Ask the Vet: Best Dog Food for Puppies

Dr. Charles Livaudais, DVM 

As you might imagine, we get a lot of questions here at Harmony Animal Hospital regarding the feeding of dogs and cats, and specifically the feeding of puppies. I thought I would take this opportunity to go through some of the more common questions we get about how to feed a puppy.

What is the Best Dog Food for Puppies?

The first question we are often asked is “what do I feed my puppy?” Well, there are a number of reputable brands out there, but what I always look for in any dog or cat food is that it is made by a reputable manufacturer that bears the AAFCO label. AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials, and they’re a voluntary group of local, state, and federal agents who are tasked with monitoring the feed quality and distribution of foods to pets in the United States. There are three different guidelines you might see on an AAFCO label on a puppy food bag.

  1. One is that the food has been actually tested on puppies through food trials. That would be the best label you could see. 
  2. You might also see a label that says the food contains nutrients comparable to food that has actually been tested.
  3. The last one is that the food contains nutrients that should satisfy an AAFCO label. 

Ideally, you would choose a food that has actually been tested, ensuring it works well for puppies. Again, there are a number of those, so be sure to look for that AAFCO label.

Is Dry or Wet Food Better for Puppies

Is Dry or Wet Food Better for Puppies?

Whether you should feed a puppy dry or wet food depends greatly on the age and size of your puppy and how well its teeth have come in. If your puppy can eat dry kibble, especially if it’s a small kibble, that would be fine. There are pros and cons to both. 

Wet food, also known as canned food, can be rich. It can be a little rough on the stomach, but at the same time, it can help keep your puppy better hydrated. Dry food, on the other hand, is often easier to digest, and it can also help reduce the rate at which tartar accumulates on your pet’s teeth. 

Some dogs can have trouble chewing those kibbles when they’re smaller or very young, so just make sure your puppy can chew and swallow the food. As long as their stools are good and healthy, no worries. You can feed puppies dry or canned puppy food, whichever works best for you.

Is Grain-Free Dog Food Good for Puppies?

Are grain-free dog foods OK for my puppy? We have seen some issues over the years with grain-free foods. The issues don’t necessarily seem to be the lack of grains, but rather the products used as a carbohydrate substitute. We have seen some dogs develop heart problems on these foods and so I would say use those foods with caution. I prefer that a dog eat food with some grains in it to help ensure heart health.

Best Dog Food for Puppies

Is High Protein Dog Food Good for Puppies?

Puppy Foods already contain a lot of protein, so it would definitely be better to keep your puppy on a puppy specific food, then feed it a high protein adult food.

Is “For All Stages” Dog Food OK to Feed Puppies?

Some foods say they are for all life stages – from puppyhood to geriatric status – and contain the calorie requirements for puppies. The challenge though is if they are not explicitly made for puppies, they might not have the correct ratios of calcium and phosphorus in the diet, which is essential for bone growth. This is especially true in large and giant breed dogs, so it’s always best to use a puppy-specific diet. And for the large and giant breed dogs, I would choose a food formulated for their specific needs. 

How Often Do I Need To Feed My Puppy?

The next question we frequently get is “how often should we feed our puppy,” and the answer depends on the size and age of your dog. When puppies are very young, say less than eight or ten weeks, and if they’re very small, say around five pounds or less, it is helpful to feed them three or four times a day to help maintain their sugar or glucose levels in the blood. Sometimes very small puppies have difficulty maintaining that blood sugar level. Your veterinarian can help guide you in this. Depending on the age and size of your puppy, we can go down from four to three, and then twice or even once a day.

How Long Should a Puppy Eat Puppy Food

How Long Should a Puppy Eat Puppy Food?

The answer to this question also depends on the size of your dog. Puppies should be fed puppy food for roughly a period that equates to about 80% of their growth. For small and medium-sized dogs, we usually recommend feeding puppy food until they’re about 12 months of age. For large and giant breed dogs though, we would usually recommend waiting until they’re about 18 months of age before starting a transition to adult food.

When you transition your puppy from puppy food to adult food, I recommend doing that quite slowly. The truth is, with any food transition we should do it quite slowly because too abrupt of a transition from one food to another can lead to stomach upset. So change the ratio from mostly current food with a small amount of new increasing over seven to ten days before your dog is entirely on the new food.