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Bringing a puppy into your home is a joyful and life-changing process. An important first step in preparing for your new puppy’s arrival lies in the food you choose to feed him. An essential foundation of your puppy’s health is feeding him the best possible dog food from the start.
Just as adult and senior dogs need specific food for various stages of life, puppies require certain vitamins and nutrients to help them grow up healthy and happy, setting the stage for a full, productive future.
Puppies have need of high nutritional and caloric values in their food. As such, your puppy should consume food that contains twice the amount of daily dietary requirements as found in an adult dog food.
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Puppies grow up quickly, especially in the main areas that need the right nutrition to develop and operate efficiently: the immune system, internal organs, bones, joints, and muscles.
The right puppy food has between 21 - 30% protein, has a high-fat content to supply energy and has the vitamins and minerals necessary to give your pup a leg up on growing up.
There are so many options for dog foods that it can be overwhelming. Where is a new puppy owner to begin?
In order to know what food is best for your puppy, you should become familiar with the various types of food on the market and what nutrition, if any, those foods offer.:
Here are three main dry dog food categories
- Super premium foods are higher priced, but the tradeoff is that the food will be of superior quality, have an appropriate nutritional density, and be easily digestible for your pup’s little stomach. Puppies won’t need to eat as much of this food due to its nutritionally appropriate content. Orijen and Wellness brands are examples of super premium food.
- Premium name brand foods do not offer the same level of high-quality nutrition as super premium foods do, but the nutrition provided in this standard of food is still good.
Premium name brand foods are often found in pet stores and supermarkets and are slightly less expensive than the super premium varieties. Castor & Pollux, Pedigree, and Natural Balance brands are examples of premium name brand foods.
- Store brand generic foods may be a cheaper option. They often claim to have nutritional benefits equal to that of super premium foods but at a lower price. In this way, a 16 lb. bag of store brand generic food may be $10.00 while a 4 lb. bag of super premium costs $12.00.
But the truth is store brand generic foods contain cheap ingredients and fillers that make digestibility harder for your puppy. The nutritional value is minuscule and not advisable for growing puppies. A good example of store brand generic foods are Alpo, Purina Natural, and Walmart’s Ol’ Roy foods.
The food you give your puppy needs to have the right amount of vitamins and minerals to help your pup grow up right.
Here are the ingredients to look for in puppy food:
- Natural preservatives or no preservatives at all. Puppy food that contains natural preservatives have added natural substances such as plant extracts, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Those preservatives are acceptable, but so is food that doesn’t contain preservatives at all.
- Whole meat (“human grade”). The phrase “human grade” refers to a finished pet food product that is edible and approved for human consumption. Whole meat that is human grade has gone through a more thorough, rigorous inspection both regarding the food and the manufacturing plant, so you can rest assured that your puppy is eating food deemed good enough for people to eat.
- Whole grains. Whole grains in your puppy’s food means an addition of easily digestible fiber, energy, and complex carbohydrates. Aside from protein sources, whole grains are a vital component of your puppy’s diet.
- Identifiable animal-based proteins. Your puppy’s food should feature an identifiable meat protein source as the first ingredient listed on the back of the bag. Common animal-based protein sources are chicken, beef, lamb, and fish meal. Your puppy needs plenty of protein for proper growth and execution of critical body functions.
- Fats from clearly labeled source (chicken fat, safflower oil). Like protein, fat is necessary to include in your puppy’s diet, but it needs to come from easily identifiable and natural sources. Fats contain fatty acids, like Omega-3 and Omega-6, which are essential fats to help your puppy grow up strong and healthy.
- Fruits and vegetables. Look for fruits and vegetables on the label of your puppy’s food. The right fruits and vegetables will provide your pup with vital vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can improve all aspects of physical function and may help your dog ward off illnesses and diseases like cancer.
- Amino acids. Don’t make the mistake of looking for protein alone on the food label. Your pup needs food that contains the right amino acids, as they are the basic building blocks of protein. Keep an eye out for any of the following: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
- Chelates. Chelates are naturally occurring minerals from inorganic compounds that your pup needs to grow and maintain healthy structure and bones. Some of the most important chelates that your puppy requires are magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and phosphorous.
These ingredients provide no nutritional value to your puppy whatsoever. In fact, they may harm your puppy’s growth process and set the stage for future health issues. Any food you purchase for your puppy shouldn’t have any of these ingredients in it, for your puppy’s sake.
