The Best Dog Food for Puppies
The Best Dog Food For Puppies
Our Favorite Dry Dog Food For Puppies:
- Farmina: N&D Ancestral Grain Canine
- Farmina: N&D Grain Free Canine
- Fromm: Gold Puppy
- Fromm: Gold Large Breed Puppy
- Fromm: Heartland Gold Puppy
- Fromm: Heartland Gold Large Breed Puppy
- Grandma Mae's: Country Naturals
- Horizon: Legacy Puppy
- I And Love And You: Naked Essentials Puppy
- Nutrience: Subzero Puppy
- Orijen: Dry Puppy
- Orijen: Dry Large Breed Puppy
Our Favorite Wet Dog Food For Puppies:
- Authority Tender Blends: Puppies
- Blue Buffalo: Blue Freedom Grain Free
- Blue Buffalo: Blue Wilderness
- Blue Buffalo: Blue Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe
- Blue Buffalo: BLUE Homestyle Recipe
- Canidae: All Life Stages Large Breed Puppy
- Canidae: Grain Free Pure Foundations For Puppies
- Canidae: Under The Sun Grain Free for Puppies
- Chicken Soup for the Soul: Puppy
- Dogswell: Grain Free Puppy
- Evanger's: Heritage Classic Puppy
- Halo: Holistic Grain Free for Puppies
- K9: Natural
- Wellness: Complete Health Just for Puppy
- 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:
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.
How We Found the Best Dog Food For Puppies
We looked at every dog food formula on the US market branded exclusively for puppies. In order to be considered, we required an available ingredients list and nutritional info for each product, as well as a functioning manufacturer website — we want to know exactly what we’re feeding our best friend, and how to contact the manufacturer with any questions. Unlike the thousands of formulas we examined for Best Dog Food, the field for best puppy formulas is considerably smaller — we started with 260 wet and dry puppy formulas.
First, we cut anything toxic to dogs, like garlic or avocado meal.
The fact that garlic, avocado, onion, walnuts, grapes, and chocolate are toxic to dogs is old news to a lot of dog parents. So it may be a surprise to learn that these ingredients can still turn up in your puppy’s food. In our initial pull of 260 puppy foods, we found that 30 contained avocado meal or garlic.
Although puppies may like the flavor or texture these ingredients add, we don’t think it’s worth the risk. Dogs should never eat parts of avocado that may be contaminated with the pit, which contains persin, a toxin fatal to dogs. Along with onions and other members of the Allium plant genus, garlic is toxic to both dogs and cats. Garlic can immediately make dogs sick if consumed in large quantities and can cause anemia when eaten in small amounts over time. We figured a little extra flavor or texture wasn’t worth risking our puppy’s health, so we cut any formulas that included these ingredients.
Next, we focused on quality whole proteins, like beef, chicken, and fish.
There's debate among dog lovers and scientists about whether dogs are omnivores or pure carnivores. But most pet nutritionists and veterinarians agree that dogs’ diets should be meat-heavy. “Dogs are somewhat omnivorous so their food does not need to be 100% meat-based,” Dr. Gary Richter of Montclair Veterinary Hospital told us. “That said, the protein source in the food should be 100% meat-based. While dogs are equipped to handle a certain amount of carbohydrates in their diet, they should not be a majority ingredient.” This is because meat is more complete than plants when it comes to dogs’ nutritional needs— meat contains more amino acids and nutrients critical to healthy growth, like fatty acids, iron, and zinc. Plant proteins are less complete in the sense that they lack one or more of the 10 essential amino acids puppies need as protein building blocks for growth. And meat-based iron — called heme iron — is more readily absorbed into the bloodstream than plant-based iron. That’s not to say that plants are useless to dogs and are just wasting space in the ingredients list, just that the foundations of your dog’s diet should be meat-based.
When it comes to meat, there’s a difference between whole meats and processed meats: Nutritional quality or completeness can’t be guaranteed for processed meats. High temperatures and pressures can destroy nutrients during processing, but manufacturers aren’t required to be transparent about their meat processing methods (we’ll go into this further below). For that reason, whole, named meats like chicken or beef are more likely to be nutritionally rich than processed meat meals or plant proteins. FDA guidelines require ingredients to be listed by weight, with the heaviest ingredients first. Since the first ingredient is ultimately the main source of the formula’s protein, we eliminated all formulas without a named, whole protein listed first, like beef, chicken, or fish.
Then did away with mystery “meats” and “meals.”
A lot of manufacturers use meat meal as a supplement in their formulas because it’s cheaper than whole meat but can still have a high nutritional profile. But that doesn’t mean it’s a miracle ingredient for your dog. Manufacturers aren’t required to be transparent about their rendering processes, and the nutritional quality of meat meal varies from brand to brand, and even from batch to batch.
