Bringing home a new puppy is exciting, there is no doubt about that. But it is important that you do not get caught up in all of the excitement and forget to do some essential planning. Before bringing your new puppy home, you need to stock up on some high-quality puppy food. Shopping for puppy food can be challenging because there are so many options to choose from but you shouldn’t just give up and grab a bag off the shelf – puppies have unique nutritional needs so it is crucial that you take the time to learn about those needs and to choose a high-quality, nutritious puppy food.
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Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Puppies
As you probably already know, dogs are primarily carnivorous animals, though they are a little more omnivorous than cats are. Still, a dog’s body is optimized to digest and absorb nutrition from animal products more efficiently than from plant products. Dogs and cats both have relatively short digestive tracts which limits their ability to digest and process plant foods including dietary fiber. This does not mean, however, that you should feed your puppy a diet of only meat. Carbohydrates should still be included in your puppy’s diet as a source of dietary fiber and as an alternative source of energy.
All dogs require a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrate in their diet along with essential vitamins and minerals plus fresh water. Because dogs are more carnivorous than herbivorous, protein is the most important nutritional consideration – for puppies and adult dogs alike. Protein is made up of amino acids and it is essential for helping your puppy grow and develop. There are twenty different amino acids, and your puppy’s body is capable of synthesizing (creating) 10 of the. The remaining 10 amino acids are called “essential amino acids” because they must come from your puppy’s diet. Animal products like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are considered “complete proteins” because they contain all 10 essential amino acids. Plant products like beans and legumes contain some protein as well, but they are not complete proteins and, because they are plant products, they are less biologically valuable for puppies and dogs than animal proteins.
After protein, the next most important nutritional consideration for puppies is fat. While you have probably had the idea that fats are bad drilled into your head, they are actually an extremely important source of nutrition for dogs. Fats are the most highly concentrated source of energy available to dogs – fat contains 9 calories per gram, in comparison to protein and carbohydrate which contain just 4 calories per gram. Like protein, fats are best when they come from animal-based sources – especially named sources like chicken fat or salmon oil, not generic ingredients like poultry fat or fish oil. In addition to providing your puppy with a concentrated source of energy, fats also provide important vitamins and they help to promote healthy skin and coat.
Carbohydrates should be included in your puppy’s diet, but only in limited amounts and in highly digestible forms. Again, dogs have a limited ability to digest plant products so you don’t want your puppy’s diet to be too high in carbs because it could cause his body to expend extra energy trying to digest the carbs – energy that could be put toward better uses such as fueling growth and development or supporting the immune system. Carbohydrates come from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, and grains – they are made up of glucose and they also contain dietary fiber as well as key vitamins and minerals. Because your puppy’s ability to digest plant products is so limited, any carbohydrates included in his diet must be cooked thoroughly or come from whole-grain sources that are easy to digest.
Aside from protein, fat, and carbohydrate, the remaining pieces of your puppy’s diet are made up of vitamins, minerals, and fresh water. In fact, water is the most important nutrient for all animals, even though it does not provide any energy. Water is essential for maintaining healthy bodily function, helping to facilitate healthy digestion and allowing the body to make the most efficient use of other nutrients. Your puppy needs plenty of fresh water available at all times. In terms of vitamins, the most important ones for puppies and dogs include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and various B Vitamins. For minerals, the most important ones are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride – these are referred to as macro-minerals. Your puppy also needs some trace minerals (called micro-minerals) such as zinc, sulfur, iron, iodine, selenium, manganese, copper, chromium, cobalt, fluorine, molybdenum, and silicon.
Feeding Small-Breed VS Large-Breed Puppies
Now that you have a better understanding of what your puppy’s nutritional needs are, you have a solid foundation on which to base your choice for puppy food. Before you head to the pet store, however, there are some additional nutritional factors you need to take into consideration. What many dog owners do not realize, is that the energy and nutritional requirements of small-breed puppies vary to some degree from those of large-breed puppies. All puppies still require a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in their diet but some puppies need extra of certain nutrients based on their size and their rate of growth.
When it comes to overall energy requirements, you may be surprised to learn that small-breed dogs actually have higher energy needs than large-breed dogs – at least when measured according to calories per pound of bodyweight. Consider this – a 110-pound Akita might require something in the ballpark of 2,500 calories per day while an 11-pound Bichon Frise needs just 450 calories daily. If you do the math, however, you will find that the Akita’s energy needs equate to about 23 calories per pound of bodyweight while the Bichon Frise’s energy needs translate to about 41 calories per pound. Small-breed dogs have very fast metabolisms – this is why they need more calories than large-breed dogs. A small-breed dog burns through calories very quickly simply in maintaining essential bodily processes and they need a steady stream of energy throughout the day.
