You aren’t the first person to purchase or adopt a brand-new puppy only to go cross-eyed while looking at the myriad food options available.
But don’t despair – selecting a high-quality puppy food is not as hard as it initially seems. By considering a few simple criteria, you can pick a great food for your growing (and adorable) puppy.
Some new owners are surprised to learn that puppies require a different type of food than adult dogs do.
Many likely wonder if puppies truly require a different type of food, or if the entire idea is just a marketing ploy designed to increase the sales numbers of dog food manufacturers. But be sure: Puppies have specific nutritional needs, which differ markedly from those of adults.
Consider, for example, that dogs grow most rapidly while they are young. In fact, most of a dog’s growth occurs during the first year of life (although many breeds continue to grow until reaching about 3 years of age). This rapid growth requires a great deal of resources – more than it requires to maintain an adult.
Accordingly, to ensure your puppy reaches her full growth potential and develops a strong bone structure, you must offer her a diet specifically formulated for young, growing dogs.
Feeding your puppy a bowl of adult dog food in a pinch is unlikely to cause any serious health problems, but it is very important that you do not do so as a matter of practice – the long-term risks are simply too great.
Besides, adult foods are likely to upset your pup’s tummy, which isn’t good for her nor the human trying to housebreak her.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends two different nutritional profiles for dog foods; one set of recommendations applies to adult dogs, while the other applies to growing puppies and reproductively active females.
Among other differences, growing puppies require more protein and amino acids than the adults do, as well as more fat, calcium and phosphorus. Specifically, at least 22% of a puppy food’s calories should come from protein, while protein should only provide about 18% of the calories in an adult dog’s food.
Many puppy foods provide even more protein, as 22% protein is only the minimum daily requirements needed to keep a puppy healthy. More (within reason) is even better for growing pups! Accordingly, most common puppy foods draw about 30% of their calories from protein.
Additionally, most high-quality puppy foods are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. Some even include immune-system-boosting antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids to ensure your new puppy’s brain develops properly.
New owners are often unsure how much food to give their new puppy at mealtime. Do you fill up her bowl? Just let her eat as much as she wants? Some owners even make the mistake of leaving a bowl of food available at all times (called ad libitum or on-demand feeding).
In most cases, you should just follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging. These puppy feeding recommendations usually fall within the veterinary-recommended range, although they are occasionally so broad that they are useless. For example, a given food may advise providing your dog with 2 to 4 ½ cups of food per day. As you can see, the high-end of this range provides more than double the calories of the low-end recommendation, so that’s really not a helpful range.
Discuss your pup’s caloric needs with your veterinarian, but you can figure out a ballpark figure by applying a slightly complex formula, if you like.
It is usually advisable to provide your puppy’s food in three relatively small meals, spread throughout the day. This will help keep your little pup’s tummy full, which will prevent her from over-indulging at dinner time and also help her avoid intestinal troubles.
Once your dog has reached about 80% – 90% of her adult size, you can cut back to twice-daily feedings (although each meal will consist of relatively more food to ensure she still gets the calories she needs). Additionally, you can transition her to a diet formulated for adults at this time. Just be sure to do so gradually, to avoid stressing her digestive system.
A number of characteristics can help you distinguish the differences between foods of various qualities – no doubt you only want the best for your pup!
Some dog food manufacturers try to fish with a big net, and market foods designed to be suitable for puppies and adults. To do so in accordance with the AAFCO’s labelling requirements, such foods need only demonstrate that they meet the nutritional requirements for puppies and adults.
But because the nutritional requirements of foods designed for growing dogs exceed those required for adults, these foods are essentially puppy food. It is therefore perfectly acceptable to offer “all life stages” foods to young puppies.
However, problems with such foods may manifest in adult dogs, who may not need the higher protein and fat content that characterizes puppy foods. Some adult dogs – particularly those with high caloric needs – may be able to tolerate such rich food on a daily basis, but others will become overweight, and subject to problems like diabetes.
Dog foods are available in three different preparations. Wet food is typically (but not always) packaged in a can, semi-moist food is packaged in sealed plastic bags, and dry foods usually come in a wax-coated paper bag. Each type of food has its own pros and cons.
Pro Tip: Mix Wet & Dry For A Tasty Combo! Some owners like to mix a little wet food into their dog’s kibble to enjoy the financial and dental benefits of dry food, while allowing their dog to enjoy the tasty mix! Just be sure that both foods are suitable for your growing pup and you shouldn’t have any problems.
