There are a lot of choices to make when it comes to taking care of a new puppy, and one of the most important is selecting a food that fulfills your pet’s nutritional requirements. Puppies have specific needs, requiring a blend of protein, fat, and calcium to encourage immune system strength, uniform skeletal development, and optimal growth.
“Puppy food, as compared to adult maintenance food, is more nutrient-dense, to complement a puppy’s higher nutrient requirements as they grow,” Megan Shepherd, DVM, PhD, DACVN, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at Veterinary Clinical Nutrition, told The Spruce Pets.
We found the best puppy foods with guidance from Shepherd and other veterinary sources, including dry, wet, and snack options, plus food specific to large breeds. While it's always advisable to check with your veterinarian before starting your puppy on a new diet (especially if they have known digestive issues), our recommendations provide complete nutrition for the first year of your puppy's life.
These are the best puppy foods.
Best Overall Dry: Purina Pro Plan Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula
Available in large and small breed formulas
No artificial colors or flavors
With their rapid growth, puppies benefit from a higher protein diet, comprising between 22-32 percent of their food intake. Purina Pro Plan Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula accounts for this, with a higher proportion of protein, plus a puppy-optimal amount of fats, in their puppy food. That's just one way a puppy-specific formula addresses a young dog's unique needs, providing a diet designed to prevent the onset of orthopedic diseases or obesity.
The Purina Pro Plan Puppy formula uses high-quality protein—derived primarily from chicken—for muscle development, plus bone health ingredients like calcium, phosphorous, and other minerals. The formula also includes probiotics for digestive health, omega-6 fatty acids derived from fish oil, and a wide spectrum of vitamins.
The bag even includes a helpful chart providing month-to-month serving size guidance based on the anticipated adult weight of your puppy. Purina Pro Plan Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula is available in 6-, 18-, and 34-pound bags. Purina also offers several variations on the standard puppy food formula, with Purina Pro Plan foods designed for large breeds, toy breeds, and young dogs between the age of one and two.
Available Flavors: Chicken, lamb | Nutritional Specs: 28% protein, 18% fat, 12% moisture
Best Overall Wet: Royal Canin Puppy Canned Dog Food
Multiple protein sources
Suitable for all breed sizes
Doesn’t come in smaller can sizes for little dogs
Can be difficult to find
Formulated for puppies, Royal Canin Puppy Canned Dog Food meets the nutritional level standards for growth set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO. It provides protein and fatty acids from a wide variety of sources, including chicken, pork, chicken liver, and salmon. It includes a full selection of vitamins and minerals, plus digestive-supporting beet pulp and fish oil.
Royal Canin manufactures its food in plants with transparent safety standards with ISO 22000 Food Safety certifications. Its puppy formula also uses minimal preservatives, incorporating only tocopherols (a form of vitamin E), citric acid, and rosemary extract.
The pâté-style dog food is recommended for small breed puppies in their first 10 months of life or large breed puppies in their first 15. While nutritionally complete, Royal Canin's canned dog food for puppies can also tag team with dry food and be used as a food topper.
Available Flavors: Chicken, pork, salmon combination | Nutritional Specs: 7.5% protein, 4% fat, 76% moisture
Best for Small Breeds: Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Small Paws Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Recipe
Small bags available so it doesn’t go stale before pups can finish
Also suitable for pregnant or nursing dogs
Available in large breed formula
More expensive than some brands
Hill's Science Diet Small Paws Puppy dry food is formulated for the nutritional needs of growing small and toy breed dogs. Even its kibble is "nibble size" since regular-sized kibbles can be too big (and even difficult to digest) for small-breed puppy mouths.
Using chicken meal as its protein basis, the Hill's Science Diet puppy food contains the complete nutritional profile found in our other recommended foods, including DHA from fish oil, plus an enhanced antioxidant blend for immune support.
Manufactured in the United States, Small Paws Puppy food is suitable for puppies up to 1 year old and pregnant or nursing dogs.
Flavors: Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice | Nutritional Specs: 24.5% protein, 15.5% fat
Best for Large Breed Puppies: Purina Pro Plan Chicken and Rice Large Breed Dry Puppy Food
Contains the correct nutrients to protect large breed puppy development
Available in three bag sizes to accommodate your growing pup’s size
Can be difficult to find some flavors
Large breeds, generally considered an adult weight of 70 pounds or more, can be more susceptible to excess calcium in their diets. This food is formulated especially for the big guys and gals, and it’s frequently veterinarian and breeder recommended.
