Bringing home a new puppy is a very exciting time. Along with the cuddles and excitement, owners have a lot of preparation to do. Of course, they will want to ensure they have all the right supplies and are set up for everything a puppy might need. One area owners are concerned about is finding the best food for puppies.
Nutrition is critically essential for puppies from the very first day they are born. While they need their mother’s milk for the first few weeks to survive, most puppies are well on their way to eating puppy kibble by the time they are two to three months old. What food is best for a puppy depends on a few different things. Not all products are created equally. Additionally, not all dogs need the same calories or amount of food. The dog’s age, breed, and size all factor into what food will be best for them. Healthy nutrition is a huge part of responsible pet ownership.
Feeding your pup the proper chow is critical to his lifelong health. He will get energy, nutrients, and sustenance from his diet to fuel growth and correct development. Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, so even though they can eat some adult foods, they should not. Our guide will take you through everything you need to know about choosing the best puppy food for your adorable new pup.
At a Glance: Our Favorite Foods For Puppies
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- Dog Food Varieties
- Puppy vs Adult Nutrition
- Ingredients To Look For
- Brand History & Recalls
- Best Food For Puppies
- Best Overall
- Best Dry
- Best Wet
- Other Notable Choices
- Small Breed
- Large Breed
- Best Fresh
- Best Freeze Dried
- Best For Sensitive Stomach
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
The dog food market is huge, with many products to choose from. There is no way that we can review all the products available, but we have selected some of our all-time favorites to share with you. These dog nutrition options are top-of-the-line and will provide your puppy with tasty, quality nutrition to support their growth. Remember that every dog is different and has unique nutritional needs.
The information we present here is intended to help owners learn more about the products available to them. While our information is beneficial and can help inform pet owners, it is not intended as a substitute for a consultation with a veterinarian or qualified pet nutritionist. It is always best to speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your puppy’s nutritional needs not being met.
Dog Food Varieties
It can be hard to keep up with all the new trends to find the best dog food, but there are five primary categories of canine chow. Most puppies do very well on high-quality, puppy-formulated kibble. This is often combined with other food categories, including wet, semi-moist, fresh cooked, or freeze-dried.
Kibble Or Dry
Dry dog food is also called kibble. This is one of the most commonly used varieties of canine foods. Kibble is the most affordable type. There are many flavors and varieties available. Kibble is made with the same ingredients as most other dog foods.
These include animal proteins, vegetables, grains, healthy fats, and other added vitamins and minerals. Ingredients are mixed together, ground into a paste, cooked, and then pressed into pellets. There are many high-quality kibbles available that are formulated specifically for puppies, as well As for breed size. There are even some breed-specific formulas.
Wet Or Canned
Canned is the most common choice for wet food. It can sometimes come in a pouch or plastic container, or even a loaf. Wet foods will contain all the same ingredients that are found in kibble. It tends to be slightly pricier. Some wet foods are much higher in fat.
Canned food often comes in a paste, stew, or chunks in gravy formula. It has a higher moisture content than kibble. It is important to read the ingredients on canned food, as some lower-quality manufacturers will use wheat gluten as a substitute to form meaty-looking chunks. Wet food can be a nice addition to a puppy’s diet, adding extra moisture and a flavor boost.
Semi-moist dog food, especially the kind shaped like human meat, has very low nutritional value. These products often have a lot of added colors, flavorings, and preservatives. Though dogs may love the taste of these, these are best kept for an occasional treat. It is imperative to stay away from these, if possible, for puppies, as these are low in nutritional value and high in bad fats and calories.
Fresh Or Human Grade
Fresh-cooked human-grade dog food is one of the most expensive yet most nutritious foods. The fresh market is rapidly growing, and many different subscriptions are available. Owners can have fresh, extremely high-quality meals delivered to their door for their dogs.
Some pet owners may choose to make their own but should only do so with guidance from their veterinarian. Fresh meals retain incredible taste and nutritional value as most are gently cooked in small batches. These recipes are often limited-ingredient and are quite tasty. Human-grade ingredients mean that all ingredients used are safe for human consumption.
