Complete Guide to the Best Puppy Food (with Recommendations)

If you’re looking for a complete guide to choosing the best puppy food, we’ve got you covered!

Today, we’ll go over what your pup requires in terms of nutrition & whether different breeds have different needs.

Then, we’ll take a look at my top recommendations for everything from dry to wet to grain-free puppy food.

We’ll even take a look at the worst foods for a growing pup!

Ready to get started?

How to Choose the Best Puppy Food

Wondering how to choose the best puppy food? Check out our complete guide for tips on what to look for, then read on for our top 10 recommendations!

Before we get into the recommendations, let’s talk about what to look for in the best puppy food.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that choosing the right food is incredibly important and will impact your dog’s entire life.

Now, don’t let that scare you if you discover that you’ve been feeding your pup the “wrong” food so far.

Let me tell you a secret: when I first got my German Shepherd and Lab/Collie, I knew nothing about choosing the right puppy food at first.

I fed my dogs some of the worst puppy foods on the market because I didn’t know better, and they both lived to be nearly 15.

So, it’s never too late to correct feeding mistakes. Of course, if you haven’t brought your pup home yet, it’s better to get it right from the start!

How do you “get it right” from the start? Let’s start with the overall nutritional needs of a puppy.

Nutritional Needs of a Puppy

Learn about the nutritional needs of your new puppy, plus find out our top 10 picks for the best puppy food.

During the first 6-8 weeks (preferably 8 weeks), your pup will get all of his nutrition from him mother.

If you have to bring him home earlier than that (if his mom dies, for example), it’s vital that you work with a vet to make sure he gets what he needs.

In fact, I’m not even going to cover those early weeks because I don’t want to encourage you to DIY your newborn puppy’s diet. Seriously, talk to a vet about the best puppy formula.

Once he’s weaned and ready to eat on his own, he’ll need more than you can find in most adult dog food.

More what? Well, everything, really. More protein, more fat, more calcium, lysine, leucine, even more salt.

PetMD made a handy chart listing the nutritional needs of the average puppy. Take a look at the highlights in the table below. All values are percentages.

NutrientPuppiesAdults
Protein22.018.0
Arginine.62.51
Histidine.22.18
Lysine.77.63
Fat8.05.0
Calcium1.0.6
Phosphorus.8.5
Sodium.3.06
Chloride.45.09

Note the words “average puppy.” Giant breeds have different requirements because of the rate at which they grow.

At a minimum, your puppy needs 22% crude protein and 8% crude fat. The rest are still very important, but you really want to hone in on those percentages.

Another important note, while pups do need more calcium than adults, you don’t want to go overboard.

Too much calcium can actually increase your dog’s risk of developing hip dysplasia.

How much & often should you feed your puppy?

Take a look at the back of your dog food bag and note the feeding guidelines.

Now, divide that number into 3-4 equal servings. That’s how much you should feed your puppy.

Well, in theory, anyway. See, while those guidelines are very helpful, they’re just that- guidelines.

Some dogs need more, some need less. It really depends on their metabolism.

If you have a high-energy breed, talk to your vet to set up the best feeding schedule.

Just make sure you give your pup his last meal of the day a few hours before bedtime so it’s not coming out the other end on your carpet in the middle of the night.

Do different breeds need different nutrition?

Do different breeds have different nutritional requirements? Yes and no.

As we discussed above, giant breeds (over 100 pounds as adults) definitely have different requirements.

Large breeds, like German Shepherds and other 50-100 lb dogs, also have slightly different needs than their medium counterparts.

For example, like their giant buddies, they need a little less calcium and phosphorus to help avoid orthopedic problems later.

Toy breeds, like chihuahuas, have incredibly fast metabolisms. Think of them like the hummingbirds of the dog world.

If they don’t get enough calories, they can develop potentially fatal hypoglycemia.

To learn more about the nutritional guidelines for different breed sizes, I recommend checking out this article by an actual dog nutritionist.

Grain-free, hypoallergenic, wet or dry? Oh my!

Grain-free, hypoallergenic, wet or dry? Oh my! Which type is best for your a growing dog? Find out in our guide to the best puppy food!

Look at any list of the best puppy foods (ours included) and you see things like:

  • best wet puppy food
  • best inexpensive puppy food
  • best grain free puppy food
  • best dry puppy food
  • best hypoallergenic puppy food
  • …and more!

So, which is really the best? Again, it depends!

