You probably have a long checklist of items to pick up for your new puppy. There’s the crate, the bed, and of course, tons of toys.
One thing you may not be putting a lot of thought into is which food to buy. But choosing the right food for your new puppy now will help them grow into a strong healthy adult dog.
Puppy nutrition is incredibly important, even more so than the nutrition an adult dog receives. If you want to make sure your pup gets started out on the right paw, make sure you keep reading for a crash course in puppy food 101 and our picks of the best puppy foods on the market.
Does Your Pup Need Puppy Specific Diet?
The first thing you’ll notice when you go to pick your puppy’s food out at the pet supply store is how many choices there are. There’s adult foods, senior foods, puppy foods, large breed puppy foods, all-life stages foods…
There are almost too many choices!
While it may seem like a good idea to just pick an adult or all life stages food so that you don’t have to switch your puppy’s food when they’re full-grown, that may not be the best way to meet your puppy’s nutritional needs.
Of course, the best food to feed a puppy varies depending on the size and breed of dog you have.
Large Breed Puppy Nutritional Needs
When it comes to puppy nutritional needs, never are they more important than when you are talking about a large breed pup. Large breed dogs grow a lot over a long period of time.
If they grow to fast, their bones won’t develop right, something that can lead to long term health conditions like osteochondrosis and hip dysplasia, according to AKC.org. In order to give your big pup a chance at a healthy adulthood, you have to provide the right, quality nutrition now.
The two most important factors that go into how fast or slow a dog grows is the number of calories and the amount of calcium they consume. The best puppy food for growth that is consistent and regulated is large-breed specific puppy food.
Large-breed puppy foods are formulated to have lower calorie densities than typical puppy food and the right amount of calcium for optimal bone development.
If your dog will be over 70lbs at maturity, you should absolutely feed a large breed specific puppy food.
Medium Breed Puppy Nutritional Needs
Most puppy food you see on the shelves was designed for dogs of average size.
Like all puppies, medium breed puppies need more calories than adults. But they need fewer calories than small breeds and more than large breeds.
They can also tolerate higher amounts of calcium than giant breed puppies.
The best puppy food for medium breeds has high protein, high fat, and quality ingredients. Larger medium breeds will do well on foods tailored to medium and large breed puppies, while average and smaller medium breeds will do fine on traditional puppy food.
A quality all-life stages food can work well for medium breed puppies as long you keep a close eye on their weight and adjust their portions up or down as needed to maintain a healthy body condition.
Small Breed Puppy Nutritional Needs
Compared to larger breeds, small dogs grow relatively little and reach maturity very quickly. The average small breed dog will be fully grown by about nine months of age.
Since they have less growing to do, small breeds aren’t at risk of many of the orthopedic diseases that large breeds are. They do, however, suffer from a condition called hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, occurs in small breeds when they don’t have enough food energy in their blood to maintain their bodily functions. And since smaller dogs, especially puppies, have limited fat stores, they are unable to avoid this condition without proper caloric intake.
The best puppy foods for small breeds are very calorie-dense, allowing your pup to get enough energy from the food they consume, even with such a tiny stomach. Many quality small breed specific all-life stages diets contain enough calories to support the growth of small breed puppies, just make sure you are feeding your tiny pup multiple times a day to further reduce the chances of hypoglycemia.
How Much Food Do Puppies Need?
Puppies need about twice as many calories as adults of the same breed, according to Whole Dog Journal. That means you can expect your puppy to eat a lot of food.
But remember, puppy food is already more calorie-dense than adult diets, so feeding them twice as much food as an adult isn’t the way to go, even if your labrador puppy tries to convince you otherwise. In fact, puppies who are obese can have lasting health problems, especially if they are a larger breed dog.
When deciding how much to feed your puppy, use the amount listed on the back of the food bag as a starting point. But, make sure you continuously adjust the amount based on your dog’s body condition.
In most healthy puppies, you should be able to easily feel their last three ribs without pushing down, but you shouldn’t be able to see their spine or hip bones. Puppies should lose their potbelly around 12 weeks of age and should have a more hour-glass look after that.
You’ll need to adjust the amount you feed if your dog looks too fat or too skinny. You’ll also have to adjust it as they grow.
Make sure to talk with your vet if you have any questions about your dog’s weight or food needs. This video is also very helpful in learning how to assess a puppy’s body condition score.
How to Choose a Quality Puppy Food
Once you’ve determined what type of puppy food would be best for your puppy based on their projected adult size, it’s time to start shopping. Of course, just because a food meets the minimal requirements to be labeled a “large-breed puppy food” or a normal “puppy food,” doesn’t make it quality.
You also need to look at the specific ingredients and macronutrients in the food to make sure it will actually be providing your dog with nutrients they can use, not just nutrients that are detectable with lab equipment.
The first thing you’ll want to look for is a food that is high in protein. All puppies need protein to grow strong muscles and stay energized.
