Top 14 Best Puppy Foods

By Kevin Myers | 2021 Update

✓ Reviewed by Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM

This (updated) guide lists all of the best puppy foods this year.

When your pup is still growing, he needs special nutrition to form stronger joints, muscles, bones, and a healthy immune system, to name a few. And, feeding your puppy with adult dog food isn’t a good idea because pups need extra calories. 

Puppies grow rapidly within the first two years and need twice the nutrients that adult dogs do. Feeding your puppies regular adult dog foods can impact them negatively, especially if you have a large dog breed.

That’s why many top pet food brands are in the race to create the best dog foods for puppies.

After hours of research, ingredients analysis, reader and consumer reviews, I have curated a list of these absolute gems of puppy foods. (Here’s my 40-point inspection list)

Let’s dive in.

The Best Dog Foods for Puppies

Best Puppy FoodsBreed SizeTop Ingredients
1. Purina Pro Plan Focus — Puppy Large Breed FoodLargeChicken, Rice, Beef Fat…
2. Hill’s Science Diet — Puppy Large Breed Chicken Meal and Oat Recipe DryLargeChicken Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Oats…
3. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog FoodLargeDeboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice
4. Wellness Complete Health Puppy Dog FoodMediumDeboned Chicken, Oatmeal, Ground Barley
5. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Food FormulaMediumWater Buffalo, Sweet Potatoes, Chicken Fat
6. Royal Canin Small Puppy Dry Dog FoodSmallBrewers Rice, Chicken Fat, Dried Beet Pulp
7. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy FoodSmallDeboned Chicken, Oatmeal, Fish Meal

How to Switch Dog Food Without Getting Your Pup Sick


Large Breed Puppy Foods

1. Purina Pro Plan Focus — Puppy Large Breed Food

Protein 28.0% min, Fat 13.0% min, Fiber 6% max, Moisture 12% max

Top 5 ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Brewer’s Rice, 3. Corn Gluten Meal, 4. Whole Grain Corn, 5. Poultry By-Product Meal

Large breed puppies are the most prone to crippling bone diseases. A puppy formula specifically manufactured and tested for large breeds, like this offering from Purina Pro Plan, is perfect nutrition for your large breed puppies.

With lean, high-quality protein and Omega-6 fatty acids, this puppy food will help your large breed puppy thrive.


2. Hill’s Science Diet — Puppy Large Breed Chicken Meal and Oat Recipe Dry

Protein 26.0% min, Fat 16% min, Fiber 3% max, Moisture 10% max

Top 5 ingredients: 1. Chicken Meal, 2. Whole Grain Wheat, 3. Whole Grain Oats, 4. Whole Grain Sorghum, 5. Corn Gluten Meal

This formula makes for one of the best puppy foods for large breeds. Hill’s controls the amount of calcium in their formula to ensure it is within safe limits for large breed puppies. What’s more, this formula contains chondroitin and glucosamine for optimum growth and muscle strength. Additionally, the vitamin E and C in this food for puppies help greatly in supporting the immune system.


3. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food

Protein 26.0% min, Fat 15% min, Fiber 5% max, Moisture 10% max

Top 5 ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Brown Rice, 4. Oatmeal, 5. Barley

Here’s a large-breed puppy food that’s easy on your pocket and your puppy’s stomach. With a regulated calorie content and L-carnitine, this formula helps puppies grow in an optimum manner. Also, this dog food uses no by-product meals, which is not as common as one would imagine. It contains Omega-3 & 6 fatty acids for a well-maintained coat.


4. Nutro — Ultra-Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food

Protein 26.0% min | Fat 13.0% min | Fiber 4.0% max | Moisture 10.0% max

Top Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal (source of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate), Whole Brown Rice, Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Oatmeal, Rice Bran

Nutro’s Ultra-Large Breed formula is specifically made for puppies, but it meets all the AAFCO’s requirements for adult dog foods as well. It contains whole grains for a high-performance diet along with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint development. It contains Linoleic Acid from Sunflower Oil which improves the quality of your pup’s coat. This formula for puppies contains taurine, which has a massive positive impact on eyesight and hearing.


