Best Dog Food for Puppies

In the first few months of a dog’s life, it has a lot of growing to do. Bones, muscles, joints, and even the brain are all rapidly changing as your dog gets bigger. All that growing, coupled with boundless puppy energy, means young dogs have distinct nutritional needs that might not be met with regular dog food.

To ensure your puppy gets the right start in life, you’ve got to pick food that has wholesome, healthy ingredients, and the right balance of fat, protein, and other essential nutrients. Puppy food needs to be more calorie-dense than adult dog food and, because puppies can be more sensitive to digestive irritants and toxins, it should not contain fillers or other questionable items.

What We Learned

Can a puppy eat all-stages food?

Dog food that’s made for all stages meets all of the nutritional needs for an adult dog, but may not have the right balance of fats, proteins, and nutrients that a puppy needs to develop strong teeth, bones, and brain function.

Because puppies are growing quickly, they have higher calorie demands than older dogs. This is one of the key differences between puppy food and adult or even “all stages” foods. Puppies also need a lot of protein, which is why it’s especially important that puppy food has real protein sources, and not grains and fillers.

Adult dog food also tends to be higher in carbohydrates than puppy food, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, even with all of the energy that your young dog displays. For these reasons, it’s best to opt for a dog food especially formulated for puppies if your dog is 1 year old or younger.

What makes a great puppy food?

When shopping for the best puppy food, you’ll also want to look for formulas that use wholesome ingredients: meat products and no preservatives, additives, or added color.

Puppies are especially sensitive to added ingredients like colors and artificial preservatives, so choosing a puppy food that’s made with real, high-quality ingredients is important. Our recommended brands use meat as the first ingredient, and leave out fillers like corn. When in doubt, you can check in with our ingredients lists and advisories to see which products should never be in your dog’s food, which are controversial, and which are recommended.

Additionally, high-quality puppy food needs to offer a healthy balance of nutrients. Though we think of calcium as something that all young animals need, the fact is that too much calcium can actually harm puppies, especially larger breeds. For that reason, we looked for puppy foods that offered a healthy balance of essential nutrients like calcium and healthy fats from wholesome sources.

One More Consideration

Because puppy food is so high in calories, overfeeding is a distinct concern. Just because your puppy needs a lot of calories doesn’t mean he or she needs all of the calories, so pet owners should be strict about how much food — whether it’s canned, kibble, or otherwise — and how many treats their puppy gets. Even if you choose the highest-quality puppy food on the market, if your puppy is overweight or obese, their health might be at risk.

The Bottom Line

Puppies have special needs to ensure that they grow up strong and hearty. Providing them the right food is the best first step toward a long and healthy life — and just like with all dog food, that means being diligent when it comes to what’s actually in it.

As a general rule, look for foods that are grain-free, those that list meat as the primary ingredient, and those that are specially formulated for the first year of your dog’s life.

Depending on the breed and size of your dog, he or she may have different nutritional needs (too much calcium, for example, can be harmful for larger dogs), so read up on which nutrients to prioritize. But above all else, make sure you always consult your veterinarian. Your vet can recommend foods that offer the right balance of protein and calories — then it’s up to you to check those ingredients.

Top Picks

Orijen Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

The Honest Kitchen Embark Dehydrated Dog Food

AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Formula Puppy Dry Dog Food

Horizon Legacy Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food