Wet vs dry puppy food

Wet and dry puppy food are equally great options nutritionally speaking as long as you choose a brand that meets his requirements.

I will say that nearly all of my dogs preferred wet food over dry kibble. However, it’s pricier, so we use both.

Kibble is the better choice dentally speaking. Wet food just doesn’t cut it in the teeth cleaning department.

If you opt for canned only, give your dog dental chews or crunchy treats.

Grain-free vs. grains-included puppy food

If you asked this question just a year ago, nearly everyone would have said grain-free is always the best way to go.

Then, the FDA released a report linking grain-free diets to heart conditions in dogs and everyone started singing a different tune.

Here’s what you need to understand about that report: it’s far, far, far from conclusive.

Yes, the 515 reported cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy involved dogs on a grain-free diet.

However, remember that there are about 83.3 million dogs in the United States right now, many of which live long and healthy lives on grain-free diets.

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy itself also fairly rare, affecting about 0.24% of those 83+ million dogs.

Unless you have a breed that’s susceptible to it, I wouldn’t rule out grain-free foods based on that report alone.

That said, you won’t hurt your dog by choosing a high-quality food that does include grains, either. Just pick one that meets your pup’s overall nutritional requirements.

What about hypoallergenic food?

Obviously, if your dog has allergies, you’ll wan the best hypoallergenic puppy food.

We’ve covered hypoallergenic dog food from pretty much every angle and in great detail. If you need some advice, I recommend starting with these articles:

  • Hypoallergenic Dog Food vs. Grain-Free Dog Food: What’s the Difference?
  • Highest Rated Organic Hypoallergenic Dog Foods
  • Small Breed Hypoallergenic Dog Food – How to Pick the Right Food
  • Novel Ingredient Hypoallergenic Dog Food: Worth a Try or Making Things Worse?
  • Everything You Need to Know About RX Hypoallergenic Dog Food

The abbreviated version: if your dog has food allergies, work with you vet to create the ideal meal plan.

Now that we’ve covered the very basics of choosing the best puppy foods, let’s look at my top picks across different categories!

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Top 10 Best Puppy Foods for All Breeds & Needs

What are the best puppy foods? Check out our complete guide along with our top 10 picks for all breeds & needs!

One quick note: I chose my top picks based on Dog Food Advisor ratings & other expert ratings as well as my own experience.

I did NOT rely on Amazon reviews because things like “poorly packaged” or “my dog didn’t like the taste” often skew the ratings and have no bearing on the actual nutritional value.

1. Best grain free puppy food

Best grain free puppy food

Annoying name aside (I abhor when brands use punctuation in their name), GO! Carnivore is my top choice for the best grain-free puppy food for small to medium dogs. We’ll talk large breeds in a few minutes.

The first four ingredients are meat (I count fish as a meat) and the tiny kibble bites have plenty of DHA and EPA  for growing puppy brains.

GO! SOLUTIONS Carnivore Grain Free Chicken, Turkey + Duck Puppy Recipe (12 lb.)

GO! SOLUTIONS Carnivore Grain Free Chicken, Turkey + Duck Puppy Recipe (12 lb.)

  • 100% fresh chicken, turkey, trout, duck & salmon.
  • Little kibble size with DHA and EPA to promote brain and eye development.
  • Grain-free, protein-rich recipe.
  • 12lb bag

2. Best dry puppy food (not grain free)

Wellness Complete Health Dry Puppy Food

Wellness, who makes one of my dog’s favorite foods, RawRev, tops my list of the best dry puppy foods that are grain-inclusive.

Chicken is the first ingredient, and the grains that they use are all wholesome grains, like oatmeal. All of their products are made in the USA.

This particular formula is good for all dog breeds and sizes, including large.

Sale

Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Puppy Food, Chicken, Salmon & Oatmeal, 15-Pound Bag

Wellness Complete Health Natural Dry Puppy Food, Chicken, Salmon & Oatmeal, 15-Pound Bag

  • Complete Health: Complete And Balanced Everyday Nutrition To Support Your Dog’S Healthy Weight
  • Healthy Weight Formula: Reduced Calorie Diet Made With Delicious Deboned Chicken And Peas To Help Satisfy Hunger And Maintain A Healthy Weight
  • All Natural: Contains Only Premium, All Natural Ingredients With No Wheat, Corn, Soy, Meat By-Products, Artificial Flavors, Colors Or Preservatives
  • Made In Usa: Backed By The Wellness Guarantee And Proudly Made Only In The Usa

3. Best puppy food for large breeds

While it’s a 5-star food for all puppies, the Adirondack 30% Protein High Fat Puppy and Performance earns my top spot for large breeds.

