The Best Dog Food for Your Puppy, According to a Vet

updated Jun 22, 2023
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Just brought home a new puppy? First off, congratulations, and may you be able to bravely bear all the cuteness that’s about to ensue. Secondly, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to feed your little one and how you can establish healthy food habits to support your pup’s growth and development.

Puppies become adult dogs between one and two years of age, depending on their breed, but during those early years, the food you feed them truly matters. “I advise all my patients to go for a high-quality, commercially available diet,” advises Dr. Carly Fox, Staff Doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. It’s best to stick with brands available at large retailers like AmazonChewyPetcoPetSmart, and PetFlow, to name a few.

“The general trend to feed our pets less processed food is a good one; however, these subscription format diets are expensive and less extensively available than commercial diets,” says Dr. Fox. “But if I were to feed my dog [from a subscription service], I would pick either Ollie or The Farmer’s Dog, since both offer AAFCO-standard meals formulated in conjunction with an expert.”

How to Set Healthy Food Habits for Your Pup

When it comes to food shopping for your puppy, opt for a high-quality commercial kibble that’s specifically designed for its growing needs. Most brands list puppy breeds and size details on the packaging, making it easier to narrow down your options. But before you add your pup’s food to your cart, scan the back of the bag, box, or can for an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval, which means it has been thoroughly researched and tested for nutritional adequacy. “Large, commercial-grade companies employ full-time veterinarians, full-time Ph.D.s, and it’s their job to make sure their diet meets all your pet’s needs,” says Dr. Fox.

If you’re planning on introducing your puppy to table food, Dr. Fox warns it’s a complete no-no! “I wouldn’t recommend that as a normal diet,” she says. “It’s not a complete and balanced diet, and it’s not something that should be used to feed your dog throughout its life because your dog will definitely be deprived of nutrients and vitamins it needs.” Table food can also cause gastrointestinal upsets and pancreatic issues that can inadvertently lead to toxicity over the course of your puppy’s life, so you’re better off sticking with wet and dry food options from large pet food brands.

Food Shopping for Large-Breed Puppies

If your pup belongs to a larger breed, it’s going to be experiencing a massive growth spurt for at least the first 18 months. “Since they grow very quickly, they’re extra sensitive to imbalances and excessive nutrients in their food,” says Dr. Fox. “You always want to make sure that large-breed puppies are on a specific large-breed puppy diet that has less fat, less calcium, and less vitamin B, which allows them to grow at a safer rate and avoid developing orthopedic diseases, which these puppies are prone to, given their large body size.” Most commercially available diets have a special range of food that’s designed for large-breed puppies to make sure they’re getting the appropriate percentage of nutrients.

Food Shopping for Small-Breed Puppies

“Even though they’re smaller than large-breed puppies, they require more calories per count, since their metabolism rate is super high, which makes them prone to episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar),” says Dr. Fox. “They also have an immature liver which isn’t developed enough to regulate its blood sugar as an adult dog would.” This means that diets formulated for smaller-breed puppies are very calorie-dense, even for a small amount of food. “When you’re feeding a small-breed puppy, as a pet owner, aside from getting them a specific type of food, you should also feed them more often throughout the day,” adds Dr. Fox. Consider giving your pup four to six small meals a day to help maintain consistent blood sugar levels.

Do you have a large-breed or small-breed puppy at home? We would love to hear your favorite pet food brands and meal options in the comments below!

The Best Puppy Food Brands

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The Italian pet food brand is known for its high-quality food options designed in collaboration with a veterinary nutritionist. They create foods formulated to the highest of standards, compared to many other brands that simply formulate their food based on information found in existing studies. The clinically tested meal options for puppies pack in the right amount of nutrients required for specific breeds and sizes, such as meals packed with a low glycemic index for small-breed pups and less calcium and fats for large-breed pups.

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Royal Canin takes puppy food customization to a whole new level with dry food options for specific breeds. So whether you're bringing home a tiny French bulldog, baby golden retriever or even a pint-sized Yorkshire terrier, you're covered! Their wet food options for puppies are slightly more generic, applicable to a wide range of small or large breeds but still packed with nutrients that support your little one's growth and development.

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An incredibly popular choice for parents with pets of all ages, Purina Pro Plan offers a small yet carefully curated selection of food options for pups. Narrow down your search based on your dog's size and then choose from chicken and rice, shredded blend, small bites, lamb and rice, and even wet food with brown rice. The brand has an AAFCO certification, so you can rest assured that their formulations pass strict quality-control measures.

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Open Farm Pet

Open Farm's dry and wet food have won over some of the pickiest pups. This sustainable-minded brand is helmed by animal lovers who are focused on delivering nutrition-packed pet food (that is 100 percent human-grade) and sourcing ingredients from farmers who treat both their animals and the environment right. Every bag features a complete breakdown of what’s inside, so you know exactly what's inside your puppy's bowl.

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Blue Buffalo stocks a wide range of food options for puppies of all sizes and breeds. Their food is free of meat by-products or artificial additives, plus each formula is supplemented with Blue Buffalo's exclusive LifeSource Bits. For the unacquainted, LifeSource Bits contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. Blue Buffalo offers dry food and wet food options for both larger- and smaller-breed puppies but also has a Blue Bits range of training dog treats that support healthy cognitive development in growing puppies.

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In addition to regular food for large and small breeds, Hill's Science also has a vet-recommended no-corn, soy or wheat food option for tiny pups with sensitive tummies. They also offer soft and chewy training treats made from chicken that are a delicious incentive for toilet training or bathing sessions.

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One of the few subscription meal services with an AAFCO certification, Ollie starts you off with a detailed quiz where you pick your dog's breed and age. You're then recommended a plan that's suitable for your puppy's nutritional needs, although you can easily change the proteins and/or how much of your pet’s food will be made up of Ollie (25 percent, up to 100 percent). Plans start as low as $2 per day, and new customers can save 50 percent off their first box. Your puppy's meals are delivered fully frozen in vacuum-sealed packaging with dry ice and will stay good for up to six months. Meal options include beef, chicken, turkey, or lamb with other nutritious ingredients like sweet potatoes, peas, and spinach.

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Nom Nom

The DTC subscription service has an AAFCO certification and delivers a high-quality, fresh food diet suited specifically to your pet's needs. To start, you fill out a survey about your puppy's breed, age, activity level and weight goals, then a veterinary nutritionist designs a meal plan for your pup. Meal options always include proteins like beef mash, chicken chow, pork potluck and turkey fare.

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The Farmer's Dog

Another vet-approved subscription meal service, Farmer's Dog starts you off with a highly detailed quiz about your pup's eating patterns and preferences. You're then offered customized options for your pooch, but you can also choose from recipes packed with proteins like turkey, beef and pork; keep in mind that all of them have fish oil and a proprietary nutrient blend. Everything is made fresh and delivered within days in eco-friendly packaging. Plans start at $2 per day and include free shipping. Right now, you can snag 20 percent off your first box.