Available Flavors: Chicken, beef | Nutritional Specs: 28% protein, 13% fat, 12% moisture
Best Grain-Free: Orijen Puppy Dog Food
First ingredients listed are chicken, turkey, flounder, mackerel, eggs
More expensive than many other brands
Grain-free diets are meant for puppies who have been diagnosed by a vet with dietary sensitivities, not for the average pup. Despite the increased availability of this food in recent years, it’s not recommended to give your dog a grain-free diet because it has been associated with a potential increased risk of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, which can be fatal. However, if your puppy is on a grain-free diet recommended by your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist, this is a good option.
Available Flavors: Chicken, turkey, fish | Nutritional Specs: 38% protein, 20% fat, 12% moisture
For the best dry food overall, we recommend Purina Pro Plan Puppy Chicken & Rice Formula because it’s designed to support growth and also is available in a large breed version to meet the special nutritional needs of large and giant breed dogs. For the best wet puppy food, we like Royal Canin Puppy Canned Dog Food for its multiple protein sources and suitability for all breed sizes.
What to Look for in Puppy Food
AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, recommends nutrient profiles for pet foods based on the most recent research in pet nutrition. However, they do not inspect, approve, certify or regulate pet foods. Instead, the organization provides a standard for each state’s feed laws. But in order to be marketed as “complete and balanced,” foods must meet nutritional standards outlined in AAFCO’s minimum requirements.
Complete and balanced
The label should state the food is complete and balanced for the dog at the life stages listed. In this case, it should be formulated for puppies.
Dry versus wet
Dry foods contain 10 to 12 percent moisture content, while wet foods contain 75 to 78 percent moisture. But while wet food will keep your dog more hydrated, there's a trade-off since it may also increase tartar buildup on your dog's teeth. One option is to alternate wet and dry food, getting the benefits of both.
How long should I feed my dog puppy food?
“Although breed size and the individual dog’s needs differ, a good general rule is to keep puppies on puppy food for a full 12 months," board-certified veterinary nutritionist Megan Shepherd told The Spruce Pets.
However, this guidance varies slightly, depending on breed, since small dogs typically are done growing within a year, while large breeds may continue to grow.
“Generally, there’s probably more harm taking your puppy off puppy food too soon rather than leaving him or her on too long,” says Dr. Shepherd.
When do I switch from puppy food to adult food?
Although feeding puppy food for one year is a good general rule for most puppies, it’s better to evaluate your individual dog and transition to adult food when they reach their adult body weight, says Shepherd. That’s based on a couple of criteria: your dog’s expected adult weight and body condition score.
First, evaluate your dog’s body condition score (BCS). Looking at your pup from above, you should see a “waistline,” or an indentation between the end of the ribs and the hips; it will be more pronounced on certain breeds such as a whippet versus less pronounced on breeds such as a bulldog. If your dog is fluffy, use your hands to feel the contour of the waist instead. You should be able to feel the ribs with light pressure, like the amount of effort you’d use to slide a piece of paper across a tabletop, Shepherd advised.
Next, from a side view, get down on your dog’s level and look for the abdominal tuck, which should swoop up from the end of the sternum to the front of the back legs. That means the tummy is tucked up when viewed from the side.
Finally, you should consider your dog’s anticipated adult body weight if you know the breed. When your dog has reached their adult weight and has a healthy BCS, it’s time to slowly transition to adult food. For mixed breeds for which you aren’t sure about the mature weight, weigh your dog, and if your pup is no longer gaining weight and has a healthy BCS, they likely reached adult body weight and can be transitioned to adult food.
Do large breed puppies need a specific puppy food?
According to Shepherd, large-breed puppy food is formulated to be less calorie-dense per cup and contains different calcium to phosphorous ratio than adult food since overfeeding calcium can have a deleterious effect on healthy growth for large breeds.
Can adult dogs eat puppy food?
A healthy adult dog can eat puppy food, especially if your dog is a working or sporting dog who is very active and burns a lot of calories. But keep in mind you don’t want your dog to become overweight, so keep an eye on his or her BCS. As with people, obesity can negatively affect your dog’s health and lifespan.
Is it okay to feed your puppy a raw food diet?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, raw food is not recommended for any dog, no matter what age. Although many advocates say they’ve had positive experiences with raw food diets, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest raw pet food is better than any other kind.
“You should also be aware that there’s a high risk that raw food can contain pathogens, such as listeria and salmonella, which can make both pets and people sick,” Shepherd told The Spruce Pets. In addition, nutritional imbalances are another risk with either commercial or homemade raw food diets.
Why Trust The Spruce
This article was written by Arricca SanSone, a lifelong dog lover, who shares her home with two papillons who adore plush toys, snuggling, and barking at bunnies and delivery people. She researched the market based on an interview with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and criteria from the American Veterinary Medical Association, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and the Pet Food Institute. She is a health and lifestyle writer for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, House Beautiful, PureWow, and many others.