In order to make sure that your puppy gets the right amount of energy, you should feed him a size-specific formula – a designated large-breed or small-breed puppy recipe. Small-breed puppy foods are generally higher in fats than large-breed recipes in order to meet the higher energy requirements of smaller dogs. Both types of puppy food should be equally high in protein, however, to support the growth and development of puppies. One thing you do want to be wary of, however, is large-breed puppy formulas that are too high in fat or calories. Small-breed puppies reach their adult size much more quickly than large-breed puppies, simply because there is a shorter ways to go. Many large-breed puppies don’t stop growing until they are 1 ½ to 2 years old.
During the developmental stages, it is important to keep large-breed puppies from growing too fast. If a large-breed puppy grows too quickly it could be excess strain on his developing bones and joints which could increase his risk for development musculoskeletal issues later in life. This is why many large-breed puppy formulas have moderate amounts of fat – low amounts compared to small-breed formulas. You may also see that large-breed puppy recipes have extra glucosamine and chondroitin, two mineral supplements that help to support bone and joint health. Large-breed formulas may also include higher levels of dietary fiber because large dogs are more likely to develop digestive problems. Small-breed dogs are more likely to develop dental problems because their skulls are so small – many small-breed formulas feature small kibble sizes to help scrape plaque and tartar off the dog’s teeth.
Tips for Choosing a High-Quality Puppy Food
The process of choosing a high-quality puppy food is no different than the process for choosing a quality adult dog food – you have to analyze the information presented on the pet food label and compare it to what you know about your dog’s nutritional needs. When you pick up a bag of puppy food, you may feel like you are being bombarded with bright pictures, lofty health claims and promises, and fancy words. It is important to remember, however, that pet food is not as closely regulated as food for humans so pet food manufacturers can pretty much say whatever they want on their packaging as long as it follows a few simple rules. Because you can’t necessarily trust all of the words you read on a puppy food package, you should overlook this information and focus on what is really important – the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy, the ingredients list, and the guaranteed analysis.
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) performs a similar role for pet food that the FDA does for human food. This organization is in charge of regulating the manufacture and sale of pet food – they also make sure that pet food products are formulated to meet the minimum nutritional requirements of the pets they are intended for. AAFCO has established specific nutritional profiles for puppies, adult dogs, and pregnant dogs and all pet food products are tested in comparison to these profiles before they can be sold. If the product meets the minimum nutritional requirements for the intended animal, the pet food package will carry an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy that looks something like this:
“[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”.
If you see this on a bag of puppy food, you can rest assured that the product will meet your puppy’s basic nutritional needs. What you cannot assume, however, is that just because the product carries this statement that it is a high-quality product. It is possible to meet established nutrient profiles without using any high-quality ingredients at all. This will be extremely evident to you if you pick up a bag of cheap dog food and look at the ingredients list – you’ll see plenty of words like “by-product” included as well as unnamed sources for protein and fat. So, when shopping for puppy food you definitely want to check for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy first but then move on to an analysis of the ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis to determine the quality of the product.
As is true for human food labels, the ingredients list on a pet food label is organized in descending order by volume, so the ingredients at the top of the list are present in the highest volume. You must remember, however, that these lists are generally organized prior to cooking and processing – once the product is processed and the moisture has been cooked out, the actual volume for certain ingredients could be much lower. This is the case for fresh meats which contain up to 80% moisture – they may be listed at the top of the list but once the ingredients are cooked, the real volume could decrease significantly. This is why meat meals (from named sources like chicken meal or salmon meal) are so valuable – they have already been cooked down to a moisture level around 10% so their volume won’t change significantly during processing. Meat meals are a highly concentrated source of protein.
When evaluating the ingredients list for a commercial puppy food product, you want to see plenty of high-quality, unaltered ingredients – things like fresh meats and meat meals, whole grains, and un-rendered animal fats. A quality source of animal protein should always be at the top of the list, followed by healthy animal fats and digestible carbohydrates. You should avoid products that list a carbohydrate as the first ingredient, especially if it is derived from corn, wheat, or soy. Avoid by-products and unnamed sources for fats and proteins, making sure that the primary protein sources are animal-based, not plant-based. You also want to make sure that the product doesn’t contain any artificial additives like colors, dyes, flavors, and preservatives. It is a bonus if the product includes chelated minerals and probiotic supplements as well.
