Wellness Tips

The Best Puppy Food of 2023, With Advice From Experts

Feeding your puppy from a puzzle bowl is a great way to encourage them to eat slowly.
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From finding and buying the best puppy food to keeping up with your little one’s antics, welcoming home a puppy is a busy affair. All that puppy exploration and growth requires a lot of energy, which is why Nancy Welborn, a veterinarian and associate professor of community practice at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, recommends feeding puppies three to four meals a day.

Welborn says that both wet food and dry kibbles provide a nutritious start to life — just as long as the food is formulated or feeding-trial tested to meet the nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for growth. This means the recipe meets your puppy’s recommended protein, fat, and other nutrient needs, like DHA and EPA fatty acids, to support their development. 

We’ve done the legwork for you by researching the best dog food and best puppy toys, so you can spend less time searching and more time bonding with your new pup. We’ve read up on pet food standards, labels, and ingredients and consulted with veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists. Although the experts we consulted didn’t recommend specific foods or brands, they guided the selection criteria for high-quality foods and trustworthy companies. 

Best wet

These special formulas from Wellness, Blue Buffalo, and Hill’s are some of the best wet puppy foods you can buy.
Chewy; Insider

A complete and balanced pet food contains all the necessary nutrients required for a specific life stage, such as growth — the first stage of life when a puppy is growing. According to our experts, “complete” means the food contains all the essential nutrients required for a specific life stage, and “balanced” indicates that the nutrients are present in appropriate proportions.

Puppies need more macronutrients like protein and fat and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals than adult dogs, says Dr. Emily Luisana, a veterinary nutritionist at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, DC. These nutrients give them enough energy for their rapid growth and playful behavior. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for puppy development since they aid in eye and brain development, Luisana says. 

Our picks for the best wet puppy food include recipes that meet or exceed AAFCO’s recommended nutrient profiles for puppies (22.5% protein and 8.5% fat) on a “dry matter basis,” which is the nutrient content of food when the moisture content is removed. You can determine the dry matter basis by following the instructions provided by the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, contacting the food manufacturer directly, or seeking assistance from your veterinarian.

Chicken and salmon are the main protein sources in this food. Salmon provides omega fatty acids for proper brain development. Other healthy ingredients include sweet potatoes, apples, and bananas. The nutritional breakdown is 39% protein, 27% fat, 2% fiber, and 434 kcal per 12.5-ounce can, or about 35 calories per ounce.

Chicken is the main protein source in this puppy food. Standout carbohydrates include carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and barley. This food also contains healthy extras like fish oil for omega fatty acids. It consists of 38.8% protein, 30% fat, and 2.6% fiber, with 422 kcal per 12.5-ounce can, or about 34 calories per ounce.

This puppy food has chicken as its main protein source. Whole grain corn, cracked pearled barley, and soybean meal provide carbohydrates. Other healthy ingredients include fish oil for omega fatty acids. It consists of 28% protein, 21.6% fat, and 1.7% fiber, with 482 kcal per 13-ounce can, or about 37 calories per ounce.

Best dry

Wellness, Purina, and Merrick make high-quality kibble for puppies.
Chewy; Purina; Merrick; Insider

As omnivores, puppies can eat both plant and animal protein-based foods, Welborn says. She explains that plant-based ingredients, such as soy, quinoa, chickpeas, barley, rice, and oats, help make puppy food nutritious and affordable.

Therefore, when it comes to the best dry dog foods, grain-free recipes aren’t necessarily healthier for dogs or puppies. In fact, there is ongoing concern surrounding grain-free dog foods and their potential link to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Luisana advises pet parents to discuss their puppy’s diet with their veterinarian if they’re feeding a grain-free diet or want to switch to a grain-free option.

