What is Puppy Food?
Puppy food recipes are developed by dog food brands to provide more appropriate nutrition to growing young dogs, with the hope of ensuring that your puppy grows and matures into a healthy adult dog.
Puppies require different levels of minerals and vitamins as well as a suitable nutrition profile. This is vital to ensure that they do not suffer from any health problems later in life and develop at a steady rate. This need for different nutrition is particularly true for large and giant breed puppies. This will be discussed in detail later on.
Both dry and wet puppy food is widely available, and they share many of the traits of their adult dog food equivalents. Some varieties of dry dog food for puppies have a smaller kibble size, similar to kibble designed for small breed dogs. This smaller size than traditional dry dog food can allow for ease of consumption.
Most puppies should consume a puppy food recipe for at least the first twelve months fo their lives, but some larger breed puppies may need to consume puppy food for as long as twenty-four months.
Alternatives To Commercial Puppy Food
Adult Dog Food
Many consumers think that they have to feed their new puppy a food explicitly branded as puppy food and this quite often is not the case.
Many formulas are described as being suitable for all life stages. What this translates into is that these recipes are appropriate for dogs of all ages and a puppy will see no ill effects from consuming them.
This use of all life stages recipes is the most common reason that some brands do not have specific puppy food recipes. They would rather produce a recipe that appeals to puppies and adult dogs and that will not require any transition.
Homemade Dog Food
A more extreme alternative to commercial puppy food is to produce your own homemade dog food. Homemade dog food allows you to have complete control over the ingredients and nutrition that your puppy receives.
You can use fresh, high-quality ingredients from sources you know and trust. While balancing the ratios of nutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates can be a challenge when making homemade dog food, with research it is not impossible.
The main downside to homemade dog food is that it is usually more costly and so for those dog owners on a tight budget it may not be a realistic option. Also, many consumers struggle to find the time to cook meals for themselves so finding additional time to make dog food may not be realistic.
Nutrition For Puppies
Overall Dog Nutrition
Overall dog nutrition is surprisingly simple despite the huge amount of conflicting information available online. Dog’s ancestors consumed a diet of primarily meat with some plant-matter . As a consequence of this dogs excell on a similar diet.
Meat and fish ingredients can provide a dog with an adequate supply of protein and fat.
Protein is crucial to enable a puppy to grow, repair, and maintain their muscles and tissues. Fat is used in a number of bodily processes and can be used as a concentrated source of energy.
While dogs can consume high levels of carbohydrates, they should instead try and consume a modest portion to better mimic their ancestor’s diet. An excessive carbohydrate proportion can lead to health issues such as diabetes or weight gain.
The Difference Between Nutrition for Puppies & Adult Dogs
As we have just learned, dogs need a diet high in protein to sustain their bodies and their active lifestyles. While dogs are perfectly capable of consuming large amounts of carbohydrates they were not a significant part of their ancestor’s diet and so should be limited.
Puppies, on the other hand, need a diet that is even higher in protein than adult dogs. This higher level of protein is required as puppies need protein to sustain themselves, but they also need protein to stimulate and enable for healthy growth of their bodies and muscles.
Puppies should also not limit their intake of fat as it is crucial for many bodily functions and should be their primary energy source. However, puppy foods that are high in fat will undoubtedly be very calorie dense. As a consequence of this density, high fat puppy food should be carefully portioned to avoid obesity and overfeeding.
You can find some additional information on weaning and feeding your puppy by the ASPCA here.
Small Breed vs. Large Breed Puppies Nutrition
The primary motivation behind a different diet for large and giant breed puppies is the attempt to prevent a condition known as Hip Dysplasia. Other similar conditions such as Elbow Dysplasia and Osteochondrosis can also manifest in large breed dogs who are fed an inappropriate diet.