The following dry foods have been well-received by both puppies and their owners. Consider the various pros, cons, features, and price level and try to make the best decision for your puppy.
About: Merrick Grain Free Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food is packed full of chicken protein and industry-leading levels of Chondroitin and Glucosamine.
PROS: Even many picky puppies appear to find the food very tasty.
CONS: Some owners report that the kibble pieces were too small for their dog to eat easily.
Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Potatoes, Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Natural Pork Flavor, Potato Protein, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), Natural Chicken Flavor, Deboned Salmon, Apples, Blueberries, Yeast Culture, Organic Alfalfa, Flaxseed Oil, Potassium Chloride, Salmon Oil, Salt, Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate), Choline Chloride, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product.
About: Taste of the Wild Grain-Free Puppy Food is a nutritionally balanced kibble, available in two flavors: High Prairie, which contains bison and venison, and Pacific Stream, which is made from a variety of fish species.
PROS: Many owners report their dogs have more energy and a shinier coat after eating Taste of the Wild for a short time. Additionally, most dogs appear to digest the food well.
CONS: Although the vast majority of owners report that their dogs find Taste of the Wild to be quite delicious, some dogs do not like the taste of the venison and bison formulation.
Buffalo, lamb meal, sweet potatoes, egg product, pea protein, peas, potatoes, canola oil, tomato pomace, roasted bison, roasted venison, beef, flaxseed, potato fiber, natural flavor, ocean fish meal, salmon oil (a source of DHA), salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, yucca schidigera extract, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus reuteri fermentation product, vitamin E supplement, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D supplement, folic acid.
About: Purina Pro Plan Shredded Blend Puppy Food is a premium puppy food, available at a very reasonable price point. This food is produced in several different formulations, called “platforms” by the manufacturer, such as “Savor,” “Sport” and “Focus.”
PROS: Most owners report that their puppies like the food’s taste and texture, and that their pups digest the food with no problem.
CONS: Some customers report that the food becomes stale before the bag is finished, but this is unlikely to be a problem for medium- or large-puppies.
Chicken, Brewers Rice, Poultry By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat Preserved with Mixed-Tocopherols, Soybean Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Corn, Corn Germ Meal, Dried Egg Product, Animal Digest, Brewers Dried Yeast, Glycerin, Fish Meal, Fish Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Zinc Proteinate, Vitamin E Supplement, Manganese Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Sulfur, Niacin, Copper Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Garlic Oil, Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Vitamin D-3 Supplement, Calcium Iodate, Biotin, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (Source of Vitamin K Activity), Sodium Selenite. C-4489.
About: Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development is a scientifically formulated puppy food, fortified with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to give your pooch the best chance at a long, healthy life.
PROS: Dogs find the food tasty, while owners appreciate that the food contains high-quality ingredients, without having a high-end price tag. Many owners have tried the food at the urging of the vet or the shelter or breeder who provided them with the dog.
CONS: Contains both chicken and pork products, which may cause problems if your dog develops an allergy to either of these ingredients.
Chicken Meal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Pork Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Corn, Whole Grain Sorghum, Corn Gluten Meal, Pork Fat, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dried Beet Pulp, Fish Oil, Flaxseed, Lactic Acid, Pork Flavor, Soybean Oil, Dicalcium Phosphate, Iodized Salt, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Oat Fiber, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Natural Flavors, Beta-Carotene, Apples, Broccoli, Carrots, Cranberries, Green Peas .
About: Iams Proactive Health Puppy Food is a chicken- and corn-based kibble, fortified with a variety of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, because breeds of different sizes require kibble of different sizes, Iams Proactive Health Puppy Food is available in two different formulations – one for small and medium breeds and another for large breeds.
PROS: Many dog owners love the affordability of this food, and most dogs seem to think it tastes great!
CONS: Chicken is the first listed ingredient, which is good from a protein point-of-view, but this is not a good selection for dogs battling food allergies.
Chicken, Corn Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Flavor, Chicken Fat (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Chicken Meal, Fish Oil (preserved with mixed Tocopherols, a source of Vitamin E), Dried Egg Product, Potassium Chloride, Brewers Dried Yeast, Salt, Choline Chloride, Fructooligosaccharides, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Carbonate), Calcium Carbonate, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement (source of vitamin B2), Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid), DL-Methionine, L-Lysine Monohydrochloride, Rosemary Extract.
Consider the following wet foods for your pup. Remember that wet food is difficult to store once opened, so try to avoid purchasing cans that are larger than your pup can finish in one sitting.
About: Canidae Life Stages Large Breed Puppies is a chicken, duck and lentil-based formula, specifically designed to provide the nutrition large breed puppies require.
