Puppy Nutrition 101: A Guide to Picking the Best Puppy Food

Pet stores are stocked up with a vast array of choices, and it's difficult to sort through the many brands. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares a guide on choosing the best puppy food based on research.

Puppy Nutrition 101: A Guide to Picking the Best Puppy Food

Pet stores are stocked up with a vast array of choices, and it's difficult to sort through the many brands. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares a guide on choosing the best puppy food based on research.

Not all puppy food is created equally.


How to Choose the Best Food for Your Growing Puppy

Picking a good puppy food can be challenging for many reasons.

First, you need to consider that puppies have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs. This means you'll need to hunt down dog foods that are specifically formulated for puppies so to support your puppy's growth and development.

Then, you'll need to consider content. Some foods designated for puppies contain low-quality ingredients and fillers that fail to provide the most important nutrients that puppies need.

On top of that, you'll need to consider your puppy's individual needs. For instance, large-breed puppies have different nutritional requirements compared to smaller dog breeds.

Not to mention, some puppies may be sensitive to certain ingredients and may develop allergies or digestive issues as a result of eating foods that don't seem to agree with them.

"There are more than 200 pet food brands in the modern market. And almost all of them offer formulas for puppies. Therefore, it can be challenging for new pet owners to choose the right food for their puppies," points out veterinarian Dr. Ivana.

In this article, Dr. Ivana Crnec, a licensed veterinarian graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, goes over the following topics:

  • Qualities to look for in a good brand of puppy food
  • Ingredients to look for and avoid
  • The importance of checking the calorie density
  • The role of the kibble's shape and size
  • Individual factors such as your puppy's size, energy levels and medical conditions
  • Owner-related factors that play a role in choosing a puppy food
  • FAQ section with some commonly asked questions about puppy food

Picking the Right Food for Your Puppy Is Not Easy

As mentioned, finding the right food for puppies is a challenge. This is due to several reasons. First, there is a considerable number of pet food brands.

Secondly, to further complicate things, many brands use misleading labels and unregulated terms on the package, such as “premium” and “holistic.” What do these terms mean, and why are they important?

Thirdly, the ingredient list is not always in sync with the actual ingredients. Indeed, a 2010 study showed that certain dog foods contain proteins that are not listed on the package.

Overcoming these challenges and finding the right formula for your puppy is important. Nutrition is the brick-and-mortar of your puppy's health. It sets the puppy’s growth and development in the right direction and promotes overall health.

The following are the most important factors and considerations to help you choose the best food for your puppy. For better understanding, those factors are divided into four categories:

  1. Brand-related factors
  2. Food-related factors
  3. Puppy-related factors
  4. Owner-related factors

Let's take a closer look into all of these important factors.

The shape and size of your dog's kibble matters.


1. Brand-Related Factors

The first, and probably the most difficult step, is choosing the puppy food brand. Finding the right brand is complex as it involves many factors. Here are a few things to look for.

Check the Formula Maker

First, check who makes the puppy formula. Many pet food brands use third-party manufacturers.

If the brand makes its own food, the label with say “Made by,” and if it uses a third-party manufacturer, it will say “Made for” or “Distributed by.”

The Nutritionist's Role

Next, check who formulates the food. Recipe development is a very hard task and requires extensive knowledge of ingredient quality, nutritional values, and food processing.

Reputable brands have a staff animal nutritionist with an MS or Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition or a veterinarian to help with the formula making.

Quality Control

To ensure safety, manufacturers need proper quality control, such as ingredient validation, nutrient analysis, shelf-life screenings, toxicology, and bacteriology.

Even high-quality and safe ingredients can be exposed to contamination during the manufacturing process.

The Clean Label Project (CLP) tests dog formulas for contamination and ranks them based on ingredient quality and contaminant presence.

Nutritional Research

In general, it's not a requirement for pet food brands to conduct research or sponsor studies regarding their products.

A brand that does this, though, shows signs of being committed to animal health and wanting first-hand information about the quality of its product.

Contact Information

Finally, check if the brand provides contact information such as a phone number or email address.

The brand’s representatives need to be easily accessible and prepared to answer questions about the formulas they offer.

2. Food-Related Factors

Food-related factors are tricky, and understanding them requires a certain level of knowledge in nutrition. However, we will explain them in a simple way for easy understanding.

Ingredient Quality (What to Look for and Avoid)

Regarding ingredient quality, always pick formulas with real meat as the first ingredient (instead of meat by-products).cAlso, look for formulas with whole foods, like whole-food grains, fruits, and vegetables.

On the other hand, avoid the following:

  • Low-quality ingredients: in other words fillers, like corn bran, rice bran, hulls of oats, hulls of peanuts, hulls of soybeans, cereal by-products.
  • Food dyes: these have no nutritional value and are used to make the food more appealing to the owner, not the dog.
  • Chemical preservatives: such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin
  • Rendered fat: this is added for palatability but is often contaminated with toxins, germs, and heavy metals.