Once you’ve determined that the ingredients list shows a decent number of quality ingredients, the last thing you want to look at is the guaranteed analysis. This simply provides a breakdown of the percentages for key nutrients including crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture. When shopping for puppy food, you can compare two similar products using the values from the guaranteed analysis. As you do so, however, remember to keep the ingredients list in mind. The guaranteed analysis only shows the total percentage of crude protein, for example – the ingredients list will tell you where that protein comes from. It is possible for a product to have a high protein content without including any real sources of meat. This is why you need to consider the ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis two pieces of the same puzzle.
When and How Much to Feed
After you have made the effort to choose a high-quality puppy food for your puppy all that is left to do is start feeding him! It is important to remember that different puppy food products have different calorie contents, so always refer to the feeding recommendations on the package. In most cases, the label will tell you how much to feed your puppy on a daily basis, determined by his bodyweight. Of course, you also have the option of free-feeding your puppy. Most puppies are good at self-regulating their diet – they will eat when they are hungry and in need of nutrition then stop when they are full. Many dog owners prefer this feeding method for puppies because it ensures that the puppy gets as much energy and nutrition as he needs. If your puppy has trouble regulating himself, however, and he starts to grow too quickly, you may want to ration his daily portion.
In terms of when to feed your puppy and how many daily meals to offer, it is always a good idea to break up his feeding throughout the day if you are not free-feeding. Most puppies do well with three to four small meals spaced out over the course of the day. Just be careful not to overfeed your puppy. Keep feeding him a puppy-specific formula (ideally one catered to his size) until he reaches about 80% of his expected adult size. At that point you should start switching him over to a size-specific adult dog food formula. Again, refer to the dog food label for general feeding recommendations to determine how much you should be feeding your puppy after you make the switch.
Top Recommended Puppy Food Brands:
With so many dog food brands out there, it can be difficult to sift through the options and to choose just one recipe. If you need help finding a high-quality, nutritious brand of puppy food, consider one of the top five options reviewed below:
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy with Roasted Bison & Roasted Venison
The Taste of the Wild Company is a family-owned company, though its products are manufactured in the U.S. by the Diamond Pet Foods Company. Taste of the Wild makes it their mission to not only create products that will provide for your pet’s nutritional needs, but to do so with crave-able flavors he is sure to love. This brand uses real roasted meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and grain-free carbohydrates to ensure complete and balanced nutrition in digestible formulas. All of this company’s products are fortified with healthy antioxidants to protect your dog against free-radical damage as well as DHA supplements (especially in their puppy formulas) for healthy brain development. Taste of the Wild includes chelated minerals in their recipes as well as probiotics and low-glycemic carbohydrates to provide digestible sources for dietary fiber.
This Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy formula with roasted bison and roasted venison is an excellent example of this company’s commitment to quality. This recipe is loaded with premium proteins as well as fruits and vegetables for healthy, digestible carbohydrates. This puppy food formula provides 28% crude protein and 17% fat with just 5% dietary fiber, so you can rest assured that it will be gentle on your puppy’s stomach. In addition to these quality ingredients, this recipe also contains dried fermentation products for healthy digestion and chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption. Plus, this Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy formula is full of natural flavors that your puppy is absolutely sure to love.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small-Breed Puppy Chicken & Oatmeal Recipe
The Blue Buffalo company name has become synonymous with the word “quality” in the pet food industry. This company is known for using only the freshest, most natural ingredients available and they follow the strictest standards for safety and quality with their production. Blue Buffalo understands the importance of nutrition for pets, which is why they are so serious about using the best ingredients in all of their products. Blue Buffalo offers four different product lines for cats and dogs – the Blue line of all-natural diets, the Freedom line of grain-free foods, the Basics line of Limited Ingredient Diets, and the Wilderness line of protein-rich formulas. All of these product lines come with recipes that are specific to different life stages, including several puppy-specific formulas.
If you are looking for a quality diet for your small-breed puppy, consider the Blue Buffalo Life Protection Small-Breed Puppy Chicken & Oatmeal Recipe. This recipe is made with deboned chicken and chicken meal as the top two ingredients which speaks to the high protein content indicated in the guaranteed analysis. After these main protein sources come whole grains like oatmeal and barley as well as healthy animal fats such as chicken at. In addition to offering quality nutrition in general, this recipe includes Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support balanced nutrition. This recipe is also free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. You simply can’t go wrong with this recipe!
