All responsible owners want the best for their pets – especially when they’re young and in their first stages of development.
Trying to pick the best puppy food on the market can quickly become overwhelming even for the most experienced dog lovers.
There’s just so many puppy food brands, types, and ingredients out there, so many rules to follow.
We’ve tried to make it quick and easy for you!
This post will discuss the best dog food for puppies. Consider it essential reading if you have just bought or adopted a puppy – nutrition is extremely important for young dogs, and you definitely want to get it right.
We’ll go through what the best food choices for puppies are and then we’ll recommend the large breed puppy food on the market.
Top Picks for Best Dry Puppy Food *
Note: Above ratings are based on our experience with the product and/or expert opinions. Click the link above to read best puppy food reviews 2016 and see the current prices on Amazon.
What to Feed Puppies?
While the answer to this question may be obvious (puppy food, duh) it’s actually a lot more complicated than it sounds.
Feeding your puppy through the first year of their life is actually very important to their development.
That’s why you need to stick to a strict puppy feeding schedule and make as little deviation from that as possible.
The stages are roughly these:
- 6 – 12 weeks. Puppies that are just growing up need to be fed special puppy food as adult food will not give them all the nutrients they need. Feed your growing pup four times a day. If your puppy is small, keep to the unmoistened dry food for 12-13 weeks, for large pups – 9-10 weeks.
- 3 – 6 months. At this point, your pup will stop being a pudgy ball of cuteness and start actually turning into a dog. Decrease food from four to three servings per day when you see your pup’s body starting to mature.
- 6 – 12 months. It’s time to switch to an adult feeding schedule – twice a day. After your pup has been spayed or neutered, switch over to adult food. If in doubt, leave on puppy food for longer. Small pups can swap at 7-9 months, large breeds – at 12, 13 and sometimes even 14 months.
- Post – 12 months. Feed two half-portions of adult food every day.
I would advise to make a puppy feeding chart at home and stick it to your fridge – that way you can follow the process easily and watch your puppy go through all the stages.
How Much to Feed a Puppy?
Just like every child is different to another, no two puppies are alike.
That’s why there’s no distinct formula on how much dog food for puppies is right to give.
Feeding a puppy is an exercise in observation. Determine portion sizes by your dog’s metabolism and size.
A good trick is also following the amount of food that your dog leaves in their bowl.
If you see lots of leftovers or that your pup is being fidgety with their food, it’s time to reduce the portion. Don’t worry – if they’re hungry, they’ll let you know!
Always err on the side of safety and avoid overeating. Some puppy breeds are very prone to being overweight.
Labradors, for example, may always create an impression that they’re hungry; that’s because they don’t have any indicator in their body to what’s a healthy amount of food.
Obesity in puppies will guarantee health problems as an adult. It will be very much a trial-and-error process but over time you will certainly know what your puppy’s body needs to be healthy.
If unsure, consult your vet!
A good way to check whether you’re not underfeeding your puppy is to check just above their waist to see whether their ribs are protruding.
How Often to Feed a Puppy?
As we detailed above, every puppy age comes with its different feeding requirements.
Food for puppies should only be introduced after the six-week mark – before that it’s pertinent that the puppies nurse from their mum.
Just like babies, puppies will need small, multiple meals throughout their first weeks.
All those meals should strictly stick to recommended puppy food in order for the puppy to get all the essential nutrients they need.
To encourage good eating habits, always make sure that the meals your puppy has come at regular times in similar amounts. Don’t leave food down for more than 10 or 20 minutes.
If practicing treat-based training, always time this around meals.
For example, don’t do a big training session (that involves lots of treats) just before meal time because you risk overfeeding and/or the puppy losing interest in their food. Regulate meal times and amounts around the treat training sessions.
Feed your puppy around three to four times a day. Keep portions low to ensure that there’s no dramatic rises and drops in your puppy’s energy.
Half a cup of the best food for puppies out there should be more than enough for your pup.
What Makes Puppy Food Different to Adult Dog Foods?
Even though it might be obvious, we still thought we should address this because it is very important to pick the right nutrition for your pet.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best dog food.
If you’re after the best food for puppies, then a bag of generic dog food that reads “dog food for all life stages” is definitely not for you.