Nutrition Adequacy

Nutritional adequacy means that the formula meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and is complete and balanced. The AAFCO gives recommendations and sets the standards to which all brands must adhere.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), puppies from large breeds have different nutritional needs than small-breed puppies. In those terms, some puppy foods are AAFCO-approved for small breeds, and others are AAFCO-approved for large-breed puppies.

Calorie Density

Puppy food formulas come with different caloric densities. High-calorie foods are for physically active puppies, and low-calorie foods are for puppies with sedentary lifestyles. Feeding high-calorie foods to inactive puppies leads to obesity.

Obesity is not a disease on its own. However, it is a predisposing factor to many health problems, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

3. Puppy-Related Factors

Even the best formula will not serve its purpose if your puppy dislikes its taste or it's not in sync with your puppy's individual needs. Therefore, you need to factor in several puppy-related factors.

Kibble Size and Shape

Kibble size and shape are essential and affect food consumption and digestion. If the size and shape are incorrect, the puppy will have trouble picking up the kibble and may have difficulty chewing, which results in poor digestion and nutrient utilization.

The kibble size is determined by the puppy’s size or breed. Small breed puppies need smaller kibble, and large breed puppies need larger kibble.

As for kibble shape, it is determined by the puppy’s jaw and face. Short-nosed or brachycephalic breeds need differently shaped kibble than long-nosed puppies.

Physical Activity

Physically active puppies need more food. This is closely related to the food’s calorie density. Namely, if your puppy has higher needs and the food is low-calorie, you will have to feed more (larger portions) to make up for the needs. That is not practical.

In simpler words, the puppy’s activity and lifestyle influence the food choice.

Medical Conditions

Sadly, sometimes puppies are born or develop certain medical conditions. In such cases, the food needs to be adjusted to those issues.

This is a complex topic, and there are many variations based on the health problem. You need to talk to your trusted veterinarian to ensure you choose the right food.

Special Ingredients

Compared to adult dogs, puppies have unique dietary needs and require special ingredients.

One example is fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) are essential for health in puppies. Omegas support cognition and boost the immune system.

Based on breed, puppies can have additional specific needs. For example, large-breed puppies can benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin (which offer joint support).

White-coated puppies need adequate vitamin A levels in the food, as too much can cause orange discoloration.

Large-breed puppies benefit from puppy foods with glucosamine and chondroitin.

4. Owner-Related Factors

Finally, there are two critical owner-related factors—after all, the choice needs to be practical for you since you will be using the food for at least one year, or maybe even longer.


First, consider the cost of the food. As noted, you will be using the same formula, so it is necessary to ensure it is not making a hole in your budget. Generally speaking, more expensive formulas tend to be of better quality.

However, that is now always the case. There are excellent puppy foods that are budget-friendly. You can also save by using discounts and buying in bulk.


The second factor is accessibility or the puppy food’s availability. In other terms, you need to check where the food can be found.

Shopping can be challenging if the food is only available in specific stores. On the other hand, if you can buy it online through retailers, things are much simpler.

Puppy Food FAQs

After learning several factors to consider when picking your pup's best food, you may still have several questions.

Where Can I Get Help in Picking a Good Puppy Food Brand?

Searching for the right puppy food is a challenge. You need to factor in many variables, from nutrient profiles to specific health needs to taste preferences.

However, the journey is worth it. Puppyhood is a crucial period in the dog’s life in terms of setting the foundation for proper growth, development, and health.

Talk to your veterinarian if you are still struggling to pick a puppy formula. The vet will help you make an informed decision and then monitor the effects of the food on your puppy’s progress.

How Long to Use Puppy Food?

Usually, puppy owners are advised to use the puppy formula for up to one year.

However, in large and giant dog breeds, it is recommended to prolong the use of puppy formulas for up to a year and a half (18 months of age).

How to Transition to Adult Food?

Transitioning from puppy to adult food should be gradual. Sudden food changes in dogs can upset the stomach.

Therefore, it is recommended to make the transition slow and gradual, the same way you would do it even if you were only switching puppy food formulas.

Did You Know?

The Pet Nutrition Alliance website has developed a handy tool for veterinary professionals so that they can source objective information about important factors to consider when choosing a good puppy food.

This tool helps screen through several of the factors considered earlier to help sort through the many different pet food choices.

Talk to your veterinarian to help you pick the right puppy formula based on all the important factors. The vet will help you make an informed decision and then monitor the effects of the food on your puppy’s progress.


  • Raditic, D.M., Remillard, R.L. and Tater, K.C. (2011), ELISA testing for common food antigens in four dry dog foods used in dietary elimination trials. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 95: 90-97
  • What’s the Best Food for your New Puppy? Petfoodology, by Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition) Tufts University
  • Pet Nutrition Alliance
  • WSAVA Global Nutrition Committee: Guidelines on Selecting Pet Foods, World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) 2021

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli

(Excluding for the Headline, this article ("story") has not been edited by MiBiz News and is published from a web feed or sourced from the Internet.)