The nutritional needs of Labrador retrievers change throughout their lives, based on growth, activity levels and general health. Labs are known for being voracious eaters who will over-indulge if allowed. You need to monitor their food intake throughout their lives -- pups that overeat at any growth stage have the potential to develop health problems, including obesity.
Labrador puppies should receive mother's milk exclusively for the first four weeks of life. No other supplement is necessary during this time unless a pup is failing to thrive, in which a vet should be consulted before providing supplemental feeding. A mother begins weaning her pups at 4 weeks. They can transition to a commercial puppy food designed specifically for large breeds that has 25 to 30 percent protein. Pups should be fed several small meals a day following instructions on the manufacturer’s packaging.
Labs grow significantly between 8 weeks and 1 year of age. Because of this rapid growth, they require a high-quality puppy food formulated for large-breed dogs. This helps ensure the pup does not grow too quickly, which can lead to bone and joint problems later in life. Lab puppies will eat as much as you give them, so monitor food intake and don't make food available continuously.
Lab puppies can be transitioned to a large-breed adult formula dog food at 1 year of age. If your dog is being trained as a hunting dog, he will require more food than when he was a puppy, particularly if he is expending significant energy in the field. Likewise, an adult female used for breeding purposes requires additional food and possibly prenatal supplements. Consult a vet for more information if you are thinking about breeding your dog.
Potential Health Problems
Labradors are prone to hip, elbow and joint problems as they age, and an overweight dog is more susceptible to these ailments. Maintaining a healthy weight and ensuring your dog gets plenty of exercise helps reduce the potential for these problems. Labs are also susceptible to a condition called gastric dilatation and torsion, sometimes referred to as bloat. Adults often eat so quickly that it causes a gaseous buildup in their intestines that has the potential to be fatal. Reduce the potential for this by feeding your dog food that has been soaked in water or use a feeding bowl that has a raised center section that slows the eating process.