Acana Heritage Large-Breed Puppy Formula
The Acana pet food company is known for producing biologically appropriate diets for cats and dogs – that is, diets that are designed to mimic the natural diet of wild felines and canines. It is this company’s mission to set a new standard for quality in pet nutrition which is why they use only the freshest natural ingredients that are locally sourced and prepared in their own award-winning kitchens. Acana never outsources their production and they follow the strictest standards for safety and quality with their products. When it comes to their product offerings, Acana recently reformulated a number of their recipes and they have come out with several new recipes as well. All of their formulas are rich in meat and protein, low in carbohydrates and absolutely packed with nutrition.
If you have a large-breed puppy, this Acana Heritage Large-Breed Puppy Formula might be just what you need. This recipe is designed specifically to meet the high-protein needs of large-breed puppies to support their growing bones and muscles without encouraging overgrowth. This formula features 70% free-run chicken, wild fish, and whole eggs with 30% fruits, vegetables, and botanicals – this recipe doesn’t contain any gluten, grains, potatoes, tapioca, or GMO ingredients. Some of the most notable ingredients included in this recipe are red lentils, green peas, fresh whole eggs, herring oil, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. All in all, this Acana Heritage Large-Breed Puppy Formula seems to offer high-quality nutrition for large-breed puppies.
Merrick Grain-Free All-Breed Puppy Recipe
The Merrick Pet Care company was founded in 1988 by a husband and wife duo and it remains a handcrafted, all-natural pet food brand. Merrick is known for using the freshest, most high-quality ingredients available because they know that the best ingredients mean the best flavor and the best nutrition. All of their products are manufactured in small batches to ensure safety as well as nutritional integrity, and they source all of their ingredients from trusted local farmers. In terms of their product offerings, Merrick has an assortment of dog food products divided over several product lines. The Backcountry product line is comprised of recipes inspired by the natural diet of wild wolves while the Limited Ingredient Diet line features pure, simple recipes designed for dogs with food allergies or sensitive stomachs. There is also a Classic line of products and a Grain-Free Line.
When it comes to quality puppy foods, Merrick offers several choices. The Merrick Grain-Free All-Breed Puppy Recipe is one of their most popular formulas and it is made with deboned chicken, chicken meal, potatoes, peas, and sweet potatoes as the first five ingredients. This recipes is absolutely packed with premium proteins and it is completely gluten-free and grain-free. Not only do the peas and sweet potatoes provide digestible carbohydrates and healthy dietary fiber, but they also contain essential nutrients. This recipe does include some nutritional supplements, but it also includes fresh fruits and vegetables for natural sources of key nutrients. As an added bonus, this recipe contains dried fermentation products to support healthy digestion.
Wellness CORE Air-Dried Puppy Formula Chicken, Turkey and Salmon
The Wellness pet food company is aptly named because it is their priority to promote optimum health and wellness in dogs and cats. This company understands the importance of quality nutrition for pets and they are willing to do whatever it takes to offer the healthiest, most nutritious pet food products on the market. As a pioneer in the holistic pet nutrition movement, Wellness offers a large assortment of products for puppies and adult dogs alike, including size-specific formulas, limited ingredient diets, grain-free options and even air-dried dog food. Wellness CORE air-dried dog food offers the nutritional benefits of raw food with the convenience of dry food. These products are gently dehydrated, not cooked, in order to preserve the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients.
If you are looking for a nutritious diet for your puppy, consider the Wellness CORE Air-Dried Puppy Formula Chicken, Turkey and Salmon formula. This recipe contains 70% chicken, turkey, and salmon ingredients such as deboned chicken and fresh turkey. This puppy-specific formula meets the high protein and fat needs of puppies, offering 32% crude protein and 22% crude fat – it also has a low fiber content of 3% which makes it easy for your puppy to digest. In addition to plenty of protein and healthy fat, this recipe also contains chelated minerals which have been chemically bonded to protein molecules, making them easier for your puppy’s body to digest and absorb. Overall, this air-dried formula offers excellent nutritional quality and it is easy to feed.
The quality of nutrition your puppy receives while he is still young will have a significant impact on his growth and development, setting him up for a long and healthy life. Do not take your puppy’s health for granted and do what is necessary to ensure that he gets the nutrients he needs and that they come from quality sources. To make sure your puppy gets a healthy diet, consider the five top recommended puppy food brands reviewed above when you are ready to start shopping.