Nothing is more adorable than a cute and cuddly puppy. But as wonderful as puppies are, they can also be a lot of work! Not only will you have to take on the task of house-training your puppy and teaching him the basics of obedience training, but it will also be your responsibility to make sure that he grows up to be healthy and strong. Many people assume that puppies are merely miniature adult dogs. While your puppy might look like a smaller version of an adult dog of his breed, his nutritional needs are different. Feeding your puppy a healthy diet is the best way to ensure that he grows and develops properly, so don’t take for granted the importance of your puppy’s diet!
Keep reading to learn more about the nutritional needs of puppies and to receive recommendations for top brands of puppy food.
Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Puppies
All dogs require a blend of protein, fat, and carbohydrates in their diet – you should already be familiar with these nutrients because they are the same ones that you need. It is important to realize, however, that dogs need a different ratio of these nutrients than you do. Furthermore, puppies need a slightly different ratio than adult dogs. Protein is the most important nutrient for any dog because it consists of amino acids which form the building blocks of healthy muscle and tissues. You must also remember that dogs are primarily carnivorous animals (though they are not obligate carnivores like cats). This mean that your puppy’s body is biologically adapted to digesting and absorbing nutrients more efficiently from animal-based ingredients than from plant products.
When it comes to your puppy’s need for protein, his diet should consist of at least 22% protein. This is the minimum nutritional requirement set forth by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The word “minimum” here is very important – a diet that contains 22% protein will be adequate for puppies, but more protein is always better, no matter what your dog’s age. In addition to 22% protein, your puppy’s diet should contain at least 8% fat. Remember, however, that this fat should come from healthy, animal-based sources for the most part. Chicken fat, for example, is a highly nutritious source of fat for dogs – salmon oil and other fish oils are great sources as well. It is a good idea to choose a diet that contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to give your puppy the energy he needs to fuel his growth and to support his healthy skin and coat.
Your puppy doesn’t have any specific nutritional requirements for carbohydrates and neither do adult dogs. Remember, however, that your puppy is largely a carnivore which means that he has a limited ability to digest plant products – a diet too high in carbohydrates can be bad for your puppy. What you want to do is choose a product that contains no more than 5% crude fiber and that any carbohydrate ingredients come from digestible sources. Whole grains and starchy vegetables are generally considered digestible for most dogs, though if your puppy is sensitive to gluten or grains you should stick with a grain-free recipe. In terms of other nutrients, your puppy requires a blend of certain vitamins and minerals as well such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, and Vitamin B.
Small-Breed vs. Large-Breed Puppies
Not only do puppies have slightly different nutritional needs than adult dogs, but nutritional recommendations vary between small-breed and large-breed puppies. When it comes to percentages, small-breed and large-breed puppies have the same basic needs for protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The main area in which these puppies differ is in the number of calories they need on a daily basis. Compared to adult dogs, puppies need a higher number of calories (measured per pound of bodyweight) and they need a more frequent influx of energy to fuel their growth. Small-breed puppies, compared to large-breed puppies, need the highest number of calories because they have much faster metabolisms than larger dogs.
When it comes to feeding your puppy, you need to be careful in making sure that he gets enough calories, but not too many calories. This applies especially to large-breed puppies. Small-breed puppies (generally those that weigh less than 20 pounds at maturity) grow very rapidly and generally reach their adult weight in 12 months or less. Large-breed puppies (generally those that weigh 70 pounds or more at maturity) may grow just as quickly, but it will take them longer to reach their adult size – generally 12 to 18 months. What you need to realize is that while fast growth is perfectly natural and healthy for small-breed puppies, fast growth can be dangerous for large-breed puppies. If a large-breed puppy grows too quickly, it could put undue stress on his bones and joints, predisposing him to musculoskeletal issues like hip dysplasia as an adult.
The best way to make sure that your puppy’s energy and nutrient needs are met is to choose a breed size-specific formula. Small-breed puppies should be fed a small-breed puppy recipe until they reach 80% of their adult size – this usually occurs around 8 to 10 months. Recipes for small-breed puppies are rich in protein with plenty of fat for extra energy. Large-breed puppies should be fed a large-breed recipe until they reach 80% of their adult size as well, though this generally doesn’t occur until 12 to 16 months of age. Large-breed puppy recipes are also rich in protein, but more limited in fat content to prevent the puppy from getting too many calories which could induce excessive growth. Once your puppy is big enough to switch to an adult recipe, you should still keep feeding him a small-breed or large-breed formula according to his breed for the best results.
Top 7 Dog Food Brands for Puppies
Choosing a dog food product for your puppy can be confusing because there are so many options to choose from. While many dog food brands offer breed size-specific recipes, some do not. If you have a medium-breed puppy, you may be able to get away with feeding him a small-breed puppy formula or you might choose instead to just feed him a non-size-specific puppy recipe. Below you will find reviews of top recommended dog food brands that offer puppy-specific formulas.