Opting for kibble from a reputable manufacturer that meets the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) criteria and adheres to stringent quality control standards can give you the assurance that the recipe fulfills all your pup’s nutritional requirements, says Dr. Julie Churchill, a veterinary nutritionist and professor of nutrition at University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Our kibble recommendations for the best puppy food are from trusted brands with exceptional quality control standards, including recipe oversight by on-staff veterinary nutritionists.

Deboned chicken, chicken meal, and salmon meal are the main proteins in this food. The list of carbohydrates includes oatmeal, barley, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, apples, and flaxseed. It also contains probiotics and omega fatty acids from salmon meal and salmon oil. The nutritional breakdown is 29% protein, 18% fat, 4.5% fiber, and 450 kcal per cup.

Chicken, poultry byproduct meal, and fish meal are the main protein source in this dry food. Standout carbohydrates include rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn and wheat, and corn germ meal. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from fish oil and soybean oil. The food contains 28% protein, 18% fat, 3% fiber, and 456 kcal per cup.

Chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this recipe. Carbohydrates include brown rice, barley, oatmeal, apples, and carrots, and there are healthy extras including omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin. It consists of 28% protein, 16% fat, 3.5% fiber, and 406 kcal per cup.

Best for large breed puppies

Large-breed formulas from Nutro, Purina, and Royal Canin provide specialized nutrition to support healthy bones and weight.
Chewy; Purina; Insider

Welborn says it’s crucial to feed large breed puppies a diet specifically formulated for their needs. “There are certain orthopedic diseases that can occur with rapid growth, so large breed diets have a very specific ratio of calcium to phosphorus to help prevent these diseases from occurring,” she says.

Additionally, large breed puppy food tends to be lower in caloric density to prevent puppies from becoming overweight. “The goal is appropriate and ideal growth, not maximum growth,” Luisana says. That’s why in addition to feeding your gentle giant large breed puppy food, she recommends monitoring your puppy’s growth alongside a breed-specific growth chart like these ones by Waltham Petcare Science Institute.

Our picks meet a large breed puppy’s needs with healthy additions like glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.

Chicken and chicken, lamb, and fish meals provide protein in this recipe. Carbohydrates include barley, brown rice, oats, kale, pumpkin, apples, carrots, blueberries, and spinach. Healthy extras include glucosamine, chondroitin from chicken meals, and omega fatty acids. The food contains 26% protein, 14% fat, 4% fiber, and 350 kcal per cup.

Chicken is the main protein source in this food for large breed puppies. Standout carbohydrates include rice, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, and whole grain wheat. Healthy extras consist of omega fatty acids from fish oil plus glucosamine. The food contains 30% protein, 18% fat, 4.75% fiber, and 430 kcal per cup.

This puppy recipe includes chicken, pork byproducts, chicken liver, and pork plasma as meat protein sources. Carbohydrates include brewers rice flour and wheat gluten. Other healthy ingredients include omega fatty acids from fish oil. This food contains 43.01% protein, 12.03% fat, 4.69% fiber, and 320 kcal per 13-ounce can.

Best for small breed puppies

Wellness, Blue Buffalo, and Hill’s make the best food for small breed puppies.
Wellness; Amazon; Chewy; Insider

Kibble size matters. “Very small dogs may have issues chewing large kibbles, whereas large breed dogs may have issues with very small kibbles,” Welborn says. She adds that most puppies should eat at least three to four times daily, transitioning down to about twice a day as they reach adulthood.

Small breed puppies typically have a higher metabolism than large breed puppies, Welborn says, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should feed them more. Instead, talk to your veterinarian about their ideal body size and lifestyle. “Dogs typically sleep 70% of the day,” says Welborn. “If they’re sleeping that much, they don’t need a ton of calories.”

Our recommendations for the best puppy food for small breeds meet the energy needs of small dogs, and our dry options include kibbles that are small enough for your tiny puppy to manage.