Large breed puppies grow much faster and for a more extended period of time in comparison to smaller breed puppies. Using Great Danes as an example, a newborn puppy Great Dane is usually around 1-2 pounds. However, within two years an adult male Great Dane can be as much as 170 pounds which could be as much as a 100 fold increase.
When this insane growth is compared to humans, the difference is staggering. The average male human has 18 years or possibly longer to develop from around 6 pounds to 180 pounds.
Many people believe that limiting a large breed puppies intake of protein can help prevent this rapid growth and hence reduce the risk of conditions such as Dysplasia.
However, at time time, there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory and belief, and we would not recommend deliberately limiting your puppies intake of protein.
However, there are some other factors which have been proven to contribute to Dysplasia and other conditions.
Just as we humans can blame our lack or abundance of hair or our heights on the genetics of our parents, many dogs with severe joint and bone issues can lay their blame equally with their parents.
Many dog breeders will refuse to breed from dogs that have shown signs of conditions like dysplasia as they understand the risk that this can present to their offspring.
While a puppy whos parent suffers from such conditions is not guaranteed to also suffer from them, their likelihood is significantly increased.
Of the three mentioned causes, overfeeding is probably the one that is most commonly dismissed but is in fact very important. Many dog owners like to ensure that there is a constant and ever replenished supply of food for their puppy, but this volume of food could have disastrous effects.
This abundance of food can contribute towards growth that is dangerously fast and can lead to bone and joints problems.
Instead, owners of large breed puppies should have their food carefully portioned by their owners to help prevent this rapid growth from happening.
Most dog food formulas provide detailed guides to the portions of food that dogs of specific sizes should consume. These are often found on the recipes packaging or on the brands website. For this reason it shouldn’t be a challenge to look into this as your puppy develops.
The Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University points out that puppies need a reduced level of calories after they are neutered which is a factor that many dog owners may be unaware of and may be especially important for large breed puppies.
The two most important minerals to balance for a large or giant breed puppy is Calcium and Phosphorus.
Calcium is the most crucial of the two and needs to be carefully balanced. If too much Calcium is absorbed then, bone malformations can form, but if too little Calcium is absorbed then bones may not develop properly. Also, Calcium works in conjunction with Phosphorus, and therefore there needs to be an appropriate ratio between the two.
Most veterinary professionals would suggest large or giant breed puppies consume a Calcium to Phosphorus ratio of approximately 1:1-1.3. Puppy formulas specially designed for large breed or giant breed puppies will almost certainly contain a ratio such as this but it is important to double check.
Ingredients In Puppy Food
Meat & Fish Ingredients
Meat and Fish ingredients should be at the core of every dog and puppy food formula. Moreover, ideally, the meat and fish ingredients should be of a high-quality, and the formula should not contain low-quality meat and fish ingredients like Meat By-products or other unnamed or vague sounding meats.
Poultry meat tends to be high in protein and lower in fat than other meats, however, depending on the cuts of meat used there can still be a significant portion of fat. Poultry meat does contain some vitamins and minerals but not as many as other meat ingredients.
The most significant advantage of many fish ingredients is the levels of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids that they contain. These Omega Fatty Acids have been proven to provide a range of health benefits such as the improved health of a dogs skin and coat as well as improved cardiovascular and cognitive function.
Red meat ingredients such as Beef or Lamb tend to contain a higher proportion of fat than many fish or poultry ingredients. However, this is not a negative trait as fat is crucial to a dogs diet. Also, red meat contains some minerals that are not abundant in other meats such as Iron and Zinc.
Fruit & Vegetable Ingredients
While vegetables shouldn’t form the core of any dog food, their presence can be beneficial. Fruits and Vegetables can provide four primary types of nutrition: carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While not the preferred source, Carbohydrates act as a simple energy source. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion as it can help keep a dogs stool regular and consistent. Finally, vitamins and minerals are crucial for almost all bodily functions as well as overall health.