You might think that you’ll be saving up money by going for the all life stages option rather than the puppy-specific dog food, however, the only thing that will be suffering will be your puppy’s nutrition.
There are a few essential differences between adult dog food and puppy dog food. The first, and perhaps most important, is the high protein content in dog food for puppies.
When shopping, always look for high protein puppy food. The best packs of puppy food normally have a high-quality protein as their first ingredient, something like chicken, salmon, beef, duck or lamb.
A good number to look for is 30% protein. That way you can ensure your pup gets all the nutrients they need for a healthy development and good growth.
Other good ingredients to look for are healthy, natural fats, carbohydrates, and natural ingredients.
Puppies benefit a lot from all these nutrients and grow steadily into healthy, active adult dogs.
If you keep feeding your adult dog their puppy food, it will cause for them to become overweight because they don’t need all these nutrients now that their bodies have stopped growing.
With some breeds, continuing to feed good puppy food into adulthood can cause serious conditions of the bones and the skeleton.
With puppies, adult food simply won’t be enough. If a puppy doesn’t get all their necessary nutrients, fats, protein and carbs, that might lead to development problems and malnourishment.
As an added benefit, the pieces in puppy food are smaller, denser and a lot easier for small mouths to chew and small bellies to digest.
What you should take away from this is that it’s always recommended to buy the food suitable for your dog’s life stage.
Things to Remember When Buying Puppy Food
When you’re out there hunting for the best large breed puppy food, make sure to stick to these simple rules.
Don’t be a penny-pincher.
While price obviously isn’t the most important thing to look out for, don’t be tempted to go for the cheaper alternative.
While feeding a puppy may well be costly sometimes, there’s no doubt that the top puppy food brands are normally somewhere in the middle-to-top of the price spectrum.
Also, don’t buy “all ages dog food” thinking you’ll save a few bucks – see above section for a detailed explanation of why.
When you find the best puppy food brands, stick with it. It’s always best to stick with one variety of puppy food and not change it around too much.
Avoid adding supplements as well, unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet.
Never switch foods abruptly. When you see your puppy starting to grow, you might be tempted to immediately transition them to adult dog food.
People mostly do this out of fear that puppy food will start harming their now-adult dog. But all changes need to be introduced gradually! We’ll talk about switching foods a bit later on.
Always read the ingredients before buying food. You would do that for your own food, so why not for your dog’s food?
If you can’t immediately recognize the name of an ingredient in your puppy’s food, or if it sounds like something you’re more likely to find in laundry detergent, then it’s best to avoid it.
How To Choose the Best Dog Food for Puppies?
It’s important to know what the best dry puppy food brand for your puppy is.
Normally, the way to tell this is to judge the size of your pup.
Small breeds, meaning pups that won’t grow over 20 lbs, have very small mouths and stomachs, so they can only digest a little bit of food at a time!
They normally need food that has more calories and fat than a pup of a larger breed would.
When buying food for your small breed pup, consider that the best puppy food for small breeds normally has about 15% fat.
Combining this with good canned puppy food is also very beneficial as smaller breed pups tend to get dehydrated very quickly.
Medium breeds that normally weigh between 20 and 50 lbs need food that is about 25% protein and 8-10% fat.
Those pups won’t need any extra liquid or extra small kibbles because they’ll be able to chew decently sized pieces of food.
Large and giant breeds, expected to grow over 50 lbs, need to avoid too much protein and minerals to avoid developing bone and joint problems.
There’s good large puppy food out there to buy. The good numbers for big puppies are 20-23% protein, 12-15% fat, and 1.5% calcium.
Finally, before buying some food for your pup, do some research and see if the manufacturer complies with the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the National Research Council.
Ingredients to Avoid in Puppy Food
When buying food for puppies, always make sure to read the ingredients list.
We can’t emphasize this enough!
Here’s a cheat sheet of ingredients to run far, far away from if you see them on the back of your puppy food.
By-products. Meat and vegetable alike – they’re all equally bad.
Another one to ring the alarm bells is anything like “unidentified meat.”
To get all the protein they need, your puppy’s dog food needs to contain whole meat products like chicken or salmon, and not by-products (that come from the chicken and salmon’s bones and insides).
Corn syrup. Derived from the corn but stripped of all its nutritional content, corn syrup is pretty much pure sugar.
