“Whoever said you can’t buy happiness forgot about puppies.” – Gene Hill
There are few greater joys in life than a puppy. For all the play and fun and laughter, this is a very important time for a lot of things. Puppyhood is a critical stage of growth and development, making proper nutrition essential. When it comes to nourishing your puppy, it is vital that you take the time to choose the best puppy food. By feeding your dog a top quality food when they are young, you are investing in a future of good health, less injuries and a lowered risk of disease.
Your puppy needs natural, wholesome nutrition that contains the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is so important to never feed your puppy a food that is designated for adult dogs because their little bodies need a delicate balance of nutrients that will impact their development. Feeding them the wrong food can actually be detrimental to their health and contribute to problems later in life. To set the stage for a happy, healthy adult, you need to lay the foundation of solid nutrition from day one.
Moreover, puppies are especially sensitive to what they ingest. Natural, organic, grain-free and ancestral recipes are particularly wonderful for puppies. Your dog should have as natural a diet as possible throughout their lives, but when they are busy building those little bodies and brains, it is even more crucial that they are given the right tools. It reduces their risk of developing food allergies or sensitivities and even severe health conditions. Keep natural in mind as we discuss what makes the best food for puppies.
The Foundation Of All Quality Puppy Food
Good puppy food is nutritionally different than formulas made for adult dogs. The first thing you should look for on your puppy food is approval from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The AAFCO publishes nutrient profiles outlining the needs of dogs during this life stage. If a manufacturer contains adequate nutritional content, they are permitted to label their products as ‘complete and balanced,’ or may say that the food meets AAFCO standards for either ‘growth’ or ‘all life stages.’
Secondly, as with all dog food, you should read the label. Even if a food meets the AAFCO criteria for containing enough nutrients, the product may still also contain harmful or low-quality ingredients. Please remember that the AAFCO does not have the same standards as most concerned pet owners.
Here Is What You Don’t Want To See On The Label:
Artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners
Fructose, corn syrup, sorbitol, xylitol, etc.
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), PG (Propylene Glycol), Ethoxyquin, etc.
Generic terms like meat, meat meal or by-product
Anything this unclear means that the manufacturers do not know what animal or what part of the animal was included in the food
Corn, wheat, gluten or soy
These are the most common fillers and appear in a lot of popular foods even though they add very little nutritional value and are major allergens for many dogs
What You Are Looking For:
Protein from an animal
This should be the first ingredient(s). Make sure it is from an identifiable source like chicken, lamb, beef, salmon, etc. Avoid anything vague like poultry or meat.
Think of healthy carbs you want in your own diet like oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, barley, sweet potatoes, etc.
Fats and oils
Fats need to be from identifiable sources, so look for something like chicken fat, not generic animal fat. Healthy oils come from fish, flaxseed, sunflower, almond, olive, etc.
Fruits and vegetables
A good blend is great, but no onions, grapes or cherries.
Vitamins and minerals
Supplemental vitamins and minerals should be found on the label of any good dog food.
Since puppyhood is a time of growth, the best puppy foods will contain higher levels of protein, the building blocks of muscle and the core of any canine diet. Healthy oils are also very important during this time. Oils from fish, flaxseed, olive, almond, and sunflower contain essential omega fatty acids that support brain function as your puppy learns and matures. Carbohydrates are also fuel for your puppy’s development and those fruits, veggies, vitamins, and minerals supply his little body with all the stuff he needs for strong bones, good eyesight, a strong immune system and more.
Many puppy foods may also include supplements to further aid your dog’s growth and development. Popular choices include l-carnitine or taurine for boosting metabolism and supporting heart health. Glucosamine and chondroitin are also common, especially in large breed foods for joint health. Probiotics are often used as a digestive aid, as well. While having a balanced, nutrient-rich recipe is the most important thing to look for in your puppy food, extras like these are of course a welcome sight on the label.
Choosing A Food Perfect For Your Pup
There are many factors to take into account including breed and activity level that will determine the needs of your individual dog. The most important is size. A dog is classified as a small breed if he will weigh under 30 lbs as an adult, medium if he will be 30 to 60 lbs, and large if he’ll be 60 – 100 lbs. There are extremes that fit into either the toy or giant categories, such as Chihuahuas, weighing in at under 5 lbs, and great danes, which can exceed 100 lbs.
