During the first 6 months of life, your puppy will grow with leaps and bounds, and that’s why it’s important to plan a healthy diet right from the start. Growing puppies have a lot more energy than adult dogs, and they need more concentrated nutrients in their food because they can’t eat as much as an adult dog since their stomachs are naturally much smaller. Also, puppies need higher levels of protein and specific vitamins and minerals. It’s important to feed them formulations specific to puppies until they are skeletally mature, which is around one year for small and medium-sized dogs, and between 14 and 18 months for large and giant breed dogs.
How do I choose a puppy food?
There are many factors involved in selecting a proper diet for your puppy, and it’s recommended to look for the following ingredients:
- Animal-based proteins. Look for a premium puppy food with key ingredients such as animal-based proteins (chicken, beef, or lamb) for strong bones.
- Omega fatty acids. Energy-rich fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids for example) are great for healthy skin and coat. When looking at the products at your grocery store, don’t be fooled by low-cost brands in the big bags, because they may contain poor-quality ingredients and artificial preservatives and may not give your puppy the optimal nutrition they need.
- Small kibble. Since puppies are small, the best puppy foods have smaller-sized kibble chunks or small bites that are easier for your puppy to chew.
- Easily digestible. Since a puppy’s GI tract is not yet fully developed, a diet that is easily digested and gentle on the stomach is recommended.
- Nutritious. Look for a puppy food that’s formulated specifically for growth and development, and contains essential nutrients like high-quality protein (to support strong muscles), minerals like calcium and phosphorus (to support growing bones and teeth), and DHA (an Omega-3 fatty acid found in mother’s milk that helps nourish vision and brain development). Ask your veterinarian for recommendations and be sure to read package labels.
- Breed-specific diets. Take into account your puppy’s breed size: A small breed puppy matures at a faster rate and has different needs compared to a large or giant breed puppy. You may want to find a formula made with natural sources of glucosamine for your large breed puppy.
How much do I feed my puppy?
Complete and balanced nutrition is important to your puppy’s development, and it’s important not to overfeed your growing puppy, especially a large or giant breed puppy. If you have questions as to how much to feed, look at the feeding instructions on the bag or can of food, or better yet, consult your veterinarian. The feeding instructions should have recommendations for how much food to feed a puppy, as well as how to increase their food as they grow over time. However, keep in mind that feeding instructions provided by food manufacturers are only recommendations, and your puppy’s body condition and activity level should determine how much to feed.
How often should I feed my puppy?
Once your puppy is weaned, you should start a feeding schedule to help get them used to regular meals. Feeding your puppy on a consistent schedule helps with training and helps regulate your puppy’s digestive system. If your puppy is under six months old, it’s recommended to feed three times a day, and when they’re over six months you can feed them twice a day.
When should I switch my puppy to adult food?
It’s best to incorporate adult food once your puppy reaches maturity, and most puppies, including large breed and giant breed puppies, reach maturity when they are about 12-24 months old. Smaller breeds and many toy breeds are considered to be adults at nine months of age. If you have specific questions on when to switch your puppy to adult food, consult your veterinarian.
Best foods for large-breed puppies
Large and giant-breed puppies like Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes have different dietary needs than a Yorkshire terrier or dachshund puppy. Large-breed puppies should eat food that is specifically labeled for large-breed puppies. The mineral and calorie content in those foods is developed to prevent large-breed puppies from growing too fast and developing bone or joint issues as they mature and grow. There are so many high-quality large breed dog foods available and it’s impossible to list them all here. However, it’s important to pick a product that has gone through AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) feeding trials. Below are listed a few recommended brands.
- Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Large Breed. Hill’s Science Diet is recommended by veterinary professionals because Hill’s products go through AAFCO feeding trials, and are readily available at many pet-supply stores. It’s also affordable for most puppy owners. When selecting large-breed-puppy dog food, make sure it’s been tested in AAFCO feeding trials.
