While the factors that go into choosing a quality commercial dog food for your pit bull also apply to puppy foods, your pit bull puppy has special nutritional requirements that make many otherwise high quality foods inappropriate, even dangerous, during the growth stage. But don't worry. We will break it all down for you, so you'll know exactly how to feed your new pit bull family member and what to look for in a puppy food.
Large Breed Puppies & Skeletal Disease
Puppies require higher levels of certain nutrients for healthy growth, but excessive levels of some of these very same nutrients have been implicated in skeletal disease in large breed puppies. Matters are further complicated by the fact that there are many misconceptions about the link between nutrition and bone health, and a fine line between what's necessary to promote healthy development and what's considered excessive.
Protein Requirements of Pit Bull Puppies
For many years, it was thought that high protein diets contribute to hip dysplasia and other forms of skeletal disease, but this is not the case. Unfortunately most large breed puppy foods are still formulated with reduced protein levels and correspondingly higher carbohydrate content. Since these "specialty foods" typically command higher prices for cheap, grain-based ingredients, the trend of promoting low protein diets for large breed puppies is likely to continue despite research indicating that these high carbohydrate formulas are not in the best interest of growing dogs.
High levels of quality proteins are required for healthy growth and the development of strong bones and a powerful immune system, so look for a food that provides protein in the 34-40% range. Since puppies do not utilize proteins as efficiently as adult dogs, the quality of the protein in your puppy's food is of particular importance. High quality proteins such as eggs and muscle meats are over 90% digestible, while puppies can use only about half of the protein in low quality sources like most grains and by-product meals.
Fat Requirements of Pit Bull Puppies
While high protein diets have proven not to cause skeletal problems, high energy diets are a different story. Proteins and carbohydrates both provide 4 calories per gram, but fat weighs in at more than twice that, providing 9 calories per gram. Consequently high fat diets are higher in calories, and high calorie diets are more likely to promote rapid growth. Since fast growth rates have been linked to skeletal abnormalities in large breed puppies, it's advisable to choose a food that contains moderate levels of fat for your pit bull puppy.
Many large breed puppy formulas contain sharply reduced fat levels, and while fat content in the 10-12% range is unlikely to produce deficiencies, these amounts are less than optimal for a growing dog. Instead, look for formulas providing 14-17% fat with an emphasis on quality animal fats such as salmon oil and naturally preserved chicken fat.
Carbohydrate Requirements of Pit Bull Puppies
Dogs have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates, and puppies are no exception. Amylase, the enzyme needed to digest starches, is not present in dogs' saliva, and pancreatic amylase levels are very low in puppies. That's why carbohydrates should comprise no more than 25-30% of your puppy's diet. Unfortunately most large breed puppy formulas contain double that amount. Feeding such a high carbohydrate food means your pit bull puppy won't be able to assimilate a good chunk of the nutrients in his diet. It can also produce loose stools and diarrhea.
The Right Calcium Level for Your Pit Bull Puppy
Numerous studies have linked high calcium intake to skeletal abnormalities in large and giant breed puppies. While calcium deficiencies and calcium/phosphorous imbalances are also prime culprits of bone problems, they are unlikely to occur when puppies are fed a quality commercial food. Calcium excesses, on the other hand, are quite common, particularly in high protein, low carbohydrate formulas.
One study found that, when combined with high levels of vitamin D (vitamin D promotes calcium absorption), as little as 2.05% calcium was sufficient to produce significant skeletal changes. A number of grain free, high protein kibbles contain in excess of 2% calcium, and most of these foods are designated as appropriate for all life stages. Obviously such high amounts of calcium should be avoided when choosing a food for your pit bull puppy. It's best to stick to a calcium level between 1.1% and 1.5%.
The perhaps most important factor of all is to feed for a slow, gradual growth rate. This means keeping your puppy lean. Avoid overfeeding, and don't leave food out all day. Until your puppy is 12 weeks old, you can feed four small meals a day. Three to six month old puppies should be fed three times a day. After six months, switch to two daily feedings.
Putting It All Together
To give your pit bull puppy the best chance of growing up strong and healthy, choose a food that provides:
- 34-40% protein (mostly muscle meats and other high quality sources)
- 14-17% fat (preferably high quality animal fats)
- 20-30% carbohydrate (less is fine)
- 1.1-1.5% calcium
Some foods to check out:
- Orijen - Large Breed Puppy Formula
- Blue Buffalo - Wilderness Formulas (all 3 varieties)
- Acana - Pacifica and Wild Prairie Formulas
- CANIDAE - Grain Free All Life Stages Formula
And remember to monitor your puppy's growth rate and keep her lean and trim. Don't worry if your puppy is smaller than other pit bulls in her puppy class. This is not a race to see who can grow up the fastest. By making sure your puppy reaches her full adult size slowly and gradually without sudden growth spurts, you can drastically reduce the risk of skeletal disorders that can lead to a lifetime of problems.