Deboned turkey, chicken meal, and salmon meal are the main proteins in this food that has undergone feeding trials. The list of carbohydrates includes oatmeal, barley, brown rice, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, blueberries, and apples. This puppy food also contains probiotics and omega fatty acids from salmon meal, menhaden fish meal, and salmon oil. The nutritional breakdown is 28% protein, 19% fat, and 4.25% fiber and 489 kcal per cup.

Deboned chicken and chicken meal are the main protein sources in this food for puppies. Carbohydrates include oatmeal, barley, peas, brown rice, carrots, and sweet potato. Healthy additions include probiotics and omega fatty acids from fish meal and fish oil. The food contains 29% protein, 17% fat, 5% fiber, and 415 kcal per cup.

Chicken, pork liver, and pork plasma are the main protein sources in this puppy food. Brown rice, wheat flour, carrots, potatoes, and peas provide carbohydrates. Essential and beneficial additions include l-lysine for immune support and omega fatty acids for healthy development. The food contains 30.7% protein, 18.1% fat, 1.8% fiber, and 88 kcal per 3.5-ounce tray.

Best for sensitive stomachs

If your puppy has digestive troubles, your veterinarian may recommend one of these foods from Royal Canin, Wellness, or Blue Buffalo.
Royal Canin; Chewy; Insider

Puppies can be born with sensitivities to ingredients or allergies to specific proteins, Luisana says. However, she adds that sensitivities and true food allergies aren’t as prevalent as pet parents might believe. If you suspect your puppy is suffering from a food-related reaction or experiencing any gastrointestinal upset, it’s crucial to work with your veterinarian to identify the root cause. Your veterinarian may recommend an elimination trial or a prescription diet, such as our pick from Royal Canin.

It’s important to feed your pet high-quality puppy food that makes up 90% to 95% of their daily calorie needs, Churchill says. This ensures your pup gets all the necessary nutrients and minimizes the risk of gastrointestinal upset. The remaining 5% to 10% of daily calories can be from the best dog treats. Ideally, they serve as rewards during puppy training.

Veterinary nutritionists who ensure each recipe meets growing puppies’ needs formulated our recommendations. Our gut-healthy picks also include soluble and insoluble fiber sources and probiotics that aid digestion.

The main protein sources in this food are chicken, poultry, and pork byproducts; chicken; and pork plasma. Brewers rice flour is the standout carbohydrate source. Healthy additions include antioxidants from carotene and omega fatty acids. The food contains 48.85% protein, 29.8% fat, 7.84% fiber, and 140 kcal per 5.1-ounce can.

Deboned chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal are the main protein sources in this food. Brown rice, barley, oats, flaxseed, pumpkin, cranberries, apples, pomegranates, and blueberries provide carbohydrates. Essential and beneficial additions to this food include probiotics and omega fatty acids from marine microalgae oil. The food contains 31% protein, 15.5% fat, 4% fiber, and 398 kcal per cup.

Deboned turkey and turkey meal make up the single animal-protein type in this sensitive stomach puppy formula. Oatmeal, peas, brown rice, potatoes, peas, pumpkin, and dried kelp are standout carbohydrate sources. Essential and beneficial additions to this food include probiotics and omega fatty acids. The food contains 26% protein, 15% fat, 5% fiber, and 394 kcal per cup.

Best fresh food

Ollie, Just Food for Dogs, and The Farmer’s Dog make puppy-friendly fresh dog food.
Ollie; Just Food for Dogs; The Farmer’s Dog; Insider

Fresh food options are a relatively recent addition to the pet food market, and they provide pet parents with gently cooked recipe alternatives to processed food. You can order them through convenient subscription plans or as needed. Our fresh food recommendations for puppies meet AAFCO standards for all life stages, and brands ship them right to your doorstep.

Because they’re delivered fresh and made of human-grade foods, fresh dog food tends to have a heftier price tag. They’re also preservative-free, so you’ll need to read the storage and serving instructions carefully.