5. Authority Chicken & Rice Formula — Large Breed Puppy

Protein 26.0% min | Fat 13.0% min | Fiber 3.0% max | Moisture 10.0% max

Top Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Corn, Oat Groats, Corn Gluten Meal

The best part about Large-Breed specific puppy foods is that they’re formulated to combat crippling bone diseases. For that reason, Authority adds chondroitin and glucosamine in its formula for joint development in pups. It also contains DHA and EPA, which help in vision and brain development.


Medium Breed Puppy Foods

6. Wellness Complete Health Puppy Deboned Chicken, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Oatmeal, 3. Ground Barley, 4. Chicken Fat, 5. Tomatoes

As the name suggests, Wellness Complete Health Puppy Formula provides a highly nutritious, all-around diet for your puppy. Although the recipe mainly consists of chicken, salmon, and oatmeal, it’s also packed with real fruits and vegetables that deliver numerous micronutrients. 

These fruits and vegetables include apples, blueberries, sweet potatoes, and other greens rich in antioxidants. Besides that, the diet encourages brain development and coat health through DHA. Probiotics and glucosamine are also present in the food to support digestion and joint health. Lastly, the recipe is free from fillers, artificial preservatives, and GMOs so that your dog only receives the highest quality nutrition.


7. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Food Formula

Guaranteed Analysis: Protein 28.0% min, Fat 17.0% min, Fiber 5.0% max, Moisture 10% max

Top 5 ingredients: 1. Buffalo, 2. Lamb Meal, 3. Sweet Potatoes, 4. Egg Product, 5. Pea Protein

This is the second “Taste of The Wild” puppy food on this list, and we’ve chosen it for the quality of ingredients. The High Prairie formula is great for dog owners who wish to feed their puppy natural and protein-rich foods.

8. CANIDAE Grain-Free PURE Puppy Limited Ingredient Chicken, Lentil & Whole Egg Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Menhaden Fish Meal, 3. Lentils, 4. Peas, 5. Chicken Fat

If your puppy is sensitive or allergic to most dog foods, Canidae’s Pure Puppy LID Formula is an excellent choice for them. The entire recipe consists of nine real, wholesome ingredients that are easy on the stomach. Some of those ingredients include chicken, lentils, and potatoes, all of which promote muscle growth and fuel your puppy throughout their day.

Besides that, the recipe is enriched with probiotics, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids to promote gut health and improve coat appearance. Since this is a limited ingredient diet, it is free from fillers and artificial ingredients that can cause diarrhea and digestive upset.


9. Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Chicken Meal & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken Meal, 2. Whole Grain Wheat, 3. Cracked Pearled Barley, 4. Chicken Fat, 5. Chicken Liver Flavor

Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Dog Food packs a ton of flavor and nutritional value, perfect for puppies of all sizes and breeds. The main recipe list comprises chicken meal for muscle nourishment and barley to keep your pup energized and active. Fish oil acts as a source of omega fatty acids and DHA to promote brain development and coat health.

Additionally, the formula consists of antioxidants and vitamins that strengthen your puppy’s immune system. Both natural ingredients and tasty liver flavors make the food highly delicious and a favorite of stubborn puppies. The dog food is manufactured exclusively in the USA and offers complete nutritional support for puppies up to one year old.


10. ORIJEN Puppy Grain-Free Dry Puppy Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Deboned Turkey, 3. flounder, 4. Eggs, 5. Turkey Liver

If you want to go for a premium diet, there’s no better option than Orijen. The Grain-Free Puppy Food features a range of premium proteins, including chicken, turkey, mackerel, flounder, and more. Almost 85% of the food’s protein content is sourced from animals and contains loads of amino acids and micronutrients that build lean muscle.