The fat to protein ratio is just right for growing pups, especially those working on growing into big dogs! It does include grains, but not in the form of corn, wheat or soy.

One thing I love, this particular formula is actually an “all-stages” food, so you don’t have to worry about knowing when to transition your puppy to adult food.

Adirondack Pet Food 22464 30% Protein High-Fat Recipe For Puppy & Performance Dogs, 15Lb.

Adirondack Pet Food 22464 30% Protein High-Fat Recipe For Puppy & Performance Dogs, 15Lb.

  • Premium, All Natural Ingredients
  • No Corn, No Wheat, No Soy
  • No Artificial Flavors Or Colors
  • Nutritionally Complete And Balanced With Omega 6 & 3 Free Fatty Acids
  • Made In The Usa

4. Best wet puppy food

Canidae Grain-Free Pure Foundations Wet Puppy Food

Let me tell you, choosing the best canned puppy food was a major challenge because we’ve used a lot of great brands over the years.

When it comes down to it, though, I have to go with Canidae Grain-Free Pure Foundations Wet Puppy Food.

It’s great for dogs of all sizes, including large breeds, and most of the animal protein comes from fresh chicken.

As the name implies, it’s totally grain-free. No wheat, corn, or soy. It’s also carrageenan-free (see why that’s important here).

CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Foundations Puppy Wet Formula with Chicken, 13 oz (12-pack)

CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Foundations Puppy Wet Formula with Chicken, 13 oz (12-pack)

  • 7 INGREDIENTS or LESS: Limited ingredient and crafted from 4-7 real foods in each bag of dog food, giving your good boys and girls everything they need and nothing they don’t.
  • GRAIN FREE WET FOOD FOR DOGS WITH SENSITIVE STOMACHS: There’s nothing questionable in a bowl of Canidae PURE. Never any wheat, corn, soy or carrageenan.
  • HEALTHPLUS IN EVERY BITE: Probiotics added to every kibble after cooking to support healthy digestion, antioxidants to support a healthy immune system, and omega 6 & 3 fatty acids to support beautiful skin and coat.
  • FLAVORS & TYPES: With 5 different options and formulations, there’s a grain free wet dog food flavor your dog will love.
  • WE MAKE PET FOOD SIMPLE: Canidae PURE Limited Ingredient Diet dog food uses simple, whole-food recipes made right here in our Texas facility. Because pet food shouldn’t be complicated.

5. Best vet recommended puppy food

Best vet recommended puppy food

I’m going to say something controversial here, I wouldn’t feed my dogs most of the vet recommended puppy foods.

There’s a reason a lot of vets recommend them, and it has nothing to do with their superior nutrition. I’ll just leave it at that.

The only one that I personally feel comfortable recommending is ORIJEN Puppy High-Protein food. Be warned, it’s pricey! That handy Amazon widget below is the cost for a 13-lb bag.

If you can swing it, though, it’s a fantastic food. The first five ingredients are all high-quality protein sources. In fact, those sources make up 85% of the formula.

Every ingredient comes from fresh local sources, nothing gets outsourced from distant (and potentially dubious) suppliers.

ORIJEN Dry Dog Food, Puppy, Biologically Appropriate & Grain Free

ORIJEN Dry Dog Food, Puppy, Biologically Appropriate & Grain Free

  • ORIJEN Puppy dog food delivers a diet rich and varied in fresh, whole animal ingredients from free-run chicken and turkey, wild-caught fish, and cage-free eggs
  • With 85% quality animal ingredients, ORIJEN nourishes dogs according to their natural, biological needs
  • Using fresh and raw animal ingredients, including meat, organs, cartilage, and bone, ORIJEN is the Biologically Appropriate, grain-free diet that dogs have evolved to eat
  • Our Fresh Regional Ingredients are supplied by people we know and trust, and are delivered to our kitchen fresh or raw, in their most natural and nourishing form
  • ORIJEN dog food is made in our DogStar Kitchen, in Kentucky. For more information, please contact our Customer Care team at customercare@championpetfoods.com or 877.939.0006.

6. Most affordable puppy food

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Chicken and Rice Formula

Up until now, most of the foods we’ve discussed will cost you a pretty penny. If you’re wondering if it’s possible to feed your puppy great food on a budget, here’s your answer.

