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What’s more exciting than bringing home a new puppy? Not much. Of course, you want to keep your new canine companion healthy and happy for years to come. An important first step is selecting a quality puppy food. Your pup needs the right nutrition for his or her growing body. However, if you’ve ever scanned the dog food section at a pet store or online, you know how many brands and formulas are available. It can be overwhelming. How do you pick the best puppy food for your dog?
We’re here to help. At BestReviews, we do thorough research, buy and test products, consult experts, and gather opinions from existing customers. All so we can provide you with the info you need to make the most informed shopping decisions. And because we never accept free products from manufacturers you can trust what we have to say. Our reviews are fair, honest, and unbiased. If you’re ready to buy, check out the matrix above for our five favorite puppy foods. For more on what to look for to find the perfect puppy food for you, read on.
Puppy food is no marketing gimmick. It’s specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of puppies, which differ from those of adult dogs.
Puppy food is more calorie-dense than dog food. A growing puppy uses a greater amount of calories than an adult dog of a similar size.
Puppy food has a higher protein content than food designed for adult dogs, including larger amounts of specific amino acids.
A puppy requires plenty of fat to fuel his or her growth. Puppy food contains a larger percentage of fat compared to adult dog food.
Since a puppy’s bones are growing rapidly, puppy food has a greater concentration of calcium and phosphorus than adult dog food.
While it’s not required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), studies suggest that puppies benefit from food containing Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, for healthy brain and eye development.
When you first bring your puppy home, start her on the food she was given by her breeder or at the animal shelter. Then gradually transition to the new food you’ve selected, so you don’t upset her stomach.
Dry puppy food — also known as “kibble” — is cooked at low temperatures so all the moisture is removed.
Dry food offers good value for your money, keeps for a long time once opened, and may help scrape plaque from dogs’ teeth.
The lack of moisture may be an issue for dogs who don’t drink enough.
Basic brands start at about $0.75 per pound, while premium formulas cost up to $3 per pound.
Dry puppy food is generally cheaper per pound when you buy larger bags. But start with a small bag to test whether your puppy does well on the food.
Wet food is cooked and canned fresh, and it usually contains mostly meat. Dry food, on the other hand, often has a large percentage of grains or other carbohydrates.
Picky dogs tend to find wet food more palatable than dry food.
More expensive than dry food, wet food spoils quickly once opened if you don’t use the whole can.
Basic brands start at about $1 per can (around 13 ounces). High-end brands can cost as much as $3.50 per can.
Unless you’re on a restricted budget, avoid the most inexpensive dog food as it usually contains poor-quality meat and lots of fillers.
Consider the size of your puppy when selecting food. Large breeds grow more slowly than smaller breeds, so their nutritional requirements are slightly different.
You can buy large breed puppy formulas, which contain the correct balance of fat, calcium, and phosphorus to support growth and help avoid joint problems later in life.
If your puppy’s going to grow into a big dog, select a large breed puppy food, rather than a regular puppy food.
Cheap puppy food often contains poor-quality meat, animal by-products, fillers, and chemical preservatives.
Ideally, select a puppy food that contains whole meat proteins, rather than by-products. Avoid puppy food containing artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives.
Look for a statement of nutritional adequacy from the AAFCO somewhere on the package or in the product description when buying online. However, the AAFCO statement only shows a puppy food meets the minimum nutritional requirements, so not all AAFCO-approved foods are high quality.
That said, all high-quality foods are AAFCO-approved.
While there’s a lot of marketing hype surrounding grain-free and gluten-free puppy foods, grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates. Only avoid grains if your puppy has an allergy or intolerance.
Puppies need a lot of calories to support their growing bodies. Select a puppy food that's adequately calorie-dense. If a food states it’s low-fat or low-calorie, it’s not right for puppies. Be careful, however, to feed the correct amount of food to your puppy, so that he or she doesn’t become overweight. Look for feeding and portion guidelines on the packaging.
Most brands sell puppy food in a number of different flavors or formulas. While the different protein sources — such as fish, turkey, or game — will have slightly different nutritional profiles, your puppy is going to care more about the taste. Some dogs are voracious eaters and will wolf down any food you put in front of them, whereas others are pickier.
If your puppy isn’t keen on her food, try a different flavor.
Once you’ve started feeding your puppy a new food, how do you know if it suits him or her?
Look for these signs:
A shiny coat
Healthy-looking skin with no flakiness
Plenty of energy
Firm, well-formed stools
A healthy weight — neither underweight nor overweight
If that doesn’t sound like your puppy, it could be that the food doesn’t agree with your dog, but the problem could also be an underlying health issue. Take your pup to the veterinarian, rather than simply switching food.
Some puppies may have loose stools for a few days after switching to a new food (even when you make a gradual switch, as recommended). But if this persists, it could be a sign that the food doesn’t agree with your dog.
Be sure to choose a complete food rather than a mixer. A mixer is designed to bulk up food and won’t meet the full nutritional requirements for your puppy.
Many puppy foods contain added vitamins and minerals. Look for those that are “chelated” as this makes them easier to absorb.
Take your puppy outside to do his business after each meal. This will help young pups with house training.
If your puppy doesn’t eat all her food in one sitting, your portions are probably too large. Remove the food after about 30 minutes, and don’t offer any more until the next mealtime.
Try to feed your puppy at the same time each day to build a routine.
Q. How long should I feed my dog puppy food?
A. Your canine companion should eat puppy food until he reaches about 80% of his full adult size. This is about one year for most dogs, but it may be longer for giant breeds.
Q. Should I feed my puppy wet food or dry food?
A. It’s up to you. Many folks opt for dry food because of its high protein content and good value. Others prefer wet food since it seems more palatable. If you want the best of both worlds, mix wet and dry food together for each meal. Just make sure you adapt the portions accordingly.
Q. How many times a day should my puppy eat?
A. You should feed your puppy three times a day for his first six months. Your puppy has a small stomach at this age and needs to eat little and often. After six months of age, feed your pup twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.