How To Choose the Right Food for Your Puppy
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Welcoming a puppy into your home isn’t as simple as bringing your new family member home—you have to puppy-proof your space, start crate training and potty training, and find the best puppy food to help her grow.
Feeding your puppy an appropriate diet that supports her growth and optimizes her health is not as hard as you might think. As long as you keep a few key things in mind when selecting your puppy’s diet, picking good food for a puppy is simple.
Why Puppy Food?
Growing puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, which is what makes feeding them a “puppy food” essential. The most important step in choosing a food for your new friend is to select one that is specifically labeled for puppies or one that’s “formulated for growth.” A quality puppy food will provide the following in amounts that will support your pup as she grows:
Amino acids—specifically arginine, phenylalanine, and tyrosine
A puppy’s digestive tract is still maturing, so a good puppy food should also be highly digestible to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort or upset.
What To Look For in a Good Puppy Food
There are a lot of puppy food brands and formulations on the market, and not all are created equal. When you’re choosing the best puppy food, here’s what to consider:
1. Expected Adult Size
For large- and giant-breed puppies (those expected to weigh over 50 pounds as an adult), consider using a puppy food formulated especially for large- or giant-breed dogs.
The biggest concern with feeding large- or giant-breed puppies is providing too many calories and nutrients, which can cause your puppy to grow too quickly. This rapid growth causes abnormal bone remodeling and skeletal abnormalities, affecting the dog’s ability to walk and exercise normally later in life. Foods specifically formulated for larger dogs provide fewer calories and less calcium than other options, which helps regulate the puppy’s skeletal and muscle growth.
There are various dog foods that are marketed as “breed-specific food.” These diets are not truly necessary for your growing puppy, but they can help by offering a preferable kibble size for your puppy and a more specific nutrient profile for your dog’s breed. For example:
Breeds with longer coats may benefit from a growth formula with added fat and greater essential fatty acids, to support a healthier haircoat and skin.
Large-breed formulas tend to incorporate more fiber to help improve stool quality/firmness.
Additional ingredients may be added to help combat common breed-related concerns, such as with Eukanuba’s Boxer formula, which supplies additional omega-3 fatty acids, L-carnitine, and taurine—all nutrients beneficial for heart health.
So, while not necessary, a breed-specific puppy food may provide some added nutritional benefit for your dog.
3. Ingredient Profile
There are no specific ingredients to look for when choosing the best puppy food, but pet parents must ensure the food is made by a reputable company and contains high-quality ingredients.
It’s not recommended to feed puppies grain-free diets because of their connection to the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The issue may not simply be the lack of grains, but more so the ingredients added in place of the grains that may alter metabolism of nutrients necessary for proper heart development and function.
There also may be some breed-specific differences that precipitate this condition, in relation to the diet. Research on this topic is ongoing and conflicting. But for now, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid grain-free diets, particularly in your growing puppy, whose vital organs are still maturing.
The Best Puppy Food Brands
These days, there are a multitude of dog food brands for you to choose from—so much so, that the selection can be overwhelming. To help narrow down your choices, choose a manufacturing company that is committed to conducting scientific research on the foods it produces via organized feeding trials.
These companies have strict quality control guidelines to ensure the food nutrient concentrations meet their claims on the product label. Look for companies that employ a nutritionist to help formulate their diets; this information might not be readily available, so you may have to call the company or search their website to find the answer. Some of these scientifically driven companies include:
All of these companies offer various brand lines that provide options to align with your budget and nutritional values, like Purina’s Beyond organic line. Always discuss your choice in puppy food with your veterinarian.
You should feed your new family member puppy food until she’s reached about 80% of her anticipated adult size. For small and medium-sized dogs, this is typically when they’re 12 months old. For large- and giant-breed dogs, this could occur between 18-24 months of age. At this point, they should transition to an adult dog food. But there’s no harm in feeding a puppy diet into adulthood, as long as the calories and amount of food provided are appropriately adjusted for your dog’s body weight and condition.
- Larsen J. 2010. Focus on nutrition: Feeding large breed puppies. Compendium: Continuing education for veterinarians; 2010.
Freeman, L. M., Stern, J. A., Fries, R., Adin, D. B., and Rush, J. E. Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?; 2018.
US FDA. FDA Provides Update on Investigation into Potential Connection Between Certain Diets and Cases of Canine Heart Disease; 2019.
US FDA. Vet-LIRN Update on Investigation into Dilated Cardiomyopathy; 2019.
Adin, D., DeFrancesco, T. C., Keene, B., Tou, S., Meurs, K., Atkins, C., et al. Echocardiographic phenotype of canine dilated cardiomyopathy differs based on diet type. J. Vet; 2019.
Quilliam, C., Ren, Y., Morris, T., Ai, Y., and Weber, L. P.. The effects of 7 days of feeding pulse-based diets on digestibility, glycemic response and taurine levels in domestic dogs. Front. Vet. Sci. 8, 408; 2021
Quest BW, Leach WB, Garimella S, et al. Mar 2022. Incidence of canine dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed at referral institutes and grain-free pet food store sales: A retrospective study. Front Anim Sci; 2022.
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