Freeze-dried pet foods are becoming increasingly popular. These give dogs the incredible taste and nutritional value of a raw or lightly cooked diet but are more shelf stable. Just like fresh meals, these are made from the highest quality human-grade ingredients and can be a wonderful choice for pet parents who lie somewhere between kibble and fresh meals.
Freeze-dried foods taste fantastic, and dogs go crazy for them. They can be used as standalone meals or as treats and meal toppers. Some can be served right from the container, while others must be rehydrated first.
Raw Or BARF
Some owners may look into raw or BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Diets.) These consist of raw meat, bones, vegetables, and other limited ingredients. Raw diets are relatively tricky and are not appropriate for puppies, so it is best to stay away from the raw diet until your pup is much older and his digestive system has matured.
Puppy vs Adult Nutrition
Adult dogs and puppies have different nutritional needs. Though puppies will eat adult chow, it will not provide them with complete nutrition. This is because puppies need higher fat and calorie content in their diets to support their rapid growth in their first year. Puppies use a ton of energy, and along with growing, they are incredibly active.
Puppies must be fed puppy-specific recipes. Puppy chow tends to be much higher in protein and fat than adult meals, and though your puppy will eat adult chow and continue to grow, he may not be receiving the right amount of nutrients and minerals to develop proper growth and healthy bones.
Large breed and small breed puppies also should not be fed the same thing if possible. For starters, the kibble size alone is extremely different. Smaller breeds need kibble that is smaller in size and full of nutrients.
Larger breeds need food with even higher protein because their bodies are much bigger and use more energy. Larger breeds need meals with appropriate calcium, fat, phosphorus, and vitamin D, as these elements are pivotal in regulating bone growth.
Smaller dog breeds tend to burn through energy very quickly. This is because they have a higher metabolism than larger breeds. Because of this, small dogs should be fed multiple smaller meals throughout the day. Smaller dogs also need more calories per pound of body weight than larger dogs.
Puppies will nurse for the first few weeks and then be introduced to puppy mush. Puppy mush is food soaked in water (or puppy formula). It can be introduced when puppies are between three and four weeks old. This should start mostly with water; the ratio of food to water will increase as your puppy matures and eats more.
The American Association for Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets guidelines for what should be included in pet foods. Look for this on the labels of pet products.
- Arginine – 0.62 for puppies and 0.51 for adults
- Protein – 22% for puppies and 18% for adult dogs
- Fat – 8% for puppies and 5% for adults
- Calcium – 1% for puppies and 0.6% for adult dogs
- Phosphorus – 0.8% for puppies and 0.5% for adult dogs
- Sodium – 0.3% for puppies and 0.06% for adult dogs
- Lysine – 0.77% for puppies and 0.63% for adults
- Leucine 0.72 % for puppies and 0.59 for adults
- Chloride – 0.45 % puppy 0.095 for adults
*This is not a complete list.
Ingredients To Look For
Protein is a key ingredient in all dog food, especially puppy nutrition. High-quality protein should come from a named whole meat or meat meal. High-quality protein is where most of a puppy’s energy comes from and is also very important in helping their mind and bodies develop appropriately. Meat is probably the most important ingredient in puppy chow. Dogs cannot keep surplus protein in their bodies, so they must replenish this through their nutrition.
Always look for a named protein. Along with being unable to store extra protein, dogs need twenty-two different amino acids, half of which they cannot produce naturally. These must come from their diets, particularly from whole meat proteins. Dogs love the taste of meat. Popular protein choices include chicken, fish, beef, lamb, duck, bison, and venison.
Canines need healthy carbohydrates as part of their diets. Carbohydrates provide glucose and help extra supply energy. Though dogs can survive without carbohydrates, they add nutrients that meat lacks. Healthy carbohydrates can come from familiar ingredients like potatoes, peas, greens, lentils, rice, and sweet potatoes. Carbohydrates also provide fiber, which aids in digestion.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids help support skin and coat health. They are also very important in stimulating the development and growth of the brain and eyes. Fatty acids are also essential elements in bone and joint health. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are two of the most important. These are often found in red meats, fish, and poultry.