- Corn. This grain is one you want your puppy to avoid as corn is hard to digest and may also cause allergies. Corn is used as a low-cost filler in dog foods and is a sure sign that the food is not high quality. Avoid foods with corn as it provides little to no nutritional value.
- Wheat gluten. Gluten is the leftover residue from wheat grains that some dog food manufacturers use as a meat substitute. Wheat gluten, like other forms of gluten, is less nutritionally complete than meat-based proteins, and manufacturers of low-grade foods often add them as a “protein” reported on a food label to make the food look better than it is in reality.
- Meat meal. Meat meal is a catch-all term for ground up meat that has been cooked to remove its water content. It consists of animal waste materials, such as bones, hooves, and heads. Meat meal is synonymous with the terms by-products, by-product meal, or meat bone-meal, so avoid any dog food package that lists these terms.
- Rendered fat. Your puppy needs fat, but only the right kind. Rendered animal fat, also referred to as generic animal fat, means roadkill, dying or diseased livestock, and expired grocery meats. Steer clear of dog food with “rendered fat” on the label.
- Food dyes (Yellow 5 and 6, Blue 2, Red 40). Dyes are added to your pup’s food to make it look more appealing to you, even though your dog could care less about what his food looks like! The food dyes added to dog food are chemical additives --- some are even considered carcinogens --- that provide zero nutritional value and may cause serious health issues.
- Corn syrup. What your puppy doesn’t need in his food is any sugar, and that’s what corn syrup is: a sugar used to sweeten your pup’s dinner. Too much sugar will eventually help your puppy become an obese adult dog who may develop diabetes, hyperactivity, or behavioral changes.
- Cellulose. This structural carbohydrate is used in the production of building materials, such as lumber. Wood pulp and wood shavings have no place in your dog’s food, so avoid foods with cellulose listed as an ingredient.
- BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These two chemicals are highly dangerous for your puppy. BHA is a preservative linked to kidney damage. BHT is used to prevent food spoilage and is also connected to the development of cancer in both people and dogs.
- Ethoxyquin. A preservative commonly found in dog food, ethoxyquin was originally developed as a herbicide. The development of liver damage, cancer, blindness, leukemia, kidney damage, and immune system disorders are associated with this preservative.
- Propylene Glycol. This chemical is a common product used in antifreeze. Some pet food manufacturers use propylene glycol to prevent bacteria growth and reduce moisture in dog food. Unfortunately, this product prevents the growth of good bacteria that your pup needs to absorb and digest food. It also may lead to cancerous lesions in your dog’s intestines or cause intestinal blockages to occur.
- Synthetic Vitamin K3. Also known as menadione, synthetic Vitamin K3 is a substitute for natural Vitamin K often found in dog food. There are serious health concerns associated with menadione as it is classified as a toxin and may cause irreversible damage to the liver and other vital organs.
- Hydrochloric Acid. This acid is a corrosive agent used to modify gelatin and corn starch. It also serves as a pH adjuster and as an agent for the conversion of corn starch to syrup. Hydrochloric acid is not a natural substance and does not belong in your puppy’s meals.
Puppy owners have an overwhelming array of dog food choices. How do you know which foods are best? Which brands are most nutritional and reliable? Many companies claim to offer high quality food at the best cost, but not all foods are created equal, and not all can be the best.
We’re offering a recommended list of foods that can help you navigate the various available brands and foods to make the best food choice for your four-legged baby. Our ratings have been developed based on quality ingredients, brand reputation, and dog owners’ experiences.
Founded in 1970, Wellness has become a renowned name within the pet food market. As a pioneer in the holistic nutrition, the company focuses on providing food that is properly balanced in fats, carbohydrates, and protein and avoids filler materials that can cause allergies. Wellness tends to be amongst the pricier brand foods on the market, but you get the quality that you pay for.
Taste of the Wild is a leading brand in producing grain-free, highly digestible, and nutritionally balanced food, offering multiple types to meet a dog’s specific health needs. This company is known for its variety of natural protein sources, including egg for a healthy coat and skin.
Taste of the Wild emphasizes the connection between modern dog food and the instinctive nutritional needs of wild dogs. The company also includes essential antioxidants in all of its food offerings.
The Holistic Select company creates dog food with a unique digestive support system. This system includes probiotics, natural fiber, healthy proteins, vegetables, and fruits, amongst other nutritious ingredients.
The company prides itself on having quality standards that exceed government regulations.