We would also recommend this diet for sensitive pups since it’s free from grains. Instead, the brand uses lentils and peas, both of which are simple carbs and digest easily. Apples, pumpkins, carrots, and other products act as a source of antioxidants to strengthen your puppy’s immune system. And the best part? The kibble is coated with freeze-dried liver, which gives the food an irresistible aroma and taste.


11. Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Brown Rice, 3. Barley, 4. Oatmeal, 5. Chicken Fat

Merrick’s Classic Healthy Grains Dog Food offers a holistic diet that keeps your puppy on its paws. While the recipe consists of turkey and chicken for protein, it includes a variety of fibrous grains like brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa to improve digestion and fuel your puppy with energy.

In addition, the diet provides omega fatty acids and DHA for brain and vision development. The formula also includes glucosamine and chondroitin, which are essential for good joint health in breeds with skeletal issues. Each batch of Merrick is prepared at the brand’s USA facility to ensure your puppy only receives the best diet.


Small Breed Puppy Foods

12. Royal Canin Small Puppy Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Brewers Rice, 2. Chicken By-Product Meal, 3. Chicken Fat, 4. Dried Plain Beet Pulp, 5. Vegetable Oil

Royal Canin Small Puppy Dog Food is specifically designed to support small breed puppies during their short growth period. This diet is loaded with proteins that digest instantly and promote muscle development. It’s also packed with calories and can fulfill your puppy’s energy needs with relatively less food.

Apart from that, the food contains essential vitamins and minerals to support the overall well-being and development of the immune system. The kibbles feature a smaller design for toy breeds and have a crunchy texture that encourages tartar removal. The formula is suitable for small-breed puppies up to 10 months of age.


13. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Puppy Chicken & Oatmeal Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Oatmeal, 3. Menhaden Fish Meal, 4. Brown Rice, 5. Chicken Fat

Made from a range of natural foods, Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula offers a premium-grade holistic diet for small puppies. The recipe only contains foods that digest easily and leave your puppy satisfied, from deboned chicken meat to oatmeal. The formula is ideal for sensitive pups since it’s free from common allergens like corn, wheat, and soy.

However, the highlight feature of this formula is its micronutrient content. It contains Blue Buffalo’s proprietary LifeSource Bits loaded with vitamins, chelated minerals, and antioxidants. The food is enriched with DHA and ARA sourced from fish oil to promote brain and vision development. It also encourages teeth development with its calcium content and improves coat appearance with omega fatty acids. 


14. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Puppy Formula

Protein 22.5% min, Fat 11% min, Fiber 4% max, Moisture 10% max

Top 5 ingredients: 1. Potatoes, 2. Duck Meal, 3. Duck, 4. Potato Protein, 5. Canola Oil

One of the biggest signs of quality for dog foods is if they use a single-source protein. Thankfully, this formula by Natural balance uses duck as its single protein source. With this grain-free formula, your pup would get fewer carbs and as much protein as possible. With added Omega-3, this puppy food helps dogs attain a shiny and smooth coat.


Also, check out these specific puppy food guides:

Buyer’s Guide

Each food option listed in this article addresses the special dietary needs of puppies. The nutrition present in these foods ensures your pup gets everything it needs after weaning. In addition to offering a higher level of protein, the best puppy foods should provide everything that works as a fundamental building block for your dog’s development and growth.

Here’s good news:

This guide contains all the essential information you need to make the right choice.

Good ingredients in puppy food

  • Real meat: Puppies need high amounts of lean protein to fuel muscular growth. And there’s no better source for it than real, whole meat. The best protein sources for puppies include chicken, beef, and salmon. Rabbit and duck are ideal meats for sensitive pups.
  • Whole grains or simple carbs: It’s crucial to select the right carbs for your puppy to prevent stomach problems. Whole grains like barley, oatmeal, and brown rice are some of our recommended choices since they’re rich in fiber and promote better digestion. But if your puppy is sensitive to grains, choose a recipe with easily digestible carbs like sweet potatoes, lentils, and peas. 
  • Natural fats and oils: Fats play a vital role in fueling your puppy’s body and nourishing their coat. The best fats for puppies are natural fats that are either animal-based or vegetable-based. Animal-based fats like salmon oil, chicken fat, and fish oil are excellent fatty acids and DHA sources. Similarly, vegetable-based oils like sunflower oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil contain many beneficial omega fatty acids and nutrients.
  • Natural preservatives: When buying puppy food, make sure it doesn’t contain artificial preservatives, especially BHA and BHT. Instead, look for natural ones such as vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which are much healthier and non-harmful.

