You want to give your adorable little fur ball the most nutritious start possible. Here’s how to select the best food to meet the special needs of your puppy.

By Charyn Pfeuffer
August 24, 2020
Advertisement
Stefan Cristian Cioata / Getty

Walk down the pet food aisle and chances are you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dog food options. This is especially true for first-time puppy owners. You want to set your pup up for health and wellness success, but where do you begin?

We’ve asked top veterinarians and dog nutrition experts to weigh in on what pet parents should look for when choosing a food that’s actually good for their puppy. Here’s what they had to say.

How to Pick the Best Puppy Food

Puppies have unique nutrient requirements because they are growing so fast. “Always make sure that the puppy food you are purchasing is formulated for growth stages or all life stages,” Savannah Welna, Dogly Nutrition Advocate, says.

“Life stage is important for both dog food as well as what to find in puppy food, as puppies have a higher calorie count to support their growing bodies and higher energy levels," says Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, and founder of concierge practice, Animal Acupuncture. “Your puppy's food will also help to balance calcium and phosphorus to support their bone growth.”

“Growth sets the dog up for the rest of their life, so the highest quality food that is within reach is important,” Welna says.

What to Look for in High Quality Puppy Food

When choosing a food for your puppy, look for foods that have undergone AAFCO feeding trials. “This means they have been extensively researched under the guidance of veterinary nutritionists,” Barrack says. Calories are also important to consider. Your veterinarian can help you calculate your pet’s caloric needs.    

When It Comes to Nutrition, Breed Size Matters

Large and giant breed puppies also have different nutritional needs than other dogs. “Look at the label to ensure that the food meets growth requirements for large breed dogs,” Welna says. When it comes to commercial puppy foods, Gary Richter, MS, DVM, and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition says large breed puppies (those whose adult weight will be over 50 pounds) should be eating foods that are specifically labeled as “large breed puppy food.”

Likewise, toy breeds have different needs as well, so always choose a specialty dog food to support your puppy’s breed. “Additionally, the best puppy food for toy breeds will be smaller-sized kibbles which makes digestion easier,” Barrack says.

When to Switch to Adult Dog Food

Puppies don't have to be fully grown to switch to adult dog food, but you should wait until their growth curve significantly flattens out. Here’s the timeline Richter suggests: 

  • Small breeds: 7-8 months
  • Large breeds: 8-10 months
  • Giant breeds: 10-12 months 

“Again, these numbers are not written in stone,” he says. “They are a starting point to customize nutrition for an individual.”

Debunking a Common Puppy Food Myth

You may have heard or read that excess protein in a dog’s diet causes growth deformities.“This is a myth,” Welna says. “Overfeeding foods or providing too many minerals (which can be present in meat, not protein, which may be where the confusion arises) can contribute to growth issues. Minerals are not unique to meat and are often added to the food as a supplement. This has nothing to do with protein.”

Puppy Foods to Try

Here are some of the best puppy foods to discuss with your veterinarian: 

Wet Puppy Foods to Try

  • AvoDerm Natural Wet Puppy Food
  • Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Plate Chicken
  • Wellness Complete Health Just for Puppy

Dry Puppy Foods to Try

  • Blue Buffalo Life Protection Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice
  • Iams Proactive Health Smart Puppy
  • Nature’s Logic Grain-free Canine Duck & Salmon Meal Feast
  • Orijen Dry Puppy Food
  • Wellness Complete Health Dry Puppy Food