- Blue Buffalo – Blue Buffalo has become one of the biggest names in the natural pet food industry. Not only is Blue Buffalo known for the quality of their products, but also for their variety. Blue Buffalo dog foods can be divided into four product lines – Life Protection Formula, Freedom, Basics, and Wilderness. The Life Protection Formula includes recipes for all life stages that are made with real meats, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The Basics line includes an assortment of limited ingredient diets made for dogs that suffer from food allergies and sensitivities and The Freedom line includes grain-free recipes. The Wilderness line features meat-rich formulas that are inspired by the natural biological diet of wild wolves. When it comes to puppy food recipes, Blue Buffalo offers nearly a dozen dry food recipes and several canned food options. Blue Buffalo offers both traditional and grain-free recipes as well as small-breed and large-breed formulas.
- Fromm Family Foods – Sometimes simply known as Fromm, the Fromm Family Foods company is known for being a family-owned and -operated company. While Fromm as more recently become known for their pet food products, this company has been an innovator in the pet industry for decades – they actually developed one of the first vaccines for canine distemper. In terms of their product offerings, Fromm has three product lines to choose from – Classic, Gold, and Four-Star. The Classic line only includes one recipe for adult dogs and one for mature adults, but the Gold line includes several puppy recipes, including a large-bred puppy formula. Unfortunately, there are no puppy-specific canned foods. Fromm does, however, offer a line of products that are intended for use as part of a rotational diet. This is a great option for puppies because if you start feeding your puppy a rotational diet while he is still young it could significantly lower his risk for developing food allergies as an adult.
- Wellness – The Wellness company is known for being a pioneer in the holistic pet nutrition industry. This company believes in the power of quality nutrition for developing and maintaining total body health and wellness in both dogs and cats. According to the company website, Wellness is dedicated to doing, “whatever it takes to create the healthiest foods for the pets that depend on us”. With this goal in mind, you can expect every one of Wellness’ pet food recipes to be made with fresh, high-quality ingredients to provide all of the nutrients your dog needs and nothing he doesn’t. When it comes to their puppy food products in particular, Wellness offers an excellent assortment of options divided amongst several product lines including Complete Health, CORE Grain-Free, and Simple Limited Ingredient Diets – there is also one TruFood baked dry food recipe for puppies. The CORE line includes just one puppy recipe, but the Complete Health line includes original as well as small- and large-breed puppy formulas.
- Natural Balance – If your puppy has food allergies or sensitivities, the Natural Balance pet food brand might be a good choice. Natural Balance is a quality pet food brand that was launched nearly thirty years ago with the goal of providing pet parents with quality pet food products designed around sound scientific principles and nutritional truths. In other words, “food for a lifetime”. Natural Balance carefully designs their recipes to ensure optimal nutrition, using quality ingredients like fresh meats and unique proteins, complex carbohydrates, and nourishing fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition to traditional life stages formulas, Natural Balance also offers a selection of high-protein and limited ingredient diets. When it comes to their product offerings, Natural Balance has one Limited Ingredient Diet for puppies and an Original Ultra recipe for puppies – they also have several small-breed and large-breed specific formulas that your puppy can transition into.
- Taste of the Wild – The Taste of the Wild brand of pet food is known for producing high-quality products that mimic the natural evolutionary diets of wild cats and dogs. This company only makes premium, grain-free products and they use only the highest-quality ingredients like fresh meats, grain-free carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Each one of Taste of the Wild’s dog food products is supplemented with antioxidants for immune support as well as probiotics for healthy digestion and chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption. Every formula features real roasted meats with digestible carbohydrates like beans, legumes, and fresh fruits and veggies. Although Taste of the Wild only offers two puppy food formulas, they are extremely high-quality and an excellent source of nutrition for puppies of all breeds and sizes. Both puppy formulas are positively packed with premium proteins like fresh buffalo, roasted venison, fresh salmon, and lam meal. These recipes do more than just meet your puppy’s minimum nutritional requirements – they exceed them.
- Holistic Select – With a name like Holistic Select, you would expect this pet food brand to offer high-quality, natural pet food recipes – that is exactly what they sell. Holistic Select has only been around for about ten years but they have already made a name for themselves in the natural pet food industry. This company follows a holistic approach to pet nutrition, using only the freshest natural ingredients available including healthy proteins, whole grains, omega fatty acids, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Simply put, Holistic Select pet food products will nourish your puppy’s body from head to tail. In terms of their puppy food products, Holistic Select offers five holistic dry food recipes. There is one regular puppy recipe made with anchovy, sardine, and chicken meals as well as a grain-free formula designed for both puppies and adult dogs. Holistic Select also offers some breed size-specific formulas for puppies including one for small and mini breed puppies, and two for large-breed puppies. There aren’t any puppy-specific wet foods.
- Canidae – The Canidae company is an independent, family-owned company that has been producing high-quality pet foods since 1996. Canidae follows the tagline, “Pet food made by pet people,” which is an accurate description of the brand. This brand understands the special relationship shared between people and their pets, so they seek to provide pet food products that will keep pets healthy and happy for as long as possible. Canidae offers several different lines of products including limited ingredient diets and grain-free recipes as well formulas designed for multi-dog households. In terms of their dry puppy food products, Canidae offers a grain-free formula made with fresh chicken as well as an original puppy food recipe and a large-breed puppy recipe. There are also several canned food recipes for puppies, including two that are grain-free.
Ultimately, it is your choice which product you feed your puppy. It is important to take your time when making this decision, however, because not all dog foods are created equal. Make sure that the formula you choose is rich in protein, supplemented with healthy fats, and limited in carbohydrate content for the best results. Any one of the brands reviewed above would be a good place to start.