When your puppy eats a high-quality diet, you’ll notice healthy skin, fur, and nails, normal bowel movements without vomiting or diarrhea, an ideal body condition score, and healthy muscle mass, Luisana says. The following picks for the best puppy food include fresh ingredients such as USDA pork, chicken thighs, and whole rice. For more details, read our full reviews of The Farmer’s DogJust Food for Dogs, and Ollie.

Pork and pork liver make up proteins in this fresh food option for puppies. Sweet potato, potato, green beans, and cauliflower are carbohydrate sources. Beneficial nutrients in this food include omega fatty acids from salmon oil. The food contains 39% protein, 32% fat, 2% fiber, and 311 kcal per 1/2 lb.

Chicken thighs, chicken liver, and chicken gizzards are the proteins in this feed-trial-tested food. Long-grain rice, spinach, carrots, and apples are carbohydrate sources. Beneficial nutrients in this food include omega fatty acids from fish oil. The food contains 34% protein, 12.2% fat, 0.6% fiber, and 43 kcal per ounce.

Turkey and turkey liver are the main proteins in this fresh food option. Lentils, oats, and carrots are standout carbohydrate sources. Beneficial additions to this food include antioxidants from blueberries, fiber from pumpkin, and beta carotene from kale. The food contains 43% protein, 25% fat, 2% fiber, and 1390 kcal ME/kg.

What to look for in dog food for puppies

Our experts say the following criteria are important to consider when shopping for the best puppy food:

AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement for growth: AAFCO is a nonprofit organization that recommends nutritional profiles based on an animal’s life stage. While they don’t approve pet foods, selecting a puppy food formulated for growth or all life stages means the food is completed and balanced to meet your puppy’s nutritional needs.

Guaranteed analysis: Our experts recommend examining the amount of nutrients, such as protein, fat, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals in a puppy food. You’ll find these values in the guaranteed analysis on the can or bag of food, or the manufacturer can provide the guaranteed analysis. Welborn says to discuss the guaranteed analysis of puppy food with your veterinarian who can ensure your puppy is eating a minimum of 22.5% protein and 8.5% fat along with other essential vitamins and minerals that support their growth.

Ingredient list: This shows all the ingredients used in the recipe, arranged in order of weight. If an ingredient appears at the top of the list, that means it makes up a significant portion of the food’s overall weight. Our experts say puppy foods have no specific ingredients to avoid, including healthy protein sources such as byproducts and byproduct meals. However, our experts recommended against feeding puppies (or any dogs) grain-free diets due to their potential connection to DCM.

Healthy extras: The best puppy foods have extra ingredients to support healthy development, skin, and joints. For example, Welborn says food may include antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and l-lysine and selenium to support the immune system. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, help with the development of the brain and nervous system in young animals and are essential in dog food for puppies. You’ll find most of these beneficial nutrients listed in the guaranteed analysis.

Calorie content: Pet foods typically provide feeding charts as a starting point to determine the appropriate amount to feed your pet. However, Welborn says your veterinarian is the best resource for determining how many calories your puppy should eat in a day. Puppies need high-calorie food to fuel their rapid growth. As your puppy nears adulthood, Luisana says it’s crucial to discuss your dog’s nutritional plan with your veterinarian. The most common reason to consider a switch to an adult food — once your puppy has reached muscular maturity — is to avoid obesity that can be associated with high-calorie puppy foods, she says.  

Breed-size formulation: According to our experts, if you have a large breed puppy, buying puppy food specifically formulated for them is crucial. This is because large breed puppies require specific nutrient ratios and calories to prevent them from growing too quickly, which can cause lifelong orthopedic issues. “Unless a diet specifically says it is labeled or tested for ‘growth of large breed puppies,’ it should be assumed it is not appropriate for this subset,” Luisana says.

Feeding-trial tested versus formulated foods: If the label says a food has gone through feeding trials, it has been deemed safe and palatable by feeding it to a group of animals. On the other hand, foods labeled as formulated were not fed to animals during nutritional testing.

