Choosing the best puppy food and feeding a puppy can be confusing. Besides knowing when to feed, hundreds of commercial puppy food choices are available, as well as home cooked puppy foods or even raw diets.
When choosing a commercial puppy food, it’s important to learn how to read pet food labels. If you decide to home-prepare food for your puppy—either cooked or raw—it’s vital to understand basic puppy nutrition. There are some basics that apply whether you home-cook, feed raw, or provide a commercial formulation.
Why “Puppy” Food?
An eight-week-old puppy needs about twice as many calories per day compared to an adult dog. Puppies require more protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus. These nutrients must be in the proper balance because too much or too little can cause problems. Commercial foods make this easy for you by preparing formulations specific to the needs of a growing puppy.
For example, some foods specify they’re for “toy breed” or “large breed puppies." The tiny mouths of some little dogs may require smaller kibble to be more easily chewed. On the other end of the spectrum, large breed puppies can grow too fast, resulting in obesity or joint problems later in life. Foods designed specifically for a large breed puppy adjust the calcium and phosphorus ratio, calories, and protein to slow the growth rate. Your puppy ends up just as big, but slowed growth lets joints develop and stabilize. Growing too fast could put too much weight strain on immature bones and joints.
Maybe you’ve purchased a boatload of a great adult dog diet at a discount and want to feed all your dogs the same diet for convenience’s sake. Please think again. Puppies have very different nutritional needs than adult dogs, so make sure the label specifies it’s for puppies.
Commercial Food Categories
There are three broad categories of commercial pet food: super-premium, premium, and low-cost products. These are generic terms with no legal definition. But some generalities apply.
Super-premium foods tend to have the most bang for the buck. They have the highest nutrient density—the pup won’t need to eat as much—as well as the highest digestibility. To accomplish this, these foods use the costliest and highest quality ingredients.
More fat in these foods makes them very tasty so puppies willingly eat the diet. High digestibility means you clean up less poop because more of the food is used by the body. Super premium foods are marketed primarily through specialty pet stores or veterinary clinics. Picky puppies that have difficulty gaining a healthy amount of weight can benefit from super premium foods.
Premium name brand products can be found at many grocery stores. They aren’t as expensive as super premiums but they have solid quality ingredients. These products may work fine for the average puppy.
Specialty brands often are super-premium or premium. They vary in quality and usually cost more because the manufacturer makes smaller quantities and distributes often only regionally. Specialty brands may be more difficult to find.
Store brand generic foods are the least expensive foods are typically sold in grocery stores or discount outlets. Cheap ingredients result in less tasty food and lower digestibility. These foods increase dog poop because they contain fillers that end up on the lawn instead of being digested. House-brand products claim nutritional value equal to national name brand products but at a lower cost. In fact, these “private label” foods often are produced by quality pet food companies, and some adult dogs may do fine on these foods. However, store brand foods are not appropriate for puppies. Stick to the super-premium and premium foods.
Changing Puppy Food
Before you bring your pet home, ask what your puppy is used to eating. A sudden change in diet can cause diarrhea. A new home and family offers enough stress. Avoid upsetting the puppy’s tummy by offering your dog its familiar food for the first several days. Breeders choose particular puppy foods for specific reasons so that may be a good food to continue.
If you want to change diets, you can later transition your dog to a new food by mixing the old with the new in a 50-50 mix, and gradually over the first week reduce the old and increase the new percentage.