Legumes are probably the most common vegetable found in dog food, especially premium or higher-quality puppy food. The most popular legumes used in dog food include Peas, Lentils, Chickpeas, and Beans. Legumes contain a high portion of protein for a vegetable ingredient. Also, they contain plenty of fiber for digestion and a limited number of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Squash’s such as Butternut Squash or Pumpkin are far less common than other vegetables like legumes, but they still have their place in the puppy food world. They are much higher in fiber than other vegetables and so may be perfect for puppies who struggle with their digestion.
Also, the range of vitamins and minerals they can provide is vast and can provide noticeable benefits to your puppies health.
The most common starches used in puppy food are Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Tapioca. Starches such as these tend to primary provide a complex source of carbohydrates. However, they can also include a moderate proportion of fiber and some minerals.
The fruit ingredients contained in puppy food tend to be in minimal quantities or portions. This is as they are included for the vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients they provide and not as a source of nutrition. Typical examples of fruit included in puppy food are blueberries, apples, and pears.
Grains are widely considered to be a low-quality addition to any dog or puppy food recipe. They provide a dense source of carbohydrates which is almost always unneeded or excessive. Also, many dogs suffer from allergies or intolerances related to grains which can cause rashes, diarrhea or vomiting.
However, not all grains are as frowned upon as others and some can be considered acceptable in certain circumstances. The best examples of somewhat acceptable grain ingredients include Brown Rice and Oatmeal. These two ingredients contain a significant portion of fiber and some vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial.
There are some other ingredients included in puppy food that do not fall under any of the above categories. This can include gum-like substances that are used as binding agents. Other examples include flavorings and preservatives. While many of these ingredients are only present in minimal quantities some of them are less than favorable.
Best Puppy Food
Before we jump into our favorite recipes, let’s break down what will come below. Rather than have a standard list of the best recipes, we’ve split them up into categories so you can choose the right type of recipes suitable for your pup and your budget. This will include our All Round Picks, our Value Picks, our Premium Picks, our Canned/Wet Dog Food Picks, our Large Breed Picks and finally our Small Breed Picks.
Best Puppy Food – All Round Picks
What traits contribute to an all-around pick? We define our all-round picks as formulas that provide appropriate nutrition from high-quality ingredients at a moderate price.
These recipes may contain some vegetable ingredients or small quantities of lower-quality ingredients but all round they are fantastic overall choices which are suitable for the vast majority of dogs.
After seeing the disproportionate quantity of carbohydrates used in modern dog food, Michael Lander created Nulo, in an attempt to produce a more balanced type of dog food. Thankfully, Nulo hasn’t strayed from this idea since its inception almost two decades ago and produces a range of formulas for puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs that a balanced and satisfactory nutrition profile.
Nulo’s puppy range is relatively small but the recipes that they do produce align with all the principles we’ve aligned in this article. Turkey & Sweet Potato is our favorite of the bunch due to it’s significantly above average nutrition. It includes a mix of poultry and fish ingredients such as Turkey and Salmon. Also, the formula also contains a range of vegetable ingredients including Chickpeas, Peas and Sweet Potatoes.
Go! is one of some brands owned by Petcurean along with Gather and Now. The Go! range includes a range of mixers, dry dog food, and wet dog food. They also have formulas for puppies, senior dogs and dogs attempting weight loss. The above-mentioned Fit + Free Puppy Recipe is their only dry puppy formula but is most certainly one of their best.
Fit + Free Puppy Recipe contains an extensive range of poultry and fish ingredients including Chicken, Turkey, Salmon, and Trout. These ingredients provide an abundance of high-quality protein and fat which is perfect for a growing young pup. The formula also includes a broad range of vegetable and fruit ingredients. The majority of this content is made up of Peas and Chickpeas, but there are smaller portions of others like Blueberries and Bananas.
Acana is a brand that many will recognize from the shelves of their local pet stores and is the sister brand of the ultra-premium Orijen. Acana shares many of the traits of its more pricey sister and uses a wide range of high-quality ingredients to provide fantastic nutrition.