PROS: The formula, which is designed with large-breeds in mind, helps to ensure a smooth growth rate and the protection of vulnerable joints.
CONS: Some owners express sticker shock from this food’s price, but high-quality ingredients come at a cost.
Chicken, duck broth, duck, dried egg whites, brown rice, pea flour, lentils, cassia gum, carrageenan, potassium chloride, guar gum, salt, tricalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, dicalcium phosphate, Minerals (zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, calcium carbonate, copper proteinate, manganese proteinate, sodium selenite, calcium iodate), Vitamins (vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, niacin supplement, calcium pantothenate, biotin, vitamin A supplement, riboflavin supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid).
About: Royal Canin Puppy Development Food comes fortified with a variety of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants to ensure your growing puppy gets all of the nutrition she needs.
PROS: Royal Canin Puppy Development Food not only provides the nutrition your growing puppy needs, it also promotes a healthy, shiny coat.
CONS: You may need your veterinarian’s consent or recommendation to order the product.
Water sufficient for processing, chicken, chicken liver, pork by-products, salmon, corn meal, rice flour, brewers rice, powdered cellulose, natural flavors, guar gum, sodium silico aluminate, sodium tripolyphosphate, carrageenan, potassium chloride, tricalcium phosphate, casein, taurine, fish oil, hydrolyzed yeast, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), biotin, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), niacin supplement, D-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement], trace minerals [zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, zinc proteinate, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, sodium selenite, calcium iodate], choline chloride, marigold extract (Tagetes erecta L.).
About: Natural Balance Original Ultra Whole Body Health Wet Food is a gluten-free food, designed to nourish your puppy into adulthood.
PROS: Most dog owners report that their dog loves the taste of the product. Many like to use this food as a supplement to their puppies dry food, which improves the palatability of most bland kibbles.
CONS: Like most wet foods, it is difficult to store once opened. However, Natural Balance Original Ultra Whole Body Wet Food is available in both 6- and 13-ounce sizes, so consider purchasing the smaller size for smaller puppies.
Chicken Broth, Chicken, Chicken Liver, Duck, Salmon, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Dried Peas, Carrots, Potatoes, Canola Oil, Dried Egg, Menhaden Oil, Dicalcium Phosphate, Oat Fiber, Pea Fiber, Tomato Pomace, Vitamins (Choline Chloride, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid), Guar Gum, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Salt, DL-Methionine, Carrageenan, L-Tryptophan, Colostrum, Cranberries, Blueberries, Spinach, Dried Kelp, L-Lysine, Yucca Schidigera Extract.
About: Merrick Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Wet Puppy Food is chicken, turkey and salmon-based food, fortified with vitamins and minerals to ensure complete nutrition.
PROS: Dogs love the taste, while owners love the nutrition provided by all-natural ingredients.
CONS: Although not a terribly common complaint, some owners report that this food has upset their dog’s stomach. However, this can usually be avoided by switching from your dog’s old food to the new food gradually, by mixing increasing amounts of the new food into the old food.
Chicken, Chicken Broth, Turkey, Chicken Liver, Salmon, Peas, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Dried Egg Product, Natural Flavor, Yeast Culture, Organic Alfalfa, Blueberries, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, D-calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate), Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Glucoheptonate, Sodium Selenite), Choline Chloride, Olive Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Cinnamon, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
About: Hill’s Science Diet Chicken & Barley Entrée for Puppies is a designed to promote healthy digestion and an ideal body weight.
PROS: Even many picky pups find Hill’s Science Diet Chicken and Barley Entrée delicious.
CONS: A few owners have reported that this food has made their dog produce off-colored stools. Some owners were also disappointed that this premium product does not have an easy-open tab; a can opener is required for opening the product.
Water, Chicken, Whole Grain Corn, Cracked Pearled Barley, Soybean Meal, Pork Liver, Fish Oil, Dicalcium Phosphate, Iodized Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid), Choline Chloride, Iron Oxide color, minerals (Zinc Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate), Beta-Carotene.
Any of these listed foods should help your tiny little puppy grow into a healthy adult. Just be sure to select a product well suited for your puppy’s specific needs. Look over the ingredients and find the one that works best for you.
Want the best for your pup? Consider reading our guides on:
We’d love to hear your experiences with these puppy foods. Let us know how they’ve worked out for you in the comments below.
Last update on 2018-07-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Ben is a lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, trees, outdoor recreation, science and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com or @FootstepsForest on Twitter.
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