Welborn points out that feeding trial testing is expensive, and not all companies can afford to conduct the tests on all or some of their pet foods. “There are many excellent foods in the market that are listed as a formulated diet,” she says. “These foods have been available for a long time and have been shown to provide excellent nutrition.”

Expert formulations: Churchill says she only recommends products from manufacturers that fulfill WSAVA guidelines. Among other quality-control standards, the brand employs a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist and perhaps a PhD-level animal nutritionist. The best puppy food picks in this guide have been formulated under the guidance of an animal nutrition expert.

Next-level ingredients. Purchasing puppy foods marketed as human-grade, organic, sustainably caught, or cage-free might mean paying more per meal. Although these ingredients typically cost more and may not offer extra nutrition to your puppy, choosing pet food with next-level ingredients such as farm-raised meats, cage-free eggs, and sustainably-caught fish means you’re supporting a pet food company that prioritizes both animal welfare and sustainable practices.

How we selected the best puppy food

To select the best puppy food for this guide, we spoke with two board-certified veterinary nutritionists and a small animal veterinarian.

Dr. Nancy Welborn is a veterinarian and associate professor of community practice at the Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine. After graduating from LSU, Welborn practiced private veterinary medicine for livestock and companion animals before transitioning to emergency small animal critical veterinary and eventually returning to LSU to teach community practice.  

Dr. Emily Luisana is a board-certified nutritionist and practicing clinical veterinary nutritionist at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, DC. Luisana is a graduate of the College of Veterinary Medicine at NC State University. After several years of general practice, she pursued a clinical nutrition residency at NC State University and a fellowship in clinical nutrition at Blue Pearl Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas. Her clinical areas of interest include critical care nutrition, weight loss, homemade diets, and disease-state nutrition.  

Dr. Julie Churchill is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and a professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing veterinary training at Michigan State University, Churchill pursued internal medicine and nutrition residencies and earned her PhD from the University of Minnesota. Her interests include seeing patients in the clinic, mentoring students, and finding more effective ways to teach nutrition and facilitate the integration of nutrition into the care of all patients by healthcare teams.

Puppy food FAQs

What food is best to feed a puppy? 

The best dog food for puppies is formulated for puppies and has an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement for growth. When it comes to large breed puppies, our experts say buying puppy food specifically formulated for them is crucial as they require specific nutrient ratios and calories to prevent them from growing too quickly.

What is better for puppies, dry or wet food?

Both dry and wet food options are nutritious for puppies if they meet the nutritional requirements for growth recommended by AAFCO. However, Welborn says, when selecting a dry puppy food, consider kibble size. Small kibbles are easier for small breed puppies to chew, while large breed dogs might swallow the kibble whole if it’s too small.

What should a puppy eat daily?

Puppies should eat three to four meals a day consisting of puppy food that meets or exceeds the AAFCO’s nutritional recommendations for growth. According to Churchill, a puppy’s daily food intake should consist of 90% to 95% high-quality puppy food. The remaining 5% to 10% can be treats; she recommends choosing treats that are appropriate for puppy training.

How much food should I feed my puppy?

Many pet food brands include feeding charts on their packaging, but Welborn says these charts are only a general reference. During regular wellness checkups, your veterinarian will evaluate your puppy’s body condition score using a nine-point scale. Depending on your puppy’s body condition (underweight, ideal, or overweight), breed, and lifestyle, your veterinarian can determine the amount of calories your puppy should consume daily.

What is the best dog food to give an 8-week-old puppy?

Puppies 8 weeks and older can eat solid food. Given the wide variety of puppy food recipes, textures, and breed-specific formulations, there is no one best puppy food to feed an 8-week-old puppy. However, to meet the recommended AAFCO nutritional requirements for growth, our experts recommend choosing a food formulated for your puppy’s breed size.

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