The Best Dog Food For Puppies

The foundation for a healthy life

The 30-Second Review

Puppies need more protein and fat than what’s required for adult dogs. That’s why there are special formula guidelines set out by the AAFCO. We analyzed puppy food labels from the top brands, and interviewed veterinarians to find out what ingredients are the best for your growing pup. What we found: protein should always be the first ingredient, avoid corn, wheat, and soy (though grains like oats and quinoa are okay), and fillers, like sugars and added sauces, your developing puppy should do without.

Puppies need special food designed to support their rapid growth and development. Puppy food is more calorie-dense than adult food, with higher levels of protein and fat (A minimum of 22 percent protein and 8 percent fat for puppies, compared to the 18 percent protein and 5 percent fat minimum required for adult dogs.)

Fortunately, puppy food is regulated like all other commercial dog foods. The American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets standards for nutrition requirements, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures safety. All puppy foods on the market must meet these baseline requirements, but that doesn’t mean they’re all equally wholesome.

To ensure your pup grows up healthy and strong, providing them the right food with the right ingredients is the best first step — and just like with all dog food, that means being diligent about what’s actually in it.

Our Top Picks for the Best Dog Food For Puppies

Orijen Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food Guaranteed analysis: Crude protein (38% min.), Crude fat (20% min.), Crude fiber (6% max.), Moisture (12% max.)

First 10 ingredients: Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, yellowtail flounder, whole eggs, whole atlantic mackerel, chicken liver, turkey liver, chicken heart, turkey heart, and whole atlantic herring

The Honest Kitchen Embark Dehydrated Dog Food Guaranteed analysis: Crude protein (29% min.), Crude fat (18% min.), Crude fiber (9.6% max.), Moisture (7.8% max.)

First 10 ingredients: Turkey, organic flaxseed, potatoes, celery, spinach, carrots, organic coconut, apples, organic kelp, and eggs

AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Formula Puppy Dry Dog Food Guaranteed analysis: Crude protein (26% min.), Crude fat (16% min.), Crude fiber (4% max.), Moisture (10% max.)

First 10 ingredients: Chicken meal, ground whole brown rice, ground whole white rice, chicken fat, oat bran, rice bran, avocado, flaxseed, tomato pomace, and alfalfa meal

Horizon Legacy Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food Guaranteed analysis: Crude protein (36% min.), Crude fat (18% min.), Crude fiber (3.5% max.), Moisture (9% max.)

First 10 ingredients: Chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, peas, pea starch, chicken fat, salmon meal, pea fiber, flaxseed, and egg product

Did You Know?

Puppies transition to adult food at about one year of age.

Typically you keep your dog on puppy formula until they’re about a year old. At that point, their nutritional needs change to fit those of an adult dog. But don’t swap foods out abruptly. Go slowly to ensure that your puppy takes well to the new food, and doesn’t display signs of allergies (such as itchy skin and paws or poor digestion). Experts recommend starting with 75 percent of the puppy food mixed with 25 percent of the new adult food. Gradually increase the proportion of adult food over the course of a week; by day 3, it should be 50/50, and by day 6, it should be 90-100 percent adult dog food.

Number of Feedings Per Day

Age

Daily Feedings

Notes

6-12 weeks

4

By 9-10 weeks, large breeds should be fed un-moistened dry food; small breeds by 12-13 weeks.

3-6 months

3

Continue 4 feedings until body type matures (no more puppy potbelly!); usually, 12 weeks.

6-12 months

2

Decrease small breeds at 7-9 months and large breeds at 12-14 months; usually, after spaying or neutering.

After 1 year

2

Switch to adult formula

Don’t forget about dog treats when assessing your puppy’s diet.

Puppies love treats, and they’re certainly helpful in training. But all of those little bites and snacks can add up to quite a few calories. Experts recommend that treats only make up about 10 percent of your dog’s diet. If you’re doing some heavy-duty training, you might want to pull back on the amount you’re dishing up at mealtime.

Bigger breed puppies need special food.

If your puppy is going to weigh more than 50 pounds as an adult, you should look for special large-breed puppy foods. Large breeds include popular dogs like German shepherds, Labradors, and golden retrievers. These breeds can develop hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other joint disorders when growing. Diets formulated for large-breed puppies contain ratios of proteins and calcium that help moderate rapid bone growth that can cause future health problems. Give your big pup these foods until the end of their growth period, which can be as much as 18 months in “giant” breed dogs like Great Danes. Consult your vet for specific guidelines for your puppy.

Take Action

Watch your dog’s cues. There are four signs of health when assessing the quality of your puppy’s food says Dr. Mona Radheshwar, a Seattle veterinarian. After feeding your dog a new food, pay attention. You’ll know it’s a good choice for your pup if “your dog likes its food, it has great hair and skin, firm, regular bowel movements, and a good body condition score, as deemed by your vet,” says Radheshwar. If your dog doesn’t fit some or all of these criteria, talk to your vet about trying a new food. Switching the protein source can be a good start, as well trying a limited-ingredient food.