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How to choose puppy food: Get some advice from our vet

A golden retriever puppy eating from a bowl
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to choose puppy food is no easy task. Whether you’re a first-time dog owner or a puppy pro, there are a lot of decisions to make for your new family member. You want to give your new puppy the best start in life and that means providing the best nutrition possible. There are a lot of options in the pet food aisle and it can be tough to know which one to choose. Before you head to the pet store, here are a few facts about puppy food to keep in mind! Hopefully, once you’ve read this, you’ll be able to decide which is the best puppy food for your dog.

The importance of puppy food

Just like growing humans, growing puppies need an appropriate balance of nutrients to support their development. Any nutrient deficiency or excess during this critical period of life can have long-lasting effects on your puppy’s health. For this reason, veterinary nutritionists recommend feeding a diet specifically formulated for puppies until your dog is fully grown. Commercially-prepared puppy foods are formulated with the correct balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are essential to a puppy’s growth. Most dogs should eat a puppy diet until around a year of age, at which point they can be transitioned to adult dog food. 

Large and giant breed dogs such as Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs are particularly prone to orthopedic problems if they do not eat an appropriate diet while they are growing. In these breeds, it is especially important to provide a careful balance of protein, calcium, and phosphorous to support their growing bones and joints. Calorie restriction is also important to prevent your puppy from growing too rapidly, which can also cause orthopedic problems. Most veterinarians recommend feeding your large or giant breed puppy a commercially-prepared diet that is specifically formulated for large breeds. Large and giant breeds also take longer to finish growing, so your veterinarian may recommend feeding this diet until your dog is 12-18 months of age.

Choosing a puppy food

Puppies come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no one puppy food that is best for all puppies. To figure out which puppy food is best for your puppy, you’ll need to consider several factors, such as:

  • Your puppy’s age
  • Your puppy’s breed and expected adult size
  • Your puppy’s current weight and body condition
  • Your puppy’s activity level
  • Your puppy’s health and any genetic conditions to which he is predisposed

With these factors in mind, you’ll be able to choose a puppy food that will be best suited to your puppy’s individual needs. When evaluating whether a diet is right for your puppy, start by checking the back of the bag. Every bag of pet food should have a statement in the fine print on the back that indicates the life stage for which the diet was developed. Look for statements like “formulated to meet the needs of growing puppies” or “complete and balanced nutrition for growth”. This will ensure that diet is made with puppies specifically in mind.  

Before you head to the pet store, it is also helpful to have dog food ingredients explained to you. There are a lot of misconceptions and tricky marketing tactics surrounding pet food, so be careful what you believe! To combat this, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association has released some helpful guides, including how to evaluate nutrition information on the internet and how to choose a pet food. These resources will help you make sure that you are choosing a reputable diet for your puppy.

puppy food is best

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Don’t forget these important aspects of puppy nutrition!

Choosing a good puppy diet is extremely important, but there’s more to feeding your puppy than just what you put in his bowl. A good nutrition plan should also include portion control, limiting the best puppy treats, and making sure your puppy gets regular exercise.

Although many puppies are natural grazers, it’s best to get into the habit of feeding your puppy regular, portioned meals early in life. Leaving food out for your puppy to snack on all day may work well while your puppy is young, but when your puppy is older this type of free feeding can lead to a lot of weight gain! Instead, offer your puppy measured portions at specific times of the day. While your puppy is young, your veterinarian may recommend feeding multiple small meals throughout the day. Once your puppy nears adulthood, you can transition to feeding 2-3 meals daily. Your veterinarian can help you determine the best feeding schedule for your puppy and can even calculate your puppy’s daily calorie requirement so you can determine how much to feed at each meal. Remember to take into account any treats, table scraps, or other food your puppy may be getting – these are a huge source of extra calories! Veterinary nutritionists recommend that you limit treats to no more than 10% of your puppy’s daily calorie intake.

Exercise is also an extremely important aspect of your puppy’s overall health. Not only is exercise a good way to vent all that puppy energy, but it’s also essential for your puppy’s growth and social development. Regular exercise and mental stimulation will go a long way towards preventing obesity and behavior problems, so be sure to have a supply of the best puppy toys! However, rapidly growing puppies are prone to orthopedic injuries, and too much exercise may cause problems. A good rule of thumb is that puppies should not engage in any sustained exercise beyond what they would normally do when playing with other puppies of the same age. So while it’s okay for your puppy to romp around in the park, a sustained run or hours of agility training should be avoided until your pup is fully grown.

Ask your veterinarian to help you choose which puppy food is best

Ultimately, the puppy food that is best for your individual dog will depend on many different factors. The best way to choose a diet for your puppy is to consult your veterinarian for product recommendations. As your puppy grows and develops, your veterinarian can also help you adjust the diet to meet your puppy’s changing needs.

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at and at