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are healthy sources of digestion, providing fiber and a boost of nutrients and antioxidants to the immune system. These are often included in dog foods, and some, like carrots or apples, can be wonderful stand-alone treats. Sweet potatoes, cranberries, blueberries, and even pineapple are some healthy fruits that dogs enjoy eating.
Glucosamine is a compound found in cartilage and is incredibly important in supporting joint health in dogs. The compound glucosamine can be found in different foods and is often harvested from shellfish. It can be used in combination with another compound called chondroitin. These two work together to support joint health and boost urinary tract function.
Natural preservatives like vitamin C and E and oils like peppermint and rosemary extract help keep chow fresh naturally. These are much better for your sweet pup than artificial preservatives.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential elements of nutrition that help boost canine health in many ways. These are often found in some ingredients included in dog foods or added in through different oils and supplements to ensure dogs are getting everything they need.
- Vitamin A works to bolster the immune system.
- Vitamin B12 is essential in strengthening the nervous system.
- Vitamin D regulates things like calcium and phosphorus.
- Vitamins C & E are antioxidants and support whole health.
- Vitamin K works to metabolize calcium and helps avert blood clots.
- Iron carries calcium throughout the body.
- Calcium and phosphorus are essential in bone structure.
- Zinc works to promote healing.
Brand History & Recalls
It is essential to look beyond the ingredients and learn about a brand’s history. Recalls, lawsuits, and safety issues are all to look out for. Does the company work with pet nitration experts? Where are their products made? What do other reviews say? These are all part of the research owners do into a pet food company to ensure they make the best choice for their dog.
Best Food For Puppies
Below we have reviewed some of the best puppy foods on the market. Some are for specific sizes of dogs, but all are for puppies. Some dogs may suffer from food allergies and will need special diets. Avoid low-quality products that use lots of fillers, unnamed meats, or unnamed meat by-products. Stick to recipes with whole grains and healthy binders like sweet potato and potato. Avoid high sugar levels, saturated fats, added colors, artificial flavors, or chemical preservatives.
The Farmer's Dog
- Cooked fresh, flash-frozen, and shipped to you.
- Personalized meal plans.
- 4 healthy, vet-designed options: beef, chicken, turkey, or pork.
- Made with human-grade ingredients (no fillers or preservatives).
- Manufactured in the United States.
- Calories and nutritional values vary based on recipe.
The Farmer’s Dog is a company that makes fresh frozen meals shipped directly to you. Meal plans can be customized by breed and individual dog’s needs. All meals are made with human-grade fresh ingredients. Calories and nutritional value depend on each recipe. No fillers or preservatives.
Proteins include chicken, beef, turkey, and pork. All recipes are grain-free and AAFCO-certified. Though we love these meals for puppies, they are suitable for all dogs in any life stage. Along with high-quality proteins, these include a healthy mix of fresh vegetables and fiber, including green beans, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and more. Dogs love the taste and are getting top nutritional value.
We love that these meals are so high quality and that plans are customizable. A two-week trial helps owners decide if this is suitable for their sweet fur baby. This company was started by a loving owner who could not find the right nutrition to suit her pup’s needs and realized other dogs could benefit from what she learned. Since 2014 this company has been helping dogs and owners resolve digestive issues and live better lives.
Orijen Puppy is an excellent overall pick for all puppies, including large breeds. This formula contains high-quality animal proteins taken from fresh poultry and fish. The kibble is grain-free, high in protein, and has 85% quality animal ingredients.
This food is formulated to be biologically appropriate and offers complete nutrition for growing puppies. The first five ingredients are free-run chicken, turkey, turkey giblets, wild-caught flounder and whole mackerel, and cage-free eggs. Dogs love the taste of this easy-to-digest kibble.