Bad ingredients in puppy food

  • Meat by-products: To cut costs, some dog food manufacturers use meat by-products as a protein source. These by-products usually consist of scrap parts such as bones and waste organs and offer little nutritional value compared to real meat. 
  • Corn and wheat: Corn and wheat are dense grains that are difficult to digest for puppies with undeveloped digestive systems. They’re typically used as fillers and provide empty calories that don’t contribute to your puppy’s growth.
  • Rendered fats: Many dog food manufacturers slip in poor-quality fats with generic names like ‘animal fat.’ In reality, these rendered fats can come from diseased or dead animals whose fat usually contain some toxins. 

The Difference Between Puppy Food and Adult Dog Food

Puppies grow up fast, building muscles and bones and developing organs. Adult dogs, on the other hand, are maintaining their health and bodies. It’s important to offer your puppy the right food to ensure you fuel its growth with adequate nutrition.

In simple words, a puppy’s nutritional requirements are way more expansive than an adult dog. Puppies have a lot more energy and require additional calories to support their bones and growing bodies. As a puppy owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that every calorie provides healthy nutrition.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials has set regulations and standards that clearly state what goes into puppy and adult dog food. AAFCO has guidelines to categorize the food easier based on the nutritional aspects and main ingredients present in the food.

Here’s a list of the nutrients according to AAFCO and how they differ according to puppy food and adult dog food:

Protein: 22% or higher for puppies and 18% for adult dogs
Fat: 8% for puppies and 5% for adult dogs
Calcium: 1% for puppies and 0.6% for adult dogs
Phosphorus: 0.8% for puppies and 0.5% for adult dogs
Sodium: 0.3% for puppies and 0.06% for adult dogs

Please note that these general calculations are for puppies and dogs. These numbers can significantly vary depending on the breed and size of your dog.

Should you feed your puppy grains or not?

Before even entering the market, many puppy owners fret over the dilemma of choosing a grain or non-grain diet. And it isn’t your fault, considering the number of grain-free options available in the market.

The truth is that your puppy doesn’t necessarily need a grain-free diet. Whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice are beneficial for their digestive system since they’re rich in fiber. 

But if your puppy suffers from allergies or sensitivities, then you should consider picking a grain-free dog food. Puppies who are allergic to grains will experience itching, skin rashes, diarrhea, and vomiting. If you suspect any such signs, contact your veterinarian and discuss whether a grain-free diet would be appropriate for your puppy.

Buying the Right Puppy Food – Factors to Ponder Over

It is important to ensure that the puppy food you choose has the essential nutrition and other features that your pup will thrive on. Here are some factors to help you decide:

Wet Food vs. Dry Food

Wet food may be essential when your little puppy is making the initial transition away from his mother’s milk. Wet food is softer and makes eating solid less of a struggle. Introduce wet food to your puppy when your puppy is under a few months old. Since the dietary needs will continue to change too, you can now introduce dry food too. Most food options for puppies are not particularly hard but you can further soften kibble by mixing it with wet food or by adding a little water. You can completely switch to dry food when you think your pup is ready after the 3-month mark.

Essential Omegas

Puppies need essential omegas, particularly omega-3 fatty acids for fur and otherwise. In addition to keeping the coat healthy, it also helps with vision development.

Grain-Free Options

If you have a puppy with a sensitive stomach, a grain-free food option is best. While whole grains do offer calcium and vitamins, it is primarily used in puppy food as fillers. Therefore, a diet based on vegetables, fruits, and meat will deliver a higher percentage of healthier nutrients needed by growing puppies.