Large breeds mature slower than smaller breeds, so they will need to stay on a puppy diet for longer. Depending on the size, small breeds may be considered adults as early as 8 or 9 months, while large breeds may take up to 15 months. Due to their different body structures and rate of growth, small and large breeds need different things from their puppy food. While most puppy foods are labeled safe for all breeds and sizes, it is really ideal if you select a recipe for your pup’s weight range.
Foods catering to small breeds have to take into account that these dogs have super fast metabolisms. Small breed puppies have even tinier bellies, so their food must be dense in calories so that they are getting the energy they need at mealtime. Due to how fast they burn through calories, these smaller breeds are at a greater risk of developing hypoglycemia as early as puppyhood. Also, small breed food will feature nuggets that your pup can easily chew. These dogs obviously have smaller jaws, especially when they are younger, so they need a food that is easy for them to break down. In short, puppy food for small breeds will contain a lot of calories packed into smaller kibble to keep your feisty little furball running all day.
The right food is also critical for large breed puppies. One of the biggest fears of any large breed owner is the dreaded risk of hip dysplasia that plagues all large and giant dogs. Recently, this has been linked to three major factors – two of which can be controlled during puppyhood. Hip dysplasia, as well as most other orthopedic conditions in large breeds, is the result of genetics, excessive calcium and too many calories. The first factor is, unfortunately, a matter that must be addressed through responsible breeding practices to discourage reproduction in lines with a history of the condition.
However, the issues of calcium and calories can be regulated. Puppies certainly need calcium for their growing bodies, so it is a delicate balance of meeting their needs while not triggering rapid, unsafe growth rates. Researchers have determined that by maintaining calcium levels under 1.5%, you can achieve the perfect amount to encourage growth at a safe speed. In the body, calcium works together with phosphorus in skeletal development.
For this reason, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus has to be adjusted as well to ensure these minerals are being used most effectively. Large breed puppy formulas not only maintain these safe levels of calcium and phosphorus but also provide the correct density of calories to address the third determinant behind hip dysplasia. Unlike with small breeds, large dogs have larger tummies and need more food to feel full.This is often the reason behind why they receive too many calories from overfeeding.
Overfeeding is an issue with both small and large breeds. This isn’t only because so many pet parents can’t say no to those big brown eyes. It is often because their pups are not getting a food with the right balance of ingredients and calories to fuel their systems while also leaving them feeling satisfied. Again, puppy food designated for your dog’s respective size should be formulated to meet their nutritional and caloric needs while leaving them feeling full and well-satiated.
Our Top Ten Best Rated Puppy Foods
With all these things in mind, we’ve reviewed the many options that line pet store shelves and compiled a short list of the puppy foods that meet these standards. We have focused on dry foods not only because they are the most popular and convenient, but they generally offer the best-rounded recipes. In general, we recommend giving your dog a dry kibble base, supplemented with wet food for additional nutrition if you prefer. We have noted here which brands have a line of wet food for puppies that we would also recommend. (If you want the top 10 best rated dog (adult) foods click here.)
Here we will offer our picks of the best puppy food brands with a review of their formulas designated for all sizes. Nearly all of these selections also have recipes specially designed for small, medium and large sizes, as well. As we mentioned, it is highly recommended that you take the extra step and choose a top quality puppy food formulated for the size of your breed.
The brand Solid Gold is really one of the best names in pet food, with 40 years experience as one of the first holistic pet food companies. They offer puppy formulas designed for small, medium and large pups that are packed full of everything they need for long, happy, healthy lives. All of their recipes have quality protein, carbs, fats, oils and 20 antioxidant-rich superfoods like kelp, broccoli, spinach, and pumpkin. Solid Gold supplements their puppy food with taurine, l-carnitine, and probiotics, as well.
Acana gets our approval not only because their puppy food is so well-rounded, but because their ingredients are locally sourced. You can trust that their chicken, eggs, and flounder are fresh and nutrient rich. They also include organic apples, pears, pumpkin, spinach, squash and so much more to boost their formulas’ antioxidant value. Acana has all the right stuff to make it a genuinely natural choice for your pup.
Orijen is another brand that has our hearts for producing some of the highest quality dog food available. Again, their ingredients are sourced locally through regional farmers and fishermen. Protein sources like free-range chicken and wild-caught fish balanced with organic fruits, vegetables, and botanicals pack their puppy recipe with goodness. Orijen also uses probiotics for digestion and chicken cartilage, which is full of natural glucosamine and chondroitin. Truly one of the most natural dog foods you can find.