We love that this kibble is appropriate for all breeds and sizes. It is affordable, tasty, and highly reviewed. No hard-to-digest fillers. Just high-quality chow. This is protein-rich and can easily support your pup through his first year of growth.
Wellness Complete Health Just For Puppy
Wellness Complete Health Just for Puppy is a solid pick for growing pups. The first few ingredients include chicken broth, chicken, chicken, liver, salmon, and ground barley. Antioxidant-rich vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, as well as fruits like apples, pears, and bananas, offer digestible carbohydrates and fiber to aid in digestion. Omega fatty acids from flaxseed support healthy skin and coat.
This recipe offers 9% crude protein, 6% crude fat, 1% fiber, and 78% moisture. This is a wonderful food to add flavor and water to your puppy’s diet. The all-natural pate is smooth, easy to eat, and easy to digest. You can even use it along with high-quality kibble.
We love that this canned product uses limited ingredients and can support large and small breeds. Both grain-inclusive and grain-free options are available. Full of flavor with loads of natural goodness, no artificial colors, flavors, or wheat gluten fillers.
Other Notable Choices
Small-breed puppies can benefit from food that is specially tailored to their needs, from smaller sizes of kibble to high protein, fat, and calories. Below are some of our top picks for small-breed puppy food.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Puppy
- All-natural small-breed puppy food.
- Real meat is the first ingredient.
- Contains no fillers or artificial ingredients.
- It contains blueberries, peas & carrots, and sweet potatoes.
- Smaller size kibble for smaller jaws.
- 415 calories per cup.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Natural is a small-breed formula. It has 29% protein, 17% fat, and 5% fiber. This one packs 415 calories per cup. Real meat, deboned chicken, and chicken meal are the first ingredients.
Blue Buffalo offers products for dogs of all ages, so if your pup fares well on this, you can move him up to the next step and stay with the brand. This one has a higher fiber content which can be good for dogs with loose stools.
We love that this is a simple and affordable formula just for small-breed puppies. This chow is all-natural and can work well for most small breeds.
Wellness Complete Small Breed Puppy
- Contains no meat by-products or fillers.
- The first ingredient is real meat.
- Supports small breed energy needs.
- Calcium Supports bone development.
- Skin & coat support with Omega 3’s.
- 489 calories per cup.
Wellness Complete Small Breed Puppy is a high-quality kibble made for small breeds. It uses deboned turkey, chicken, and salmon meals. These are great sources of protein and fatty acids to support brain and body development.
This recipe features healthy carbohydrates like oatmeal, barley, and brown rice. Apples, blueberries, and spinach provide vitamins and support immune system health with antioxidants. All food is manufactured in the USA. No corn, wheat, or soy. 489 calories per cup, and easy to digest.
We love that this is a natural food and easy to digest. This reputable brand has plenty of recipes for all sizes and ages, so puppies and dogs of all ages can have top-quality nutrition and flavor variety.
Canidae Pure Small Breed Puppy
Canidae Pure Small Breed Puppy is a limited-ingredient formula made just for small breeds. With just eight ingredients, it is easy to digest and free of bulky fillers and additives. This one is great for small breeds, especially those known for sensitive stomachs like Shih Tzus, Shar Peis, Yorkies, and Miniature Schnauzers, just to name a few.
This recipe is grain free with one meat protein, making it easy to digest. Salmon provides a ton of protein and healthy fats. Dried whole eggs add even more protein. This one has 30% protein, 12% crude fat, and 5% crude fiber. 521 calories per cup, making this an excellent choice for small high-energy breeds.
We love that kibble pieces are coated in raw, freeze-dried salmon. This gives a ton of flavor and that extra boost of protein. This s a very popular choice among small breed owners due to the limited ingredients and easy digestion.
Large breed chow is developed to support the large and giant breed’s rapid growth and huge weight. While they can eat general puppy kibble, large-breed recipes are better and offer more support for bone, joint, and muscle health.