It’s sometimes used by dog food manufacturers to cut on costs of production, which also means it’s a lot more certain to find it in cheap puppy food.
It causes hyperactivity, obesity, and diabetes, so avoid it when you can.
Grain fillers. While not inherently bad, some puppy food brands are very much only made out of corn and wheat.
The best puppy dog food will always include a whole animal protein, and the grains should only come after, in small qualities.
Chemicals. Follow the simple rule: if you can’t read it, don’t buy it.
Avoid any pesticides and growth hormones, as well as artificial ingredients, BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin and Hydrochloric Acid.
Some puppy foods even use Propylene Glycol, which is the main ingredient in antifreeze!
The Best Dog Food for Puppies to Gain Weight
Still on the lookout for the best puppy food brand out there?
The market can be very big and confusing, so we’ve picked out a few of our favorites to help you out. If you’ve tried any of these, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below!
Wellness’ products are a go-to for a lot of dog and puppy owners.
Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Dry Dog Food for Puppies is top rated puppy food and has a lot of satisfied, happy customers, and for good reason.
It has two great protein ingredients – chicken and turkey.
It’s also 100% grain free, which really puts the focus on the protein as the essential nutrient in this Wellness product.
This puppy food is also jam-packed with other healthy ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and probiotics.
There’s also the added benefit of fish and flax omega blend and healthy fats to ensure a healthy coat and skin, as well as DHA for healthy brain development.
If you’re after the best dog food for puppies out there, you don’t need to go any further than this nutritious and healthy puppy food.
A nutrient-packed decision for the more cost-effective puppy households…
The Taste of The Wild Grain-Free Dry Dog Food for Puppies provides a great flavor and healthy deliciousness for even the fussiest of eaters among puppies.
The main protein in this dog food is fish, but you can get bison or venison as well – providing for an excellent taste, texture and all the nutritional value as well.
There’s not even a sign of any by-products, as Taste of the Wild combines the fish with a selection of high-quality vegetables, mixed for the best results.
We’re also very impressed with the percentages on this dog food. It has a 1.4% of calcium, which is pretty much spot on the recommended quantity for a healthy puppy. It’s also 28% protein and 17% fat.
Because all of its ingredients are so natural, it’s also good for puppies with sensitive stomachs.
Being the celebrity that it is in the world of dog food, Blue Buffalo hardly needs any introduction.
The Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Puppy Food is a very popular choice among first-time puppy owners, because it just ticks all the boxes for good puppy food!
The main protein in this puppy food is tasty, nutritious chicken.
There’s no trace of chicken by-products, corn, wheat, soy or corn syrup. The protein is the leading star here, and that’s always a good sign in puppy food.
This puppy food also contains BLUE’s special and exclusive LifeSource Bits.
It’s a special recipe by Blue Buffalo, which is a mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s found in most of their puppy and adult dog food, and it’s a well-kept company secret as well.
To add to that, the Blue Buffalo also boasts a good quantity of DHA and calcium.
As the name suggests, this puppy formula is aimed at large breed puppies.
Orijen Large Breed Puppy Formula is a great natural resource to ensure that your large puppy grows into its size comfortable and healthy.
The main protein in the Orijen large puppy formula can be either chicken or turkey.
There’s also a bit of egg added in there as well, which does a great job to boost up the fat levels and nutritious content.
All the meat and poultry products are free-range and locally sourced, so Orijen is as fresh as you can get.
Like all other Orijen products, this puppy formula is completely wheat, corn, by-product and corn syrup free.
While a bit on the costly side, the Orijen Large Breed Puppy Formula is also packed with useful antioxidants and vitamins to help regulate loose stool and contribute to a shiny, smooth coat.
When do I Stop Feeding My Dog Puppy Food
As much as your puppy might love his protein-rich nutrient-packed food, all things must come to an end.
As they grow into an adult dog, you will have to start thinking about switching them to adult food.
If you’re sticking with the puppy feeding schedule that we established earlier, this should start somewhere around the pup’s first year.
However, that isn’t a set age, as some large breeds can continue growing until they’re two years old. Some might take less than a year.
A good rule of thumb is that when you see that your puppy has finished growing in size, it’s now time to switch them to adult dry dog food.
We’ll talk about making that switch later. Roughly, it’s been determined that smaller dogs mature faster so they might need adult food at 10-12 months.