The typical puppy diet has around 30% protein, though large breed formulas will have slightly less. But what is almost more important than the amount, is where that protein comes from.
Dogs’ systems were made to process meat, and because of that, they are more able to use nutrients that come from meat ingredients. The best nutritious puppy food has multiple named meat ingredients like chicken, lamb, and turkey meal listed high up in the ingredients list.
The best kinds of puppy food also contain high amounts of fat for sustained energy. Look for quality fat sources like named animal meals and named animal fats.
Of course, there are also ingredients you’ll want to avoid. Unnamed meats, such as “animal digest” and “poultry by-product meal” are low quality, often highly processed ingredients with little nutritional value.
Cheap filler ingredients such as soy and corn should also be avoided.
If that sounds like a lot of things to consider when shopping for your puppy’s food, you’ll be happy to know we’ve already done the hard part for you! Below are our choices of the six best-rated puppy foods on the market.
Reviews of The Best Puppy Foods
#1. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Stella’s Super Beef Dinner Patties Grain-Free Dog Food
First on our list of the best puppy food reviews is an all-around quality choice for most puppies. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw puppy food patties pack a ton of protein and fat into yummy freeze-dried morsels that any dog will love.
Unlike highly-processed kibble and canned food, freeze-dried diets are minimally handled and so retain much of their natural nutrition. Stella & Chewy’s puppy diet in particular contains a plethora of great meat ingredients that will help your pup grow up strong.
The puppy formula is available in two flavors, beef/salmon and chicken/salmon. Both recipes contain multiple meat ingredients listed at the top of the ingredients list as well as a ton of superfood plant ingredients that are low in starch and high in nutrients like spinach, squash, blueberries, and chia seeds.
Both flavors contain at least 46% protein and 27% fat. This food is calorie packed to give your pup the energy they need to grow and run zoomies around your living room.
Of course, all those calories make this food a poor choice for giant breed dogs who require a more restricted-calorie diet. But this food is one of the best puppy foods for toy breeds all the way up to larger medium breeds.
Another reason this food would not be well suited to feeding a giant mouth is the high price tag. But the price is worth paying for the average dog who will only be on this premium puppy food for less than a year.
Of course, once your pup is all grown up, you’ll need to find another quality dog food. Check out our picks of the best dog foods.
#2. ORIJEN Dry Dog Food, Puppy
If you like the quality of ingredients found in our first choice food, but prefer to stick with a kibble diet, then you’ll love our second choice. Orijen Puppy food is one of the best natural puppy foods you’ll find thanks to the quality ingredients and high standards of production.
Orijen’s puppy formula is packed with 15 quality animal ingredients listed first and a mix of great plant and meat ingredients that follow. One thing that makes this food so unique and so nutritious is that it doesn’t rely on any synthetic vitamins or minerals.
All the nutrients your dog gets from this food come from nutrient-dense natural sources like dehydrated mackerel, chicken liver, and whole pumpkin. It is easily one of the best healthy puppy foods on our list and 100% grain-free.
If you do start your puppy out on a grain-free dog food, it’s a good idea to switch them to a grain-free adult food when they are ready.
This diet contains 38% protein and 20% fat. While it is lower in calories than our first choice, the higher calcium amount means this food is only appropriate for puppies under 70lbs at maturity, but Orijen does make a large breed specific puppy food as well.
If you are looking for the best organic puppy food but don’t have the money for certified organic, this food is a good second choice. All ingredients are locally sourced and processed in the USA.
#3. Cesar Puppy Wet Dog Food
Third on our list of the best quality puppy foods is a product chosen for owners looking to feed their dog a canned diet. Cesar’s Puppy Wet Dog Food is a high protein canned food made for picky eaters.
Wet food tends to be more palatable than dry diets, an important feature if you have a puppy that is struggling to gain weight, not growing on schedule, or otherwise refuses dry kibble. You can even use wet food like this one to mix with a traditional diet to encourage your dog to eat.
This canned diet includes a long list of meat ingredients like chicken, beef, and lamb. While this diet doesn’t include any plant ingredients (a rarity in commercial foods) it does contain beef by-products, a low quality, cheap protein source with little nutritional value.
This food has about 45% protein (dry matter) and 30% fat (dry matter). While it is higher in calories, it is listed as an approved food for large breed puppies.
However, given the calorie-density and small size of the packages, this food may be better used as a topper for picky large breeds.
This is one of the best wet puppy foods for small breeds, though. And since it is available in three flavors, it is a great choice for even the pickiest puppies.
If your puppy is picky now, you can bet they’ll be picky as an adult too. Read this article now to prepare for shopping for canned adult dog food.
Like most canned diets, this one is more expensive meal for meal than the average traditional dry food.
#4. Victor Dog Food Grain-Free Active Dog and Puppy Beef Meal and Sweet Potato
Our fourth choice food is one we consider the best food for puppies of any age, breed, or size. Victor’s Active Dog and Puppy recipe is specially formulated to meet the feeding standards for large and small puppies as well as active adult dogs.