Meat meal is basically just concentrated meat, which isn’t inherently bad. It’s manufactured in a process called rendering, in which whole meats are processed under high temperatures and high pressures to separate out fat and moisture from dried protein solids. The remaining solids make up the meat meal. The FDA notes can contain higher percentages of protein, nutrients, and minerals than whole meats due to its concentrated nature. But the higher the temperature and pressure, the more likely that enzymes and proteins are destroyed, so the quality of meat meal is highly variable.
However, our biggest concern with meat meal is that the animal parts used to make it are often undisclosed, which can mean low quality ingredients. In fact, the AAFCO allows meat meal to be sourced from “mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description.” This means the meat meal in your pup’s new food may contain anything from restaurant grease to expired supermarket meat and diseased livestock.
We think our puppy deserves better than throwaway mystery meat scraps. So we got rid of formulas that use unnamed meats of any kind. These mystery meat ingredients go by vague names like “meat meal,” “meat and bone meal,” or “byproduct meal,” which we don’t want to risk feeding to our puppy. However, cutting every formula that uses any kind of meat meal in the ingredient list would’ve left only very expensive options, and as we previously mentioned, meat meal isn’t inherently bad. It’s just the mystery meal we’re against. We cut brands with any unnamed meat meal, but kept those with identifiable meals, like “duck meal” or “salmon meal.”
We also cut formulas that depend on plant-based proteins as fillers.
Another strategy manufacturers use to avoid expensive whole meats is to rely on other carb-heavy, plant-based proteins, such as peas and corn, to bulk up their protein count. Plant-based proteins aren’t necessarily bad for your dog in and of themselves, but they shouldn’t constitute a majority ingredient in your dog’s diet. Whole meat proteins are high-protein and low-carb, and since dogs are wired to thrive on high-protein, high-fat, low-carb diets, formulas that are primarily plant-based are often a red flag that the manufacturer is not producing a top-notch meal.
Determining the amount of protein from meat versus plant sources is tricky: manufacturers are only required to list total protein percentages, not ingredient breakdowns, and most dog food formulas will incorporate plant-based ingredients of some kind. But the bulk of your pup’s nutrition should still come from meat-based protein. So referring again to the FDA’s guidelines for prioritizing ingredients lists by weight, we cut any formulas that listed a non-meat filler as the second ingredient.
And got rid of anything with “natural flavor.”
“Natural flavor” sounds like it would be just that — a natural, unprocessed flavor. In reality, natural flavor often refers to the use of “digests” — concentrated flavors created by treating unknown materials with heat, enzymes, and acids. ”Natural flavors” won’t make your dog sick immediately, but the cumulative effect of eating them at every meal for years hasn’t been researched, notes Steve Pelletier, pet food expert at PetNet.io.
If the recipe is made with lots of meat and fruits/vegetables, why would there be a need for added flavor?
According to Pelletier, “Natural flavoring isn’t a great ingredient. According to current labeling rules, dog food companies are allowed to consider these natural flavors proprietary, and are not required to disclose exactly what is used to make the flavoring nor what chemical processes are involved.” These “natural flavors” might be fine in small amounts, but with no nutritional value and unknown components, we decided that the best puppy food shouldn’t need them.
We required consistent quality in product line formulas.
After cutting for iffy ingredients, we did one last scan for quality — we wanted to make sure our top picks didn’t just excel in their exceptional formulas, but also did well from a buyer’s perspective. Some of the brands whose formulas we recommend, also have formulas that didn’t make our cuts. We wanted to be sure that there wouldn’t be any confusion among similar packaging while shopping: if the formulas that passed our quality criteria were part of a line, we made sure the entire line had passed as well before recommending them as top picks. That way, you won’t need to double-check formula names and ingredient lists every time you grab your familiar-looking package of puppy chow or try to swap out a different flavor in the same food. Formulas whose entire lines didn’t completely pass are still great on their own, so we’ve included them in our runners-up. Just make sure you’re not confusing them with their similarly-packaged sibling formulas that didn’t pass.
Then we did a final check for availability.
Availability is also a critical issue for many dog parents: The very best food won’t do your puppy much good if you can’t find anywhere near you to buy it. We scoped out PetsMart, Petco, Chewy, Amazon, and manufacturers’ websites to see how easily (or not) we could purchase our top puppy picks online and in-store. Some, like Farmina: N&D Pumpkin Grain Free, are only available on the manufacturer’s website — this doesn’t mean it’s a worse food than Orijen Dry Dog Food Puppy, which is available on Chewy, Amazon, and PetCo in addition to the manufacturer’s website — just that Farmina might be a bit harder to find. We’ve included these less-accessible formulas as runners-up below, but know that our top picks will be easier to find online and at large pet food retailers.
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.
Our Top Picks for the Best Wet Dog Food For Puppies
|Brand + Line||Formula||Main Protein Sources||Price per Ounce|
|Authority Tender Blends: Puppies||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.
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."