Medium sized dogs normally make the switch on the one-year mark, and large and giant dogs can sometimes take to a year and a half or two years.
The thing to do is to keep observing your dog. You’ll see the signs that they need to be switched over if they start gaining more weight but not in muscle mass.
What’s the Best Way to Transition to New Dog Food?
Now, switching to adult food can’t happen overnight.
As much as we would like to, we can’t just immediately change over the foods and keep on as if nothing’s happened.
While the process is different for every dog, we recommend a seven-day leeway between the best food for puppies and adult food.
On the first day of the switch, keep 80% of the puppy food and add 20% of the adult food. On the next day make the ration 40/60.
Has your dog reacted badly to the new food? If yes, consider changing brands or call your vet to see if there’s any problems. If not, go 50/50.
On the next day, spread it across 60% adult food and 40% puppy food. After that, change the dosage to 80/20 and finally on the last day serve 100% of the new food.
Congratulations! Your dog has just made the switch into adult food.
The key with switching your ex-puppy-now-adult pooch into adult food is patience and observation.
During all times of this switch, you should keep watch over your dog’s behavior and stool and see if there are any problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
That’s a lot of puppy food information, and you might be feeling a bit light-headed at this point.
Here’s a quick Q&A to answer any questions you might have but if you have any more, pop them in the comments below?
1. When should a puppy start eating solid food?
It’s different for every puppy. Small breeds might start at 10 months, medium breeds normally start when they’re a year old, and large breeds can take up to two years.
Just keep an eye on your pup and see how they’re developing muscle-wise. When they’ve stopped growing and just started gaining weight, you know it’s high time to make the switch.
2. How do I select a high-quality puppy food?
There’s a few do-s and don’t-s about selecting the best puppy food. Avoid the bad ingredients, all listed above.
Don’t try to spend less money and put your puppy’s health at risk. Better known brands are normally much healthier than obscure ones.
Also, always make sure to feed your puppy proper puppy food and avoid “all ages dog food.”
3. How do I know if my puppy is eating the right amount? How much to feed a puppy?
Just keep a careful eye on your dog’s weight.
A good way to test this is to see if their ribs are poking out just above their waist. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to breeds with naturally protruding ribs, like Greyhounds!)
You should notice any excess fat as well. At five months of age, your puppy should be looking lean and grow slower. If not, consult your vet.
4. What about organic puppy food?
There’s currently no official legislation that defines “organic” pet food of any kind.
While some labels might promote themselves as “organic”, they would be going by a definition of their own rather than an official one from the government.
More concrete legislation is expected to be released soon. Until then, just use common sense and keep reading the ingredients. If you see anything dodgy, avoid.
5. What foods are dangerous for my puppy?
You should generally keep your puppy away from any human food at all time. While some human food treats are okay for older dogs, puppies have very different digestions and nutritional needs.
6. Should a puppy have drinking water available at all times?
Puppies do get dehydrated quite quickly, however leaving a water bowl out at all times isn’t recommended.
Not for any other reason but it might just make toilet training very difficult, as puppies don’t know when to stop drinking water.
Give your puppy water at scheduled times of the day then immediately take them out for a toilet break.
This wraps up our information galore on the best puppy food on the market!
Everyone wants to have a puppy – they’re cute, fluffy and make our friends say ‘Aww!’ a lot.
However, with a cute puppy come great responsibilities and picking the best food for puppies to suit your furry friend’s needs is perhaps the most important one of all.
If you’re still feeling lost on which puppy food brands to go for, try one of our recommendations above.
Always read the ingredients label. And remember – if you do think that you’ve done anything wrong in any way, the best person to consult for health advice is your vet!
The bottom line is, don’t feed your puppy anything you wouldn’t eat yourself and you will definitely make the right choice in terms of puppy food!
Make sure to follow our streamlined guidance and before too long, your puppy will have grown into a healthy, active and loving adult dog!
Also, did you check our guide for the best bark collars? If your dog is barking excessively, then be sure to check it. You’ll thank me later.
*Disclaimer: Our best puppy food reviews 2016 are based mostly on our expertise and the experts/veterinarians we consulted with and the information provided by the manufacturers. We do test many products, but it’s not possible to test them all. As such, please remember the above recommendations are our opinions, and before using any treatment, please consult with a local veterinarian.