Their Puppy & Junior formula was until recently unavailable in the United States and was only available in Europe and Canada. But Acana has taken the initiative and released their only Puppy themed recipe to the masses.
Puppy & Junior contains an extensive range of poultry ingredients, eggs, fish, and vegetables. Examples include Chicken, Turkey, Flounder, and Lentils. The extraordinarily large proportion of meat ingredients provides a very satisfactory proportion of protein to help sustain a puppies growth, and a healthy portion of fat to fuel their endless activity.
Wellness’s Core range is an ever popular and prides itself on providing high protein grain free diets to both adult dogs and puppies. Many Wellness and Core formulas contain a notable portion of Potatoes instead of the more popular and common Legumes. This can be a significant advantage for those dogs or puppies that suffer allergies or intolerances to legumes like Peas and Lentils. However, some of the formulas including the one mentioned above do contain small portions of legumes and so aren’t entirely legume free.
The Core Puppy formula contains a very satisfactory nutritional profile that is ideally suited to a growing an active puppy. This is due to the very generous portion of both protein and fat it contains. This protein and fat content is mostly derived from the Turkey & Chicken ingredients present. The formula also contains flaxseeds which are a non-meat or fish ingredient that can provide the Omega 3 Fatty Acids which are known to offer a range of health benefits.
Best Puppy Food – Value Picks
On a tight or budget or trying to satisfy the hunger of multiple puppies at once? Then you may want to consider one of the following puppy food formulas. These formulas might not be quite as flashy or premium as others mentioned in this article, but they still provide satisfactory nutrition from ingredients that controversial or low-quality.
Many consumers will recognize Blue Buffalo as a staple of chain or large pet stores. Blue Buffalo has a vast range of products and formulas that can often occupy an entire aisle in a single store. While not all of Blue Buffalo’s recipes are considered high-quality by our high standards, some do make the cut, especially when the price is taken into consideration as Blue Buffalo formulas are very affordable.
Freedom is one of Blue Buffalo’s grain free ranges and instead makes use of legumes and starches. The above mentioned Freedom Chicken Puppy Recipe contains a small range of poultry ingredients such as Chicken and Turkey. These provide the bulk of the protein and fat in this formula.
The formula also includes Peas, Pea Protein, Pea Starch, and Potatoes. While Peas are considered a high-quality ingredient, Pea By-products such as Pea Protein are deemed low-quality ingredients and are often used in a technique known as Ingredient Splitting. Unfortunately, lower-quality ingredients such as this are a reality of lower cost dog food.
Blue Buffalo also has a formula specifically designed for both small and large breed puppies within the Freedom range.
American Journey is a brand owned by the online pet food distributor Chewy and is only available from their website. American Journey doubles up on the low cost of shipping offered by Chewy by also making the formulas they produce very affordable. The brand produces a moderately sized range of products including dog treats, dry dog food, wet dog food, and limited ingredient dog food.
They have two very similar puppy recipes, Turkey & Sweet Potato and Lamb & Sweet Potato. Both recipes can provide a very satisfactory proportion of protein which will be used to enable a puppies growth. This protein is from the generous portions of meat ingredients present such as Turkey, Lamb, and Chicken. The formulas also contain Sweet Potatoes, Peas and Chickpeas, which are all considered high-quality carbohydrate providing ingredients.
Unfortunately, American Journey’s puppy recipes have a low proportion of fat in comparison to their rivals. While a high portion of fat isn’t needed in a puppies diet, it is preferred to excessive levels of carbohydrates.
If you want to learn more about affordable dog food and what your best options are, you should read our Best Cheap Dog Food guide which provides a detailed overview.
Best Puppy Food – Premium Picks
Think your pup deserves only the best food money can buy and want them to eat higher-quality ingredients than most humans? Look no further; the following puppy food recipes are the Filet Mignon or Caviar of the puppy food world. They contain incredible proportions of high-quality and sometimes exotic meat and fish ingredients. These ingredients will provide the nutrition your puppy needs to enter their prime quickly.
