues. Talk to your vet if any concerns arise.

Remember, a happy, healthy life for your pet starts with balanced nutrition. Selecting the right nutrition for every life stage will help provide great health for years to come.

This week's expert is Alisa Wardrup, wellness clinic manager at the Maryland SPCA Wellness Clinic. Send your questions to sun.unleashed@gmail.com

—Kim Fernandez

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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