Your puppy has a strong foundation for great health if he is eating Wellness. This is another excellent all-natural, premium food that is balanced with everything a growing dog needs. Protein like chicken and salmon plus carbs like oatmeal, sweet potatoes and barley make a great base for their puppy recipe. Wellness is also full of fruits and veggies like spinach, apples, blueberries, and carrots, further supplemented by vitamins, minerals, taurine, and probiotics. If you or your puppy prefers wet food, take a look at Wellness canned wet puppy foods, too!
Horizon’s Legacy line of foods mirrors all the good stuff in a raw diet, but in convenient dry kibble. Their food is processed with lower temperatures to retain more of the nutritional value in locally-sourced chicken, turkey, and salmon. This recipe is also high in healthy oils from salmon and flaxseed. Horizon’s antioxidant blend of bok choy, broccoli, blueberries, apples, carrots and more is bolstered by even more vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. Another option we can enthusiastically recommend.
Canidae is an independent, family-owned company that produces a great line of dog foods. Their puppy formulas are simple, made with limited ingredients to avoid exposure to allergens. Great protein sources like chicken and fish are balanced with healthy carbs like potatoes. Chicken fat and flaxseed provide the fats and oils your pup needs, while peas, lentils, alfalfa and a mix of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics give this food everything it needs to make it a solid choice for puppies.
Chicken and whitefish give Earthborn Holistic’s puppy formula a strong protein base. This is another great holistic food, using nutrient-rich choices like oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice for healthy carbs as well as flaxseed for omega acids. Earthborn mixes in a great bunch of fruits and vegetables that includes peas, apples, blueberries, spinach, and carrots. Both taurine and l-carnitine are added for heart health, as well as probiotics for digestion. This is an all-around great formula for puppies.
Fromm is a family-owned manufacturer that adheres to the natural, local philosophy that makes for great dog food. Their Gold Nutritionals Puppy formula includes duck, chicken, lamb, eggs, and cheese, all from regional sources. Salmon oil gives it the omega fatty acids we want to see, while a balanced blend of healthy carbs, fruits and veggies adds everything else your pup needs. What’s more, they supplement with taurine, probiotics and chicken cartilage for glucosamine and chondroitin, great extras in an already nutritionally complete puppy food. We can recommend their wet food, as well!
Taste of the Wild does a great job reflecting our dog’s ancestral diet in their line of dry and wet food options. Their puppy recipe is complete with buffalo, venison, and lamb as top-notch protein and sweet potatoes for complex carbohydrates full of fiber. This food features raspberries, blueberries, peas and more, along with plenty of added vitamins and minerals. Taste of the Wild uses salmon and flaxseed oil for an omega acid boost as well as probiotics to support digestion. They have a great reputation for quality foods and their puppy recipe does not disappoint.
Natural Balance has created an excellent puppy recipe that has something unique. They start with chicken and duck as great protein sources, with brown rice and oats for healthy carbs. This is well-balanced with vitamins and minerals from both fruits and veggies and additional supplements. Natural Balance makes their puppy formula even better through the use of colostrum, a component of milk that contains condensed protein, nutrients and antibodies that add even more rich nourishment for your puppy.
Your puppy depends on you to make the right choices to keep them healthy. Nutrition is the cornerstone of your puppy’s health and sets the foundation for their future. There are a lot of options out there, but you need to be informed to make the right choice.
Not all dog food manufacturers are as interested in the health of our dogs as we are. The best thing is to ignore the hype and marketing and do your own research on what makes the best puppy food. Any list of puppy food reviews like this one is bound to contain less of the most highly advertised brands. When it comes to quality, the biggest names in the dog food business just can’t guarantee it with the sheer quantity of products that they produce.
Look for natural and identifiable ingredients. Protein should be first on any puppy food label, with a good blend of healthy complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, oils, vitamins, and minerals. Remember that the size of your dog matters. It is really important to stick with a food designed for their specific needs.
Puppyhood is one of the most exciting, fun times in the life of your dog. In this critical time of growth, development, and learning, make sure that you are giving him the nourishment he needs for a long, happy life.
As always, if you have any concerns about your puppy’s dietary needs, consult your veterinarian.
Looking for more options? Take a look at our top “dry” puppy foods on the market here.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com