Wellness Core Large Breed Puppy
Wellness Core Large Breed Puppy is a top choice for bigger breeds. This high-quality kibble is made with deboned chicken, chicken meal, chicken fat, and turkey meal. Superfoods, including bananas, broccoli, and spinach, are also listed. This is a highly concentrated, protein-packed chow.
Kibble is easy to digest and packed with nutrients and minerals to support large breed health. Fresh, whole-food ingredients are used to make this tasty and nutritionally balanced. Optimal taurine and protein levels work to develop strong muscles and support the large girth of these bigger breeds.
We love that this kibble is made specially to support large and giant breeds like the German Shepherd and Great Dane. These big pups need top-notch nutrition, and this kibble can be a great support. Each piece of kibble is coated in an “acticoat,” a probiotic solution that supports a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Instinct Raw Boost Large Breed Puppy
- High-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw nuggets.
- Cage-free chicken is the first ingredient.
- A balanced mix of poultry, fish, and meat.
- Natural DHA from chicken eggs.
- Free from grains, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meal, and artificial colors and preservatives.
- 485 calories per cup.
Instinct Raw Boost Large Breed Puppy is a delectable mix of kibble and raw nutrition. This is perfect for large-breed puppies. The freeze-dried raw nuggets are nutrient-dense and add a boost of flavor, as well as texture variety. This is an enjoyable meal for large-breed doggies to eat.
This kibble has 485 calories per cup. Chicken, chicken meal, chicken fat, menhaden fish meal, lamb meal, freeze-dried chicken livers, dried chicken heart, and salmon oil all provide protein and healthy fats.
We love that this food is minimally processed and has tasty freeze-dried nuggets. Dogs love the taste, and everything is grain free and easy to digest. Probiotics and antioxidants support digestive and immune system health.
Nulo Puppy Grain Free
- Contains more protein and animal fats.
- Supports healthy skin, a shinier coat, and more energy.
- A beneficial mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for a healthy immune system.
- Chicken-free recipe.
- Reduces canine food allergies or sensitivities.
Nulo Puppy Grain Free wet is another great food for large breed pups. This is a wet version and is high in protein. This recipe is made with turkey, salmon, and cod. It is grain free and rich in healthy fats. High meat and low carb are the focus of this recipe.
Turkey, turkey broth, salmon broth, turkey liver, and cod are the first five ingredients. Sweet potatoes, peas, lentils. Pumpkin, cranberry, and blueberries all add to this tasty wet meal. This is a tasty, thick pate, which makes it perfect for a stand-alone meal or as a mix-in with a high-quality large breed kibble.
We love that this recipe is high in fish and offers a tasty alternative to chicken-based foods. Those are not always digestible, so a high-flavor, high-protein food like this is a great choice to have. Great for large breeds but also suitable for smaller dogs.
Along with The Farmer’s Dog, there are a few other outstanding fresh meal possibilities for puppies.
Nom Nom is a highly reviewed, five-star brand. They make fresh, human-grade meals for small-breed puppies and adults. These recipes include whole eggs and whole animal proteins. Beef, chicken, pork, and turkey with fresh vegetables. Limited ingredients are cooked individually and mixed together to create the perfect meal.
Meals are proportioned and made to suit a pup’s unique needs. The meal is tasty, but it also helps reduce stools, makes breath smell better, boosts coat shine, and helps reduce allergy symptoms in dogs. Meals are delivered to 48 states.
We love that the meals are so fresh and cooked so meticulously. These meals are high in protein and use very healthy ingredients.
JustFoodForDogs makes top-quality fresh meals for dogs. They use only human-grade ingredients. This company has been around longer than many and offers multiple recipes. They also offer a pantry fresh line that uses the same high-quality ingredients but lasts much longer on the shelf than fresh meals.
This company brings in veterinarians, nutritionists, and even dermatologists to help formulate the best recipes. Subscriptions are based on a dog’s weight, and there is a puppy line available. Everything is hand prepared in small kitchens.