The Right Serving Size

It’s best to set up a schedule and divide the daily calorie and nutrition requirements into several small meals. Check out the serving size recommendations on the package of the food for better understanding.

Transition Period

Consider your puppy’s specific needs when looking for the right food. Depending on the breed, the transition period is anywhere between nine and thirteen months. Introduce adult food to your puppy once a day to make the transition easier.


FAQs

1. When can I give solid food to my puppy?

Puppies are ideally weaned off their mother’s milk between four and six weeks, which is when you introduce solid food to your pup as their nutritional and caloric requirements advance beyond mother’s milk.

2. How do I know if I am feeding the right food to my puppy?

Following the AAFCO guidelines can help you determine if you’re providing complete nutrition to your puppy. Also, make sure the food you choose is formulated to match the AAFCO nutrient standards.

3. How much food should I feed my puppy?

Puppies require higher calories to fuel their rapid growth and development. The quantity of food, however, will vary depending on your puppy’s breed. According to Petfinder, an average 10-pound puppy would require 990 calories in a day.

4. Do I need to feed a special diet to my large breed pup?

Large breed puppies are more likely to develop joint and skeletal problems, which can worsen due to overfeeding. These dogs require controlled growth and thrive on food with higher calcium, fiber, and phosphorous levels. A large breed puppy should only be feed controlled calories and a balanced diet.

5. Is organic puppy food better than the regular one?

Organic puppy food mainly indicates that the formulation included organic ingredients. But this doesn’t guarantee if it is better than regular food. The quality and completeness of puppy food rely on the quality and amount of nutrients it offers your dog.

6. What are the best treats for my puppy?

While treats are an integral part of training, aim for no more than 5% of calories from treats. Avoid table scraps completely!

7. Are there any dangerous foods for dogs that I should avoid?

While it is okay to offer certain human foods to your pup, some can be extremely harmful to them. Keep your dog away from chocolate, avocados, macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes, bread dough, onions, garlic, chives, and large amounts of dairy products, alcohol, caffeine, and other salty and fattening foods.  

8. Can I offer my adult dog’s food to my puppy?

It is not recommended to give food intended for adult dogs to your pups. Your puppy requires more nutrition for the healthy development of bones and organs. Offering them adult food can deprive them of essential nutrients.

9. What human foods are great for feeding pups?

  • Cooked chicken
  • Peanut butter
  • Baby carrots
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin

10. What snacks can I give my puppy?

Some favorite snacks of pups include:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Carrots
  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Celery
  • Cantaloupe
  • Raspberries

11. Can I offer raw food to my large breed pups?

Raw food works great for growing pups, especially large breed dogs. It is best to stick to high-quality raw food that’s rich in protein and low in fat content.  

12. Should I offer wet food to my pup as well? How often?

Puppies between the ages of four and six months should eat three to four times daily. After six months, reduce the frequency to twice a day. The key is to divide the food into meals and make sure you meet their daily caloric requirement according to their age.

13. How do I know if I am feeding the healthiest food to my pup?

The best and the healthiest food for a puppy mainly depend on their requirements, breed, and health condition. You can pick any high-quality food from the list shared in this article as a great food option for your puppy.  

14. Should I also offer water to my puppy during the day?

Experts suggest giving your pup half a cup of water every two hours once they are weaned. After transitioning to solid food completely, your puppy will require 0.5 to 1 ounce of water per pound of their body weight.  

15. What are the common health problems in puppies that lack complete nutrition?

Proper nutrition is crucial for canine health despite their age. Poor nutrition can lead to several health problems and disorders, including obesity, organ development, heart health, brain function, and skeletal problems.  

Conclusion

Choosing a dog food for your puppy is not easy. And that’s why I’ve spent weeks curating this list of the best puppy foods.

If you’re looking for a specific diet of puppy food like wetdry, natural, and grain-free, make sure you check out our specific pages for these products.

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