- Purina Pro Plan. Purina Pro Plan puppy foods for large breeds is a good product because all of the company’s foods for specialized diets have been researched and tested by veterinary nutritionists. Also, Purina stands by its diets and uses voluntary recalls frequently, meaning they test their product often and only allow food on the shelves if it passes their strict quality-control measures. Purina Pro Plan Focus is a popular choice with most owners.
- Wellness Natural Pet Food Dry Puppy Food. This diet contains a balance of nutrients including DHA essential for the health of your large breed puppy.
- Nutro Ultra Large Breed Dry Dog Food. This diet combines chicken, salmon, and lamb with a variety of plant foods such as blueberries and chia to provide a diet to specifically support the growth and development of your large breed puppy.
Best foods for small-breed puppies
The main difference between small-breed puppy foods is that it’s made in smaller chunks. Because little dogs have smaller mouths and teeth, it needs to be easy for them to chew. Small-breed puppy food also has nutrient differences that are especially important for small dogs.
- Royal Canin Puppy Dry Dog Food. Royal Canin puppy foods are a good choice because it’s formulated not only specific to a dog’s size but also specifically to certain breeds, such as Chihuahuas and French bulldogs. Royal Canin also makes small, medium, and large puppy food that isn’t specific to breeds.
- Wellness Natural Complete Health Natural Dry Small Breed Puppy Food. This brand is known for quality ingredients and doesn’t add by-products, fillers, or artificial flavors in its pet foods. Turkey, oatmeal, chicken meal, and salmon meal are several of the main ingredients.
- Blue Buffalo Dry Dog Food for Small Breed Puppies. This formula contains no by-products and includes grains, fruits, vegetables, and key fatty acids such as DHA and ARA (found in mother’s milk).
Best fresh dog foods for puppies
A growing number of pet owners like to feed human-grade or fresh pet foods. As a rule, “fresh pet food” is minimally processed, does not use preservatives, and is gently cooked to retain nutrients and reduce the risk of harmful bacteria present in some raw diets. Unfortunately, many of the fresh pet foods on the market currently don’t have food specifically formulated for puppies, and some tend to contain a higher fat content than other dog foods.
- Farmina. Farmina Pet Foods offers diets that are GMO-free, do not contain steroids, are free of growth hormones, and are made with organic products. The company collaborates with dozens of independent veterinarians to offer nutritional solutions for cats and dogs that are affected by a disease. Farmina offers puppy formulas like N&D Grain-Free, a high-performance diet for puppies to adults that are very active including smaller breeds and working dogs, and N&D Grain-Free Pumpkin for puppies to adults with a normal physical activity level and dogs with slight digestive issues.
- NomNomNow Dog Food. If you want to feed your puppy a fresh-food diet, NomNomNow is a subscription brand diet that ships directly to the customer. Like Farmina, NomNomNow works directly with a veterinary nutritionist to create diets specific to your pet. To order, you fill out a survey about your pet’s breed, age, activity level, and weight goals. It’s one of the fresh-pet-food companies that work closely with pet nutritionists.
Best affordable dog foods for puppies
If you’re trying to save money without sacrificing good nutrition for your pup, don’t worry: A higher price doesn’t always mean you’re getting better food for your dog. All good puppy foods should contain some sort of grain, because grain-free diets have been linked to an increased risk of dilated cardiomyopathy (a kind of heart disease), especially in large-breed dogs. Also, the ingredients should name the type of meat included, should not contain white flour, or preservatives such as BHA or BHT, propylene glycol, or rendered fat.
- Purina Puppy Chow Complete. This is an affordable food for puppies because it uses the same AAFCO testing to prove nutritional adequacy as the brand’s more expensive Pro Plan diets, but will run you around half the price for the same size bag.
- Iams Proactive Health Smart Puppy Food. The Iams ProActive Smart Puppy product line includes three dry dog foods that each meet the AAFCO nutrient profiles for growth.
- Pedigree Puppy. If you’re on a budget, this food has plenty of protein and good fat content, but it uses quite a few ingredients that may not be best for puppies with sensitive stomachs.
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