Natural Balance has been operational for nearly thirty years with the mission of creating pet food buoyed by best nutritional practices and sound scientific principles.
This brand caters to a wide swath of dogs by offering a multitude of food formulas for different ages, breed, individual nutritional needs, and food sensitivities. Natural Balance offers high quality food at a somewhat lower price than other brands.
After the loss of Blue, their Airedale, to cancer, the Bailey family founded Blue Buffalo to develop dog food that was safe and nutritious for all canines. The Baileys developed the Life Protection Formula and championed their all-natural food featuring real chicken, fish, and lamb.
Blue Buffalo’s “Life Source Bits” are produced using a cold formed method. The formation of kibble does not detract from the nutritional value of the food, which is often damaged by high processing temperatures.
Castor & Pollux brand started because of the owners’ desire to find a better food for their rescued lab/pointer mix puppy. This brand’s food is certified organic and natural and made with USA products. Castor & Pollux prides itself on offering innovative choices of food which are healthy and safe for dogs.
Family owned since 1996, the Canidae company features dog food production in their Ethos Pet Nutrition lab in Texas. They strive to create the healthiest and safest food for dogs using scientific research and lab testing for ingredients.
Canidae offers Grain-Free Pure food options, nutritionally dense meats, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
A long established pet food company, Nutro’s mission is to provide clean food to dogs. They source non-GMO ingredients and avoid using by-products in any of their foods.
The focus at Nutro is to provide high quality protein and nutrient-rich food for your dog.
Dogs are often categorized by their size --- small, medium, and large --- and each size has its own nutritional needs.
That’s why most manufacturers produce foods that cater to the different physical and metabolic needs required by each dog size.
So in our guide, we have divided the top dry foods by these three sizes to help you find the most appropriate food for your growing pup.
Because of their stature, small breed puppies, which mature at under 20 lbs., require specific nutritional needs.
This size breed metabolizes food at a high rate and must be fed more frequently than larger breeds, three to four times daily as insufficient calories can cause growth deficiencies and serious health issues.
Puppy food for this group should contain between 23 - 28% protein and at least 15% fat for proper growth and development within the puppy’s first few months.
Remember that kibble size matters because smaller dogs have tinier mouths. Trying to consume large pieces of kibble can be frustrating and dangerous for these puppies. The foods below have kibble that is size-appropriate for little pups.
Small breed puppy food comparison chart
Deboned turkeyChicken meal,Oatmeal,Salmon meal
Deboned chicken,Chicken meal,Turkey meal,Chicken fat
Anchovy and Sardine meal,Chicken Fat,Chicken Meal
Chicken,Chicken meal,Whole brown rice,Lamb meal
Chicken,Brown rice,Oats,Chicken meal,Salmon meal
This Wellness puppy food offers clean proteins at appropriate levels, including salmon which supports brain health and development. Many fruits, vegetables, and fatty acids are included here as sources of essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
This food is free of artificial substances and by-products. With its small kibble sizes, this food is highly digestible for puppies. Wellness is an excellent food selection for puppies who are picky or who suffer from allergies.
Blue Buffalo offers a grain-free puppy food that relies on quality chicken and turkey for protein and flavor.
Fruits such as apples and blueberries and vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes provide puppies with the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants needed for a healthy start to life. Barley and oatmeal add to this food’s digestibility.
This food provides protein from chicken, anchovies, and sardines; the latter two ingredients provide critical omega-3 fatty acids necessary in a puppy’s diet and DHA for healthy brain and eye development.
With its unique digestive support system, this food offers small kibble pieces, and it’s easy for your little pup to chew and digest. The emphasis on probiotics and enzymes makes Holistic Select a solid nutritional choice for your puppy.
Nutro offers a small breed puppy food that covers all the necessary bases for proper puppy growth and development. With non-GMO chicken and lamb as the main protein sources, this puppy food has vegetables and fruits, as well as important amino acids.
These ingredients help promote healthy coat and skin, and they make digestion a painless process. Customers report that this food puts a bounce in their puppies’ steps.
Although it contains lower levels of protein and fat than some of the other food options here, this Natural Balance food is above the average nutritional needs a puppy requires, and it is often more affordable than the higher end options.
Chicken is the main protein source accompanied by salmon meal for healthy brain development. Rice and oats are used to ease the digestive process. This food is a good selection for puppies with allergies.