We mentioned Orijen earlier in this article as the costly big sister of Acana so it will come as no surprise that it features in the premium section of this article. Orijen produces two puppy recipes, their standard Puppy Formula, and their Puppy Large Formula. We will discuss the Puppy Large recipe later on.
Orijen excels at two things, providing unprecedented nutrition and using a massive range of high-quality human grade ingredients. Their Puppy formula is a perfect example of this as it contains over fifteen different meat and fish ingredients. These ingredients provide a proportion of protein and fat that is significantly above average.
Examples include Chicken, Turkey, Mackerel, Herring and some Organ meats like Liver and Heart. The fish ingredients help boost the levels of the Omega Fatty Acids which can provide a range of health benefits. The organ meats can provide high levels of vitamins and minerals that aren’t as abundant in traditional meat cuts.
Farmina N&D Chicken & Pomegranate Puppy Recipes
It was a tough task to decide where precisely Farmina’s N&D puppy formulas should be placed in this guide, but we settled on the premium section. This was not only due to the high cost of their formulas but also the quality of the ingredients that they use which are above and beyond the majority of brands. It is important to note that they have two puppy formulas, one designed for mini and medium breed puppies and another designed for large breed puppies.
The primary focus of the formulas is on two core meat and fish ingredients: Chicken and Herring. Both of these ingredients are ideal for a puppies diet and provide a plentiful supply of protein and fat. The Herring, in particular, supplies a very satisfactory level of the Omega Fatty Acids which can help improve the health of your puppies skin and coat.
In addition to Chicken and Herring, the formulas include Potatoes and a select number of fruit and vegetable ingredients. While we don’t believe Potatoes are the ideal source of carbohydrates, the portion of them in these formulas is low enough that is not of significant concern. Some examples of other fruits and vegetables present in small quantities are Pomegranate, Apples, Carrots, and Spinach.
Best Large Breed Puppy Food
As we mentioned earlier, it is incredibly vital that large or giant breed dogs get the right nutrition to help prevent dangerous and painful conditions once they hit adulthood. This includes an appropriate level of minerals like Calcium and Phosphorus and usually a slightly lower calorie density to try and prevent or minimize overfeeding. Both of the formulas below are specifically designed for large and giant breed dogs and can put your mind at rest.
We already discussed Orijen’s base Puppy Formula earlier in the article, and while their Puppy Large Formula is exceptionally similar, we thought it deserved its own special mention as it’s without a doubt one of the best formulas for large breed puppies on the market.
Puppy Large contains an almost identical ingredient list which includes over ten unique meat or fish ingredients which contribute to an extremely satisfactory portion of both protein and fat.
The difference between this formula and the standard Puppy formula from Orijen is the proportion of fat and calcium. As we discussed earlier in this article, excessive Calcium can cause bone and joint problems as large breed puppies grow. Also, the slightly lower level of fat in this formula might help reduce the risk of overfeeding and the consequences that come with it.
It wouldn’t be a “Best X” article without the inclusion of a formula from Nature’s Variety Instinct which as many of you will know is one of our favorite brands both regarding quality and price. However, the above-suggested formula breaks the mold from the recipes we usually suggest from Instinct. It is one of their raw or semi-raw formulas which are what Instinct is probably best known for.
While the idea of raw ingredients may scare many dog owners, especially those with new puppies, it is not something to be deeply afraid of and can be advantageous. Advantages include cleaner teeth, more energy, and improved skin and coat. Also, Instinct Raw Boost with Real Chicken For Large Breed Dogs is only a semi-raw formula and still contains a significant portion of pre-cooked ingredients.
