Your puppy has a lot of growing up to do in a short period of time, and it all starts with their food. A balanced diet will give your dog everything it needs to develop strong bones, muscles, and habits that will last a lifetime. Here, you’ll find a guide for feeding your puppy, so you can help them put their best paw forward. We’ve also created a printable PDF version for you to reference as your puppy grows.
What kind of food should I feed my puppy?
Start with nutrient-rich puppy food
The closer you can match your puppy’s food to their specific nutritional needs, the healthier they’ll be. To start, they need puppy food, not adult dog food.
“Puppies have an increased requirement of all nutrients compared to adult dogs; this is due to their active growth. Puppies need more energy per pound of body weight with plenty of minerals.”
Dr. Lindsey Bullen
Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas
To grow up quick and healthy, puppies need more protein, fat, and iron than adult dogs, plus carefully proportioned mineral ratios. That’s why the best puppy food should be specifically formulated to ensure your new best friend grows up healthy.
What about “all life stages” formulas?
By the FDA’s standards, dog foods labeled “all life stages” are considered nutritionally adequate for puppies, adults, nursing mothers, and senior dogs. However, the vets we spoke to still recommended sticking to puppy food because it has the exact mix of nutrients for their life stage.
Look for formulas tailored to your puppy’s breed size
Our favorite puppy food comes in two sizes: One for small and mini breeds like Dachshunds and Beagles, and one for medium to large-sized dogs like Boxers and Golden Retrievers. Some companies even make puppy food for giant breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards, but the large size formulas will work fine too.
“These foods have specifically balanced energy, protein, and calcium levels. The goal is to limit the puppy’s growth rate when they are very young.”
Dr. Gary Richter
Montclair Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Gary warned us that, if these dogs grow too fast too soon, they are at a greater risk for hip and elbow dysplasia when they get older. Since smaller breeds do not grow as fast and do not weigh as much, they don’t have these same concerns.
So, whether your new puppy will grow up to be 10 pounds or 100, their food needs to be produced with their unique needs in mind.
Use the back-of-the-box feeding guidelines
All puppy food should come with feeding suggestions on the package for daily food amounts based on your puppy’s ideal adult weight. Unless your vet specifically tells you otherwise, start here. If you’re not sure how much your pup will weigh as an adult, ask your vet for an estimate.
How often should I feed my puppy?
In general, puppies should be fed small, frequent meals, spaced evenly throughout the day. As your dog reaches six months old, you can cut this down to two even meals per day.
How can I tell if my dog is a healthy weight?
When it comes to your puppy’s feeding plan, watch the dog, not the dish. Every dog is different and might require a slightly different diet than the package recommends. Here are some things to look for that will help you tell if your dog is at a healthy weight, based on recommendations from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
Very thin: More than 20% below body weight
- Ribs, spine, and hip bones are prominently visible
- Lack of muscle growth
- Can’t feel any fat under skin
- Strong hourglass shape when viewed from above
Thin: 10–20% below ideal weight
- Ribs, spine, and hip bones are visible
- Waist and abdominal tuck
- Small amount of fat cover under skin
- Less accentuated hourglass shape
Ideal: Within 10% of ideal weight
- Ribs, spine, and hip bones easily felt with slight fat cover
- Abdominal tuck seen from the side
- Small amount of fat can be felt
Overweight: 10–15% above ideal weight
- Ribs, spine, and hip bones are hard to feel through layer of fat
- No abdominal tuck
- Difficult to see contours of waist
- Layer of fat on belly and at base of tail
Obese: More than 15% over ideal weight
- Can’t feel ribs, spine, and hip bones through thick fat cover
- Can’t see the waist, fat hangs from the abdomen
- Heavy pads of fat at base of tail and lower back
5 puppy feeding tips to remember
Don’t: Buy too much food at once
Most expiration dates on dry dog food bags will tell you that the food will stay good for up to a year in the future. This is a little deceiving: It refers to how long the food will last if the bag stays unopened. Once you break that seal, it will only stay fresh for about 4–6 weeks. To avoid having puppy food going bad, only buy as much food as you think your puppy will go through in a month, and seal the bag shut when it’s not feeding time.
Don’t: Give your puppy human food
As tempting as it might be, it’s never a good idea to give your puppy people food. For one, normalizing human food increases the likelihood that they’ll get their paws on something toxic at some point in their lives. It also teaches them to that they might get a treat when the human plates come out, so they’ll learn to beg any time someone in the house is eating.
Do: Set a regular schedule
Puppies love a good routine. Knowing what to expect will help them transition to their new home, and nothing is more important to this than reliable meals. Try to feed them at the same time every day in the same amounts, and don’t leave food out for more than 10–20 minutes. This will set up good eating habits that will last their whole lives — and help immensely with potty training.
Do: Transition foods gradually
Because puppies eat the same diet day after day, it can be a real shock to their systems when their diet is changed without warning. If you want to switch over to a new flavor (or if your pup’s ready to make the jump to adult dog food), do it as gradually as possible. Start by mixing the new food in with the old over the course of a week. If your dog shows adverse reactions like loss of appetite or diarrhea, decrease the ratio of new to old food until they adapt to it.
Do: Switch to adult food around one year
When your puppy reaches 90% of their expected adult weight, it’s time to switch to an adult diet. For most breeds, this happens right around their first birthday, although small breeds can hit this mark around 9 months, while it can take as much as two years for “giant” breeds like Saint Bernards.
Dog food reviews
We’ve been covering dog food for years. If you’re looking for specific brand recommendations, check out the articles below: