The Best Dog Food For Puppies

Editor's Note
  • April 30, 2018 - We’ve updated this review to include a recommendation for dog food meal delivery service. These companies ship minimally processed meat and veggie mixes directly to your door. Our favorite for puppies is NomNomNow, which offers different recipes plus portion sizes customized for your puppy.
  • December 19, 2017 - To keep up with new brands and changing formulas, we've completely revamped our puppy food review from 2016. We've also updated our methodology so that it's consistent with current nutrition research. Our new top picks feature the 17 best dog food brands for puppy-specific formulas that meet our criteria for safe and healthy ingredients.

Our Favorite Dry Dog Food For Puppies:

  1. Farmina: N&D Ancestral Grain Canine
  2. Farmina: N&D Grain Free Canine
  3. Fromm: Gold Puppy
  4. Fromm: Gold Large Breed Puppy
  5. Fromm: Heartland Gold Puppy
  6. Fromm: Heartland Gold Large Breed Puppy
  7. Grandma Mae's: Country Naturals
  8. Horizon: Legacy Puppy
  9. I And Love And You: Naked Essentials Puppy
  10. Nutrience: Subzero Puppy
  11. Orijen: Dry Puppy
  12. Orijen: Dry Large Breed Puppy

Our Favorite Wet Dog Food For Puppies:

  1. Authority: Immunity + DIgestive Health Puppy
  2. Blue Buffalo: Blue Freedom Grain Free
  3. Blue Buffalo: Blue Wilderness
  4. Blue Buffalo: Blue Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe
  5. Blue Buffalo: BLUE Homestyle Recipe
  6. Canidae: All Life Stages Large Breed Puppy
  7. Canidae: Grain Free Pure Foundations For Puppies
  8. Canidae: Under The Sun Grain Free for Puppies
  9. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Puppy
  10. Dogswell: Grain Free Puppy
  11. Evanger's: Heritage Classic Puppy
  12. Halo: Holistic Grain Free for Puppies
  13. K9: Natural
  14. PetGuard
  15. Wellness: Complete Health Just for Puppy
  16. Wellness: Core Puppy

Our Favorite Dog Food Meal Delivery Service

A fairly new option, meal delivery services offer a compromise between the minimal processing of raw food diets and the convenience of store-bought kibble. We explore them in-depth in a separate review, but our favorite for puppies is:

  1. NomNomNow

Compared to adult dogs, puppies have different nutritional needs. “Puppies need more energy per [pound] of body weight with plenty of minerals,” explained Dr. Lindsey Bullen of the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas. They also need more protein, fat, and iron than adult dogs, and carefully proportioned mineral ratios, to help them grow quickly and healthily. That’s why the best puppy food should be specifically formulated to ensure your new best friends grows up healthy.

What about “All Life Stages” formulas? The FDA considers dog foods labelled “All Life Stages” as nutritionally adequate for puppies, adults, nursing mothers, and senior dogs. However, what’s “adequate” for a 5-year-old Border Collie or a 12-year old Chihuahua is not nutritionally ideal for a 12-week-old German Shepherd. Ideally, puppies should stick to food specifically formulated for them.

Dr. Gary Richter of Montclair Veterinary Hospital told us that feeding your puppy food not formulated specifically for them can lead to an imbalance of minerals vs. calories. It’s important your puppy to eat the right amount of calories for a healthy weight, while getting all the nutrients and minerals he needs, from calcium and phosphorus for strong bones to vitamin A for healthy eyes and ears. This is important for all breeds, including small to medium sized dogs, like Dachshunds or Boxers, but is of particular concern for large or giant breeds, like Saint Bernards or Great Danes. Puppies need proper nutritional support for healthy growth respective to their expected adult size, which is why you’ll often see puppy foods labelled according to breed size. “If [large] dogs grow too fast too soon, they are at a greater risk for hip and elbow dysplasia when they get older,” Dr. Richter explains. “The goal is to limit the puppy’s growth rate when they are very young.” So large- and giant-breed puppies should be fed puppy food specifically formulated for large breeds, which will help prevent them growing too quickly, e.g. from excessive calcium or calories.

So whether your new puppy is destined to be 9 lbs or 90 lbs, it’s important their daily chow gives them all the nutrients their growing bodies need (without any unnecessary fillers or questionable ingredients they don’t). All of our top picks and runners-up adhere to the recommended minimums for puppy growth as set by the AAFCO and meet our rigorous standards for quality when it comes to safe and healthy ingredients.

Our Top Picks for the Best Dry Dog Food For Puppies

Brand + Line Formula Main Protein Sources Price per Pound
Farmina: N&D Ancestral Grain Canine All Chicken, Lamb, Herring $3.52 - $3.82
Farmina: N&D Grain Free Canine All Chicken $4.99
Fromm: Gold Puppy Duck, Chicken, Fish, Lamb $2.70
Fromm: Gold Large Breed Puppy Duck, Chicken, Fish, Lamb $2.63
Fromm: Heartland Gold Puppy Beef, Pork $2.83
Fromm: Heartland Gold Large Breed Puppy Beef, Pork $3.31
Grandma Mae's Country Naturals Formula for Puppies Chicken, Fish $2.87
Horizon: Legacy Puppy Chicken, Turkey $2.80
I And Love And You: Naked Essentials Puppy Chicken, Fish $2.75
Nutrience: Subzero Puppy Chicken, Turkey $2.86
Orijen: Dry Puppy Chicken, Turkey, Fish $3.24
Orijen: Dry Large Breed Puppy Chicken, Turkey, Fish $3.24

Runners-Up for the Best Dry Dog Food For Puppies

Farmina — N&D Pumpkin Grain Free: Can be purchased on the Farmina website. Approved formulas: all.

Performatrin — Puppy: Can be purchased online on PetValu and PetSolutions, and in-stores in Nova Scotia, Canada. Most of the line’s formulas didn’t pass our quality criteria. Approved formulas: Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula Dog Food, Puppy Large Breed Formula Dog Food, Puppy Small Breed Formula Dog Food.

Simply Nourish: Can be purchased online at PetSmart. Most of the line’s formulas didn’t pass our quality criteria. Approved formula: Simply Nourish Puppy Food - Natural, Chicken & Brown Rice.

Redpaw — X-Series Puppy: Can be purchased online at the Redpaw website and K9cuisine, and specialty pet stores nationwide. X-Series Puppy is Redpaw’s only puppy formula.

Our Top Picks for the Best Wet Dog Food For Puppies

Brand + Line Formula Main Protein Sources Price per Ounce
Authority: Immunity + Digestive Health Puppy Turkey Turkey $0.15
Blue Buffalo: Blue Freedom Grain Free Chicken Recipe for Puppies Chicken $0.17
Blue Buffalo: Blue Wilderness Turkey & Chicken Grill Turkey, Chicken $0.17
Blue Wilderness: Rocky Mountain Recipe Red Meat Recipe for Puppies Beef, Turkey, Lamb $0.20
Blue Buffalo: BLUE Homestyle Recipe Chicken Dinner with Garden Vegetables Chicken $0.16
Canidae: All Life Stages Large Breed Puppy Chicken, Duck and Lentils Formula Chicken, Duck $0.24
Canidae: Grain Free Pure Foundations for Puppies Chicken Chicken $0.31
Canidae: Under The Sun Grain Free for Puppies Chicken Formula Chicken $0.23
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Puppy Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Salmon $0.30
Dogswell Grain Free Puppy Premium Loaf Chicken Recipe Chicken $0.27
Evanger's: Heritage Classic Puppy Chicken, Beef, Fish $0.13
Halo: Holistic Grain Free for Puppies Chicken Recipe, Salmon Recipe Chicken, Salmon, Turkey $0.32
K9 Natural Beef and Hoki Can Beef $0.32
PetGuard Chicken & Vegetables Dinner for Puppies Chicken $0.19
Wellness: Complete Health Just for Puppy Chicken, Salmon $0.21
Wellness: Core Puppy Turkey, Chicken, Fish $0.23

Runners-Up for the Best Wet Dog Food For Puppies

4Health — Puppy: Can be purchased online at Tractor Supply Co. Most of the line’s formulas didn’t pass our quality criteria. Approved formula: Chicken and Rice Puppy Formula Dog Food.