If you’re really dreading having to switch your dog’s food once they hit maturity, or maybe you have an adult dog as well and want to only feed one food, this diet is a great choice.
If you do have an adult dog at home and are interested in finding them their own quality food, you’ll want to read our article on the best dry foods.
With 33% protein and 16% fat, Victor’s has a moderate calorie-density for a puppy food and a higher than average protein amount for an adult food. But the total serving size can be adjusted slightly to account for unintended weight loss or gain in either age group.
And with quality ingredients like beef, menhaden fish, and pork meals, you can count on this food to provide the nutrition your pet needs, no matter the age or portion size.
This food is grain-free but does contain peas as the second ingredient, which likely adds a lot to the overall protein level.
If you’re looking for the best budget puppy food, this one should be on your shortlist. It’s the cheapest food we reviewed and one of the most affordable quality brands.
#5. Solid Gold – Wolf Cub with Real Bison and Oatmeal – Natural Large Breed Puppy Food
If you have a puppy who is destined to be big, look no further for the best giant breed puppy food that our number five choice. Solid Gold’s Wolf Cub large breed formula was made to nurture the growth of large breed dogs.
With 26% protein and 12% fat, this food would not be near calorie-dense enough for most puppies, but for giant breeds, it’s the perfect diet to force slow, steady growth. And with between 1% and 1.3% calcium, it has just the right amount to keep growing bones and muscles healthy.
The first two ingredients in this diet are bison and ocean fish meal. While this diet has fewer animal ingredients than many on our list, there are some quality grains like oatmeal and barley.
There are legumes in the recipe that add to the protein total, though.
But superfood ingredients like flaxseed, watercress, and cranberries are the reason we consider this food one of the best holistic puppy foods you’ll find. Considering that, this food is well priced at just above mid-range.
Once your pup is all grown up, make sure you switch them onto a quality large breed adult food to continue to help them thrive.
#6. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy Dog Food
If you have a dog on the other end of the spectrum, a petite pup who can’t wait to grow up, we’ve got a dog food for you as well. Blue Buffalo’s small breed puppy food is the best dry puppy food for small breeds that we reviewed.
This food is packed with quality meat ingredients like chicken, chicken meal, and fish meal. And it contains healthy blood-sugar stabilizing grains like oatmeal and barley.
While this food does have lower than average protein, at just 29%, and fat, at 17%, for a small breed puppy food, the lower calorie-density does allow for larger, more frequent meals, which can be key to avoiding hypoglycemia in teacup pups.
This food does include peas, that likely contribute some to the overall protein levels, but it also includes healthy omega fatty acids from the menhaden fish meal and added fish oil.
Like all the best-recommended puppy foods for little dogs, the kibbles in this diet are sized to be easily swallowed by even the tiniest mouths. And, since this food is easy to find locally, we’d consider it one of the best grocery store puppy foods as well.
Given that it is a small breed specific food and a puppy formula, this food is very well priced to fit into most budgets.
Remember, small dogs mature faster than large ones and can be switched to an adult food sooner. Read this article now and be prepared with our choices of the best small breed dog foods.
What is the Best Puppy Food?
We looked at the best puppy food recommended by vets for large and small breeds and some of the best puppy food brands on the market. But in the end, stood out as the best puppy food for the average pup.
This freeze-dried diet is filled with nutrients from quality meat ingredients and power-packed superfoods. And, because this food isn’t over-processed like most commercial diets, you can feel confident your pup is getting all the nutrition they need to grow into a happy, healthy adult.
But, if you’re looking for the best-tasting puppy food or the best value puppy food, we included some excellent choices for those categories on our list above as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you look at almost anyone’s choices for the 10 best puppy foods, you’re unlikely to see any soft-food picks. That’s because soft diets are notorious for containing artificial colors and low-quality ingredients.
If your dog needs a softer food, instead try one of our dry food picks above and soak it in warm water before feeding.
Summed Up: The Best Puppy Food
|Name||Stella & Chewy’s Puppy Patties||Orijen Dry Puppy Food||Cesar Puppy Wet Food||Victor Active Dog and Puppy||Solid Gold Wolf Cub Large Breed||Blue Buffalo Small Breed Puppy|
|Features||Freeze-dried, nutrient and calorie-dense, quality ingredients||High in animal ingredients, no synthetic vitamins or minerals||High protein, high fat, palatable||Formulated for all breeds and ages, quality meat meals, affordable||Formulated for large breed puppies, lower calorie-density, correct calcium content||Small kibble size, quality meats and grains, formulated for small dogs|
- Erika Mansourian. “Puppy Feeding Fundamentals” akc.com, 15 July 2019.
- Denise Flaim. “Puppy Food: Nutritional Guidelines to Maximize Health” wholedogjournal.com, 18 August 2017, updated 21 March 2019.