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Puppies grow up fast, and they need the right balance of nutrients in their diet to fuel their growth and ensure proper development. Fortunately, most commercial puppy foods are formulated for nutritional balance according to the nutrient profiles created by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
What you need to understand, however, is that all commercial puppy foods are not created equal. Just because a product is nutritionally balanced doesn’t mean it’s made from high-quality ingredients. It’s your job as a puppy owner to understand your puppy’s nutritional needs and to learn how to identify a puppy food that’ll meet those needs in a healthy way.
Read on to learn more about your puppy’s nutritional needs and what to look for in a high-quality puppy food. You’ll also see a list of our top picks.
Understanding Your Puppy’s Nutritional Needs
Just like you, your puppy needs a balanced diet to stay healthy.
Protein is the most important nutrient for all dogs and should be the foundation of your puppy’s diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they’re essential for building strong muscle and lean mass. Your puppy requires a minimum of 22% protein in his diet, though more is generally better.
Following protein, fat is the next most important nutrient for puppies because it provides a concentrated source of energy to fuel his rapid growth. It also helps his body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and provides support for his skin and coat. Your puppy needs a minimum of 8% fat in his diet.
Though protein and fat are the primary nutrients in your puppy’s diet, carbohydrates can provide an additional source of energy as well as fiber and essential nutrients. Essential nutrients like key vitamins and minerals can also come from fresh fruits and vegetables or synthetic supplements.
What to Look for in Puppy Food
Because your puppy has specific nutritional requirements, it’s important that you feed him a product formulated specifically for puppies. This guarantees that his minimum nutritional requirements are met, though you still need to check the product’s quality.
Here are some things to look for in puppy food:
- Wholesome, natural ingredients. The more natural the ingredients, the more digestible and nutritious your puppy’s food will be.
- High in animal protein. Animal proteins are more digestible than plant proteins and are complete proteins, having all the essential amino acids your puppy needs.
- Rich in healthy fats. Look for a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your puppy’s food, ideally from animal sources like chicken fat and salmon oil.
- Digestible carbohydrates. Nutritious carbohydrates for puppies include things like whole grains, fresh vegetables, beans, and legumes.
- Beneficial supplements. Synthetic vitamins and minerals ensure nutritional balance while things like prebiotic fibers and probiotics support digestion.
In addition to these simple requirements, you should also check to see whether the puppy food is formulated for a specific breed size.
Small-breed puppies need a higher concentration of calories because they have very fast metabolisms and burn through energy very quickly. Large-breed puppies, on the other hand, have a higher risk for musculoskeletal disorders, so you need to control their growth by controlling calorie and fat content.
The Very Best Puppy Food Options
The quality of your puppy’s diet has a direct impact on high growth and development as well as his long-term health. Do yourself and your puppy a favor by choosing a wholesome, nutritious diet that provides for his nutritional needs.
If you’re still not sure where to start, don’t worry—we’ve assembled a list of our top picks for the very best puppy food options. Here they are:
High-protein kibble infused with freeze-dried raw pieces, this puppy food packs a powerful punch of quality nutrition and real chicken flavor.Buy Now on Chewy for $3.79/lbs
Though not formulated for any particular breed size, this recipe is packed with protein from numerous sources including real buffalo, lamb meal, and roasted venison.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.78/lbs
With both fresh chicken and chicken meal at the top of the ingredients list, this puppy food is full of lean protein and supplemented with grain-free carbohydrates for fiber and essential nutrients.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.40/lbs
This recipe features deboned turkey and oatmeal for a protein- and energy-rich formula crafted specifically for small-breed puppies to support growth and development.Buy Now on Chewy for $3.99/lbs
Simple and affordable, this small-breed puppy food features real chicken as a lean source of protein with oatmeal for digestible carbohydrates.Buy Now on Amazon for $1.99/lbs
Packed with 46% protein and 24% fat, this formula is a rich source of energy and nutrition formulated for small- and medium-breed puppies.Buy Now on Amazon for $5.39/lbs
Made with 85% meat inclusions and 15% fruit and veggies, this protein-packed recipe is a rich source of balanced nutrition for large-breed puppies.Buy Now on Amazon for $3.76/lbs
Featuring deboned chicken as a lean source of protein, this grain-free recipe is formulated for large-breed puppies to control growth and promote musculoskeletal health.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.71/lbs
Formulated with above-average protein and fat but below-average carbs, this puppy food is a nutrient-dense recipe for all puppies, including large breeds.Buy Now on Chewy for $1.85/lbs
A holistic, natural recipe formulated for medium and large-breed puppies, this food features real bison, oatmeal, and pearled barley.Buy Now on Chewy for $2.49/lbs
High-quality nutrition doesn’t have to break the bank and this puppy recipe is an affordable option made with premium ingredients like real chicken, brown rice, and oatmeal.Buy Now on Amazon for $2.33/lbs
Once you’ve chosen a puppy food, keep it consistent until your puppy is about 12 months old. A steady influx of calories and nutrients is essential to fuel your puppy’s growth and development, so try not to change his diet or the amount you feed him too much during this time. Once he reaches about 80% of his expected adult size, you can transition him onto an adult dog food.
Want to learn more about caring for your new puppy? Check out our step-by-step guide to the first week with your new puppy.