Puppies classified as medium breeds may grow up to be dogs weighing in anywhere from 21 to 50 lbs. They don’t require the specialization that small or large breed puppies do, but you still want to choose the right food for them. Nutritional requirements for medium breed foods are at least 22% protein and 10% fat.
Medium breed puppy food comparison chart
Bison,Lamb meal,Sweet potatoes,Egg
Chicken,Chicken meal,Oatmeal,Salmon meal
Deboned turkey,Turkey meal,Oatmeal,Brown rice
Duck meal,Ocean fish meal,Brown rice,Oats
Organic chicken,Chicken meal,Organic peas,Organic barley
This grain-free medium breed option features bison and lamb as main protein sources. Plenty of vegetables and fruits are here too as well as important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Taste of the Wild designs their food to closely imitate the diet of a wild dog, and customers report an increased energy level in their puppies, as well as healthier skin and coats. This food is a good selection for puppies with allergies.
Wellness is a good food choice for puppies because of its lack of artificial substances, additives, and by-products. All the bases are covered with this food which includes core vegetables and fruits for antioxidants and vitamins.
Chicken and salmon are primary protein sources for healthy brain growth and development, while oatmeal and potatoes help make this a food that is easy for your pup to digest.
This limited-ingredient puppy food offered by Blue Buffalo is perfect for puppies with sensitive stomachs, digestive issues, or allergies. Turkey is a protein that is easy on the stomach, and the addition of oatmeal and brown rice, simple carbohydrates, helps make Basics easy to digest. Customers note this is a great selection for dogs with specialized diets and severe food allergies.
Consumers rave over Canidae All Life Stages Dry Food, a versatile food that covers multiple life stages. Duck and ocean fish provide protein sources, while brown rice and oats make it a highly digestible food choice. Dogs love the flavor of the food, and the natural ingredients, like cranberries, lentils, and Vitamin A (beta-carotene), promote healthy body functions and eyesight.
Using only organic products in their food, Castor & Pollux emphasize the importance of free-range meat and the avoidance of corn, wheat, soy, and artificial preservatives. Omega-3 fatty acids are included to promote healthy coat and skin. The main protein is free-range organic chicken, and all products originate in the USA. This natural food is appropriate for puppies with or without allergy and digestive concerns.
Best Puppy Food for Large Breeds
Large breed puppies will end up weighing more than 51 pounds. The ideal large breed puppy foods are designed to allow them to develop accordingly. The food for this category of puppy should have less energy density to help them grow safely into their large frames. Large breed puppies should be fed two to three times a day.
Choosing the right food for your pup puts him on the path to a longer, healthier life. Look for foods that have low levels of phosphorous and calcium, protein between 23 - 25%, and fat between 12 - 15 %.
Large breed puppy food comparison chart
Deboned chicken,Whitefish,Chicken meal,Salmon meal
Chicken meal,Whole grain oatmeal,Whole grain sorghum
Lamb meal,Chicken meal,Anchovy and sardine meal,Duck,Oatmeal
Deboned chicken,Deboned turkey,Yellowtail flounder,Whole Atlantic Mackerel
Duck,Chicken meal,Chicken,Fish meal
This large breed food is highly rated and features larger kibble. Deboned chicken and chicken meal provide protein while whitefish and salmon add DHA to the food for healthy brain, bone, and eye development. An excellent range of fruits and vegetables can be found in this food as well. Wellness foods are free from by-products, fillers, corn, wheat, soy, artificial ingredients, and preservatives.
Farm-raised chicken is the primary source of protein in the Nutro Max large breed puppy food. Whole grains, like sorghum and oatmeal, are excellent sources of fiber and make this food a great choice for puppies with digestive concerns.
Nutro Max also includes high levels of EPA and DHA which aid in the proper development of the nervous system and brain and bone growth. Customers rave about the impact this food has had on puppies with allergies.
Offering a broad range of protein sources, Holistic Select has created a large and giant breed puppy food designed around its unique digestive health support system. This system includes probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, botanicals, and natural fibers. Holistic Select is an excellent choice for puppies with allergies or sensitive stomachs.
Orijen includes an outstanding list of proteins in its grain-free food. This food is a thoroughly well-rounded selection with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Although it is the priciest choice, Orijen gives you your money’s worth as all the ingredients in this food are necessary for your puppy to grow up gradually into his large frame while having a strong foundation in proper body functions.
In particular, Orijen provides an impressive array of proteins in this food, including chicken, turkey, flounder, mackerel, herring, and eggs. Although this food provides more protein than required, it contains high quality protein sources and low carbohydrates that make it an excellent food to help these dogs grow slowly.