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Chicken and Rice Formula earns 4.5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, yet a 40-lb bag will run you under $45.

It is grain-inclusive, but the first ingredients are chicken and chicken meal (which isn’t the best, but also not quite the villain we think it is). The grains include white rice and barley.

The only downside? It’s ideal for small and medium puppies only.

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Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food

  • HIGH quality PROTEIN made with real CAGE FREE chicken, tailored for a growing SMALL BREED PUPPY; optimal amino acid profile for LEAN, STRONG MUSCLES
  • High protein ingredients with added vitamins & minerals; fruits and vegetables as SUPERFOODS for hard-working ANTIOXIDANTS; fatty acid blend for SKIN & COAT
  • A smaller kibble, nutrient rich & HIGHLY DIGESTIBLE with PROPRIETARY PROBIOTICS at guaranteed levels; DHA for BRAIN & VISION
  • FAMILY OWNED & run, MADE in the USA choosing ingredients from TRUSTED, SUSTAINABLE sources around the world; Call with questions 800 442 0402
  • NO corn, wheat, filler; NO ARTIFICIAL flavors, colors, or preservatives added; Made with scientifically advanced food safety protocols

7. Best giant breed puppy food

Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food Large & Giant Breed Puppy Lamb

As we’ve discussed above, our large and giant breed canine pals have slightly different nutritional needs.

While some of the other brands we’ve seen will work for large dogs, I recommend going with Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food Large & Giant Breed Puppy Lamb food.

Along with premium ingredients, like real lamb meat, it has probiotics and prebiotics to help support a healthy immune system and tummy.

The major difference between this and their standard puppy food, though, is the calcium content. It’s a bit lower, which is just what giant breeds need.

Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food, Large & Giant Breed Puppy Recipe, 30-Pound Bag

Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food, Large & Giant Breed Puppy Recipe, 30-Pound Bag

  • Unique Digestive Health Support: Formulated With A Unique Digestive Health Support System, Focused Around Prebiotics, Probiotics, Natural Fibers, Digestive Enzymes & Botanicals
  • Large & Giant Breed Puppy Formula: A Larger Kibble, Everyday Complete & Balanced Diet Made With Premium Ingredients Like Real Lamb And Dha To Help Support Healthy Growth In Puppies
  • All Natural: Contains Only Premium, All Natural Ingredients With No Meat By-Products, Wheat, Wheat-Gluten Or Artificial Colors, Flavors Or Fillers
  • Made In Usa: Backed By The Holistic Select Guarantee And Proudly Made Only In The Usa

8. Best hypoallergenic puppy food

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Formula

When choosing the best hypoallergenic puppy food, I searched for a formula that was 100% poultry-free.

See, even though many foods say “Salmon” or “Beef” or “Bison” on the label, they still use chicken as filler.

Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy Formula is completely devoid of all poultry. I read the label six time to make sure!

In fact, salmon is the only “meat” listed in the ingredients. It’s also egg-free for dairy-sensitive pups.

Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Dry Dog Food with Real Smoked Salmon & Ancient Grains

Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Dry Dog Food with Real Smoked Salmon & Ancient Grains

  • A Taste of the Wild with smoked salmon; real Salmon is the #1 ingredient; optimal amino acid profile and protein rich for LEAN, STRONG MUSCLES
  • High quality protein recipe with smaller kibble; tailored for growing puppy; superfoods for hard-working antioxidants; DHA for brain & vision
  • Ingredients From Trusted, Sustainable Sources Around The World; Made With No Grain, Corn, Wheat, Filler; No Artificial Flavors, Colors, Preservatives Added
  • Premium ingredients with added vitamins & minerals; nutrient rich and HIGHLY digestible with guaranteed soecies-specific, proprietary PROBIOTICS
  • MADE in the USA; FAMILY OWNED & run; food made with scientifically advanced food safety protocols; We’d appreciate your CALL 800.342.4808

9. Best organic puppy food

Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food

If you prefer a puppy food made with only organic ingredients, you’ll like Castor & Pollux Organix Grain Free Organic Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food.

Yes, it’s super pricey, worth it.

Not only is it the only USDA organically certified dog food, the recipes are even cooked in an organically certified kitchen.

Nothing in the bag was treated with pesticides, hormones, or any fake stuff. Only the best natural ingredients for your dog!

Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Dry Dog Food with Real Smoked Salmon & Ancient Grains

Taste of the Wild High Protein Real Meat Recipe Dry Dog Food with Real Smoked Salmon & Ancient Grains

  • A Taste of the Wild with smoked salmon; real Salmon is the #1 ingredient; optimal amino acid profile and protein rich for LEAN, STRONG MUSCLES
  • High quality protein recipe with smaller kibble; tailored for growing puppy; superfoods for hard-working antioxidants; DHA for brain & vision
  • Ingredients From Trusted, Sustainable Sources Around The World; Made With No Grain, Corn, Wheat, Filler; No Artificial Flavors, Colors, Preservatives Added
  • Premium ingredients with added vitamins & minerals; nutrient rich and HIGHLY digestible with guaranteed soecies-specific, proprietary PROBIOTICS
  • MADE in the USA; FAMILY OWNED & run; food made with scientifically advanced food safety protocols; We’d appreciate your CALL 800.342.4808

10. Best puppy kibble + raw food

If you’re looking for a puppy food with raw bites, either because your pup likes them or because you’re considering transitioning to a raw diet later, you’ll like Instinct Raw Boost Puppy Food.

Cage-free chicken is the first ingredient in this grain-free option. While the kibble itself offers complete nutrition, the freeze-dried raw bites really entice dogs.

When Freya won’t eat her kibble, we toss Instinct’s raw toppers on it and she devours it. This recipe just removes that extra step.

Sale

Instinct Raw Boost Puppy Grain Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature's Variety, 4 lb. Bag

Instinct Raw Boost Puppy Grain Free Recipe with Real Chicken Natural Dry Dog Food by Nature’s Variety, 4 lb. Bag

  • GRAIN FREE PUPPY FOOD WITH FREEZE DRIED RAW CAGE FREE CHICKEN: Instinct Raw Boost dry dog food combines high protein, grain free kibble with all natural bites of freeze dried raw chicken. Cage free chicken is the #1 ingredient – for energy to grow & play
  • PUPPY DOG FOOD PLUS FREEZE DRIED RAW PIECES: Made with calcium & phosphorus for strong teeth and bones plus natural DHA for brain & eye development. Made without grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by product meal, artificial colors or preservatives.
  • THE FIRST RAW BOOSTED PUPPY KIBBLE: Raw Boost mixes natural, high protein, grain free dog food with our freeze dried raw dog food toppers in one bag. Also includes probiotics and omegas. Complete & balanced nutrition for puppies. Also in large breed puppy
  • POWER OF RAW INGREDIENTS: Our dog food is made with the pure, real nutrition of raw. Raw is natural, made from real meat & whole food ingredients, protein packed & minimally processed. Made in the USA with the finest ingredients from around the world.
  • OUR BEST DOG FOOD FOR PUPPIES BOOSTED WITH RAW: We craft dry & wet dog food from real ingredients. Compare Instinct to Blue Buffalo, Rachel Ray, Hills Science Diet, Purina One, Taste of the Wild, Merrick, Natural Balance, Wellness, Orijen, Royal Canin.

Now that we’ve looked at the best puppy food brands, let’s quickly talk about the worst before I wrap things up.

What is the worst puppy food?

Once upon a time, I could have just said “if you can find it in the grocery store, it’s the worst puppy food.”

Now, though, many high-quality brands are branching out into mass retailers, so it’s not quite as simple.

However, I will say that 90% of the foods found in chain grocery stores still qualify as some of the worst ever.

While I don’t feel comfortable calling out specific brands (our legal team can’t handle a slander suit), Dog Digest did a roundup of the worst puppy foods for 2019, so I recommend checking that out.

I can, however, tell you what to look for in the worst dog foods. Red flags include:

  • Corn as the first ingredient (or corn at all, really)
  • Anything other than meat as the first ingredient
  • By-product meal as the main protein source (it’s basically ground-up rejected parts of the animal)
  • Artificial coloring (your dog doesn’t care what color his food is, so what’s the point in adding red dye???)
  • Added sugar
  • Animal digest (seriously, what is that? It sound disgusting!)

Sadly, most of the cheaper brands are among the worst of the worst. It’s really worth it to spend a little extra on high-quality food.

Think about it this way, you’ll save money on future vet bills! Besides, I’ve always found that my dogs needed a lot less of the good stuff to feel full, so the cost is about the same overall.

That was a ton of info, so I’ll let you go and digest it now (pun intended). If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear from you!

Tell us below what your picks for the best puppy food are! How about the worst?

The post Complete Guide to the Best Puppy Food (with Recommendations) appeared first on DogVills.

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