The formula contains Chicken, Turkey, and Herring which are all high-quality meat and fish ingredients that can provide a plentiful supply of protein and fat. Also, the formula contains the ever staple Peas and Chickpeas for carbohydrates and fiber. Finally, the formula also includes Flaxseed to help boost the level of the Omega Fatty Acids.
Best Small Breed Puppy Food
While most small or toy breed dogs can survive on standard or even adult dog food, there are advantages to recipes specifically designed for their size. Kibble size can be a real challenge to tiny dogs, and all of the following recipes are appropriately sized for your little friend’s hungry jaws. Required nutrition is also different for tiny and small breed dogs, and these formulas match those needs.
Holistic Select has previously featured on the site due to some of the more rare and unique ingredients featured in their formulas. However, their puppy formulas deserve additional praise due to the outstanding nutrition they can provide. They produce a range of puppy formulas including those appropriate for giant breed dogs and miniature breed dogs.
Their Small & Mini Breed Puppy formula utilizes two uncommon fish ingredients in Anchovy and Sardine Meal. Not only do these ingredients provide a very satisfactory proportion of protein and fat but also contribute to a fantastic level of the Omega Fatty Acids. As always these Omega Fatty Acids can provide a wide range of health benefits from improved cognitive function to improved cardiovascular health.
The formula also makes use of a small range of legumes and Pumpkin. These ingredients provide a modest sum of carbohydrates and a variety of vitamins and minerals. In particular, the Pumpkin is an excellent addition due to the dietary fiber and Vitamin A it can provide.
Merrick alongside Orijen is lucky enough to feature in this article twice, due to their addition of a formula for small breed puppies which is a part of their Lil’ Plates range. The range is designed for small breed dogs of all ages and uses a smaller size of kibble that is more suitable for smaller dogs as well as providing a more appropriate
While they only have one recipe within the Lil Plates range aimed at puppies, it is a high-quality, nutritious formula. It has a simple ingredient list consisting of a small range of Chicken ingredients combined with a range of starch and vegetable ingredients. Examples include Peas, Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes.
One potential advantage of this formula is that there is an equivalent adult formula that includes a very similar ingredient list. This may make the process of transitioning your puppy to an adult formula that much easier.
Best Canned/Wet Puppy Food
Canned or Wet Dog Food is often overlooked by many new puppy owners, but it is a very viable and often very nutritious option. Canned puppy food recipes often contain a far smaller proportion of vegetable ingredients as well as a significant proportion of moisture to keep your new friend hydrated. Many puppy and dog owners provide their pups with a mix of dry and canned food to give their canine friends some much-deserved variety.
Merrick is a very staple brand in the dog food world, and they do not let their high standards drop with their puppies recipes. Almost all of their formulas are highly nutritious and tend to be free of low-quality ingredients like by-products or unnamed meats. Also, they have one of the largest selections of wet/canned dog food available including specialty recipes mimicking the contents of Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner.
Puppy Plate is one of the best of their surprisingly large puppy range. It contains a variety of poultry ingredients including Chicken, Turkey, and Duck. These are combined with a tiny and satisfactory portion of Peas and Sweet Potatoes which provide a small portion of carbohydrates and fiber for improved digestion. The substantial portion of protein and fat provided by this formula are sure to promote growth and provide energy for all that activity they are sure to take part in.
Canidae’s Pure range is one of the most popular grain free ranges on the market. It contains a large variety of recipes including formulas tailored to senior dogs and puppies as well as those attempting weight loss. While the dry dog food version of the Pure range may be the most popular of the two, their canned dog food maintains the quality and nutrition.
Their Foundations Formula is a nutritious yet straightforward formula for a growing puppy. It contains a mix of Chicken, Eggs, and Peas which are all considered high-quality ingredients. The Chicken and Eggs provide a very healthy proportion of protein and fat, and the Peas add a modest portion of carbohydrates and fiber. While this formula doesn’t contain quite as low a proportion of carbohydrates as some of the other formulas in this article, it is still very satisfactory and suitable for the majority of puppies.