Nutro — Puppy: Can be found at Amazon, Chewy, PetSmart, and specialty pet stores. Most of the line’s formulas didn’t pass. Approved formula: Puppy Wet Dog Food Tender Chicken and Oatmeal Recipe

Did You Know?

What’s in a name? Sometimes, gravy.

According to FDA labelling rules, wet dog foods can have a maximum moisture percentage of 78%. But if the words “stew,” “in sauce,” or “in gravy” are in the formula name, up to 87.5% moisture is allowed. We’ve covered other not-so-straightforward dog food labelling rules in our main Best Dog Food review.

Puppies younger than eight weeks should mainly consume their mother’s milk.

Veterinarians recommend that puppies remain with their mother to suckle milk for at least 8 weeks before they’re adopted out. Any earlier and they may suffer from nutritional or behavioral issues that stem from early separation. If your puppy has been separated from his mother due to irreversible circumstances, such as orphaning or maternal rejection, make sure to talk to your vet about how to properly provide care before feeding him dry or canned puppy food.

Dietary changes should occur gradually.

Like humans, dogs get used to certain foods. When their diets change, many develop upset stomachs or simply refuse to eat the food because of its unfamiliarity. If you plan on changing your dog’s diet, or even just switching up flavors, make the transition gradually by mixing the new food in with the old over the course of five to seven days to minimize the chances of any adverse reactions.

When should your puppy stop eating puppy food?

Once your puppy reaches 90% of their expected adult weight, they should switch to an adult diet. For most breeds, this happens at around 12 months. While smaller breeds may reach that point as fast as 9 months, larger breeds can take up to 2 years.

When, and how much, should you feed your puppy?

Dog food labels provide feeding suggestions for recommended daily food amounts based on your puppy’s ideal weight — follow the suggested serving size unless your vet says otherwise. Like nursing mothers, puppies generally need more calories and nutrients than adult dogs, but this doesn’t mean you need to feed him til he’s bursting. As a general rule of thumb, err on the side of feeding your puppy small, frequent meals: the Pet Food Manufacturing Association recommends feeding your puppy four small meals a day until he’s four months old, after which you can feed him three meals a day until he’s six months old. After he’s six months old, feed him two meals per day. If you’re liberal with treats because he’s so darn cute, make sure they don’t comprise more than 10% to your dog’s daily caloric intake. Be careful not to overfeed your puppy, which can cause weight issues that may develop into adult obesity.

What if your puppy leaves food in the bowl, or eats too quickly?

If your puppy leaves food behind every time, consider reducing the size of each meal and feeding him these smaller meals more frequently throughout the day — puppies’ small stomachs fare better on small, frequent meals. If you’re using wet food, Dr. Lindsey Bullen warns that it should never be left out for longer than 20-30 minutes, as “water creates the perfect environment for microbial growth.” Dry food should be discarded after sitting out for 12 hours, after which it can become stale.

If your dog eats too quickly, it may put them at risk for choking or developing digestive issues. Consider if he or she has had a history of competition around food — was their previous home a crowded shelter or foster home where they had to compete with other dogs to eat? To help reduce anxiety, try moving your dog’s food bowl to a quiet, stress-free space, where they won’t feel threatened to scarf down their food. If anxiety isn’t the issue, try giving your pup smaller meals more frequently to prevent choking, or purchasing a bowl specially designed to reduce your dog’s consumption speed.

If your puppy insists they’re still hungry after eating, consider talking to your vet to see if your pup is suffering from parasites or other illnesses that may account for the feeding frenzy, or to discuss a diet higher in protein and fiber that will help keep your dog fuller for longer.

What about raw food?

Your puppy hasn’t developed the immune strength needed to combat the bacteria that grows easily in raw food — Dr. Lindsey Bullen warns, “While feeding raw can be dangerous to canine and human health at any age, if one chooses to feed raw, at least wait until he has matured to adulthood."