Customers like the Fromm Family Foods selection because of its trustworthiness and top ingredients. A long-standing company entirely owned and managed by family, Fromm’s dog food products are respected for their high quality ingredients, including proteins like duck, chicken, lamb, and eggs. This food also contains probiotics as a digestive aid and salmon oil for healthy skin and coats.
When is it a good idea to feed your puppy wet food? Sometimes, based on health conditions or special circumstances, it's best for puppies to have wet food included in their diets. Wet foods are easier for puppies to swallow and chew, so it may be a viable choice for puppies who are fussy eaters.
A bowl of wet food has about half the calories of a bowl of dry food. Wet food is an option for puppies with weight issues because your pup will feel fuller sooner. The high moisture content of wet food alleviates dehydration and may prevent urinary tract infections. Canned puppy food is much higher in protein than dry food. Thus it is sufficient for dogs’ muscle development and energy levels.
On the other hand, wet food doesn’t clean teeth or massage gums the way dry kibble does. Make sure that you check and brush your dog’s teeth regularly if wet food is his main source of nutrition.
Wet puppy food comparison chart
Turkey,Chicken,Chicken broth,Chicken liver
Chicken,Duck broth,Duck,Dried egg whites
Lamb,Lamb liver,Pork liver,Chicken meal,Whitefish
This Blue Buffalo selection is grain-free with a high protein value modeled after the diet of the wolf. In keeping with that mission, Blue includes other healthy, holistic ingredients such as potatoes and oatmeal for easy digestion and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for a strong immune system and healthy skin and coat. This food is an excellent choice for dogs with allergies or sensitive stomachs.
Wellness offers its CORE grain-free formula with a blend of top proteins, botanicals, and nutritional supplements while including herring as a natural source of DHA for energy and healthy bone development. This food is also gluten-free, making it a safe alternative for puppies with food sensitivities.
Canidae touches on the basics important to growing puppies: quality protein sources and fat levels to help large breed puppies achieve and maintain their optimal weight. Chicken is the main protein with duck providing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This food is free of corn, soy, and wheat, as well as fillers and by-products. Customers like how easy the food is for their dogs to digest.
Holistic Select provides a hefty amount of protein in this grain-free food, sourced from lamb, pork, chicken, and whitefish. Excellent vegetables and fruits are added to the mix, providing a well-rounded canned food for large breed puppies. Additionally, Holistic Select includes chicory root extract for easy digestion and flaxseed as an omega-3 source for healthy skin and shiny fur.
Whole Earth Farms’ puppy recipe is value-priced but still provides an excellent, holistic food that covers your large breed puppy’s nutritional requirements. Protein-rich chicken leads the list of proteins in this food, combined with antioxidant fruits like blueberries, and herbs like rosemary and thyme. This delicious stew will appeal to puppies.
The number of times you feed your puppy will be related to each stage of puppyhood.
- 6 - 12 weeks. Puppies are growing at this point and need a diet specially formulated to give them the nutrition they need for optimum development. Four feedings a day will be enough to meet nutritional requirements. Large breed puppies can eat unmoistened dry food around 9 - 10 weeks, while smaller breeds can do so at 12 weeks.
- 3 - 6 months. Feedings can be reduced during this time frame from four to three feedings a day. At this point, puppies should begin to lose their rounded belly and become leaner.
- 6 - 12 months. Puppies should be fed twice daily. After spaying or neutering, switch your puppy from puppy food to adult maintenance food. Small breeds should make this switch between 7 - 9 months; larger breeds can switch after 12 months.
- After age 1: Feed your adult dog two half-portions a day.
|6 -12 weeks||7:30AM; 11:30AM||3:00PM||6:00PM|
|3 - 6 months||7:30AM||12:00PM||5:00PM|
|6- 12 months||7:30AM||X||4:30PM|
Having a puppy in your life will bring great joy and a significant amount of responsibility. Choosing the right food for your puppy so that he grows up healthy and strong is an obligation a good owner must carefully consider.
Puppies should be given food based upon their breed size so they are exposed to the nutrients and vitamins they need for the proper development of body functions, bones, and muscles.
Take cues from your puppy when you give him a new food: if he likes the taste,
has healthy bowel movements, and excellent coat and skin condition, then that food works well for your pup. Healthy food is an investment for life, and your puppy is definitely worth that investment!