We love that this company offers multiple recipes prepared in small batches. With grain and gluten-free and grain-inclusive recipes, they can serve pups with a diverse number of dietary needs. They have alternatives for vet-prescribed custom recipes as well as wet PantryFresh Line. This company provides vet-trained consultants to help develop the perfect nutrition plan for every pup.
Best Freeze Dried
Freeze-dried chow offers the best of both worlds. Top-notch flavor and amazing nutritional value.
Stella & Chewy’s Dinner Patties Perfectly Puppy
- Created especially for puppies.
- Raw, freeze-dried patty.
- High protein formula.
- 95 % grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon.
- 100% organic fruits and vegetables.
- No fillers, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.
Stella & Chewy’s makes a delicious, freeze-dried dinner patty for puppies. This is a raw food patty that uses whole prey ingredients. Proteins include grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon.
Patties are protein-rich and taste delicious. They are made of 95% salmon, beef, organs, and bone, including beef liver. All produce is 100% organic. Freeze-dried raw meats support whole-body health. Additionally, fiber, probiotics for digestive support, and taurine support heart function. Grain-free recipes with no fillers, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.
We love that this patty is made for puppies. This is also a nice choice for dogs with food sensitivities, as they are limited ingredients, easy to digest, and made so fresh.
Primal Raw Pronto Puppy
Primal Raw Pronto Puppy Freeze-Dried is made with cage-free chicken and organic fruits and vegetables, including squash, kale, carrots, apples, pumpkin seeds, and more. Highly digestible formula developed to maximize nutrient absorption. Proteins include chicken, chicken liver, beef, ground beef bone, and salmon.
Whole food ingredients and raw nutrition are all packed into convenient freeze-dried meals. This one is great for nutrition and easy for owners to use.
We love that this one is so protein-packed and high in flavor. We also love that it is a puppy-specific formula. Just add water and serve.
Best For Sensitive Stomach
Some puppies have very sensitive tummies and need chow they can easily digest. You can consult your vet to rule out any underlying issues or food allergies.
Every ingredient in these is human-grade. Lamb is a novel protein and is an excellent option for breeds and individual pups with digestive sensitivities. Ollie works to build a plan around each pup’s specific needs rather than offering a one size fits all approach.
Ollie’s Fresh Lamb recipe is a perfect fit for pups with overly sensitive stomachs. This recipe uses only one animal source, making it very easy to digest. Recipes are hypoallergenic and designed to be tolerated by even the most sensitive pups.
We love that this product uses only one protein and is delivered to the door in pre-portioned packs. Ollie is convenient and high quality. It is pricey but is nice for those pups who need hypoallergenic food for their meals. Also, you can decide if you want to leave ingredients out and create a custom recipe for your puppy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can my puppy eat adult dog food?
Your puppy should not eat adult chow until he reaches about one year. Stick with puppy chow exclusively until about 11 months, then slowly introduce adult chow as you make the transition. This process takes several months and should not be done quickly, as it can cause serious digestive distress.
Do puppies need wet food?
Wet food can be a terrific choice to encourage puppies to eat. It adds a ton of flavor, moisture, and protein. Wet can be used along with high-quality puppy kibble.
Is a raw diet okay for my puppy?
Raw foods can be an occasional treat but run the risk of spreading bacteria. Puppies may like a raw meat treat but should not be on a raw diet until they reach adulthood.
What should I feed my 8-week-old puppy?
An 8-week-old puppy should be on a puppy mush. The mash is a mixture of softened puppy kibble or wet mixed with water.
When are puppies weaned?
Puppies start to wean around four weeks old, depending on the breed. Some may nurse a little longer, but most are fully weaned by six to eight weeks.
A new puppy is a momentous occasion and cause for celebration. Deciding what food is best for your new pup is a challenge. There are plenty of choices, so the good news is owners are sure to find something that works for them. Stick to high-quality foods and avoid those that use fillers and cheap protein substitutes. Hopefully, our guide has helped you learn more about the best food for puppies. Best of luck on your puppy’s nutritional journey.