The Ultimate Guide to Puppy Food: Finding The Best Dog Foods for Puppies

The Ultimate Guide to Puppy Food: Finding The Best Dog Foods for Puppies

Whether or not you have ever brought a new puppy home, you know everything about them is perfect. They waddle around in their little bodies and have that look of pure bliss when they fall asleep - plus those puppy kisses no one can ever get enough of… but having a puppy leads to a lot of questions. 

At the top of that list of questions you have created is most likely along the lines of what should I feed my puppy? There are a lot of different brands out there, not to mention the different types of food. With so many strong opinions on this subject we wanted to help you narrow down your search in finding the best puppy food. 

First steps: Know what to look for in your puppies food

Shopping with a puppy

Does it meet the AAFCO nutritional standards? 

AAFCO, also known as The Association of American Feed Control sets their recommendation for nutrient profiles for pet food based off of the most recent research in pet nutrition. However, these are just recommendations and AAFCO does not inspect, certify, approve of, or regulate pet foods. Instead they provide recommended nutritional standards, and in order for a brand to be recognized as “complete and balanced” it must meet their minimum requirements

Is it formulated to meet your puppies needs?

Puppies are wonderful little balls of energy that need more fuel than an adult dog does. What do we mean by fuel? Well, we mean that puppies need a higher intake of calories, protein levels, and in order to thrive and grow properly they need more micronutrients & fat. What you want to be looking for is a food that meets the nutritional requirements for growth OR all life stages.

Good, high quality ingredients in puppy food that you want:

Shopping for dog food


Lean protein is a crucial ingredient in the development of muscle and tissue for your puppy. According to the standards set by The Association of American Feed Control aka AAFCO need a minimum of 22.5% crude protein on a dry matter basis in their diets.

Protein can be found in: 

  • Meat - beef, chicken, pork, turkey, fish, lamb.. etc.
  • Bone broth
  • Eggs (This can be easily added to any pups meal) 


Carbohydrates are a crucial ingredient in puppy health. Healthy carbs (not fillers like cereals) metabolize and transform into energy in your puppy. Because they grow at an accelerated rate, due to their different sizes, puppies need food that is able to meet, and possibly even exceed,  their nutritional requirements. 

Natural sources of carbohydrates that are rich in fiber and promote better digestion can be found in: 

  • Sweet potatoes 
  • Potatoes 
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole oats 
  • Barley
  • Lentils
  • Peas

It’s very easy to come across low quality diets that have grains and carbohydrates as the bulk of their recipe. These diets often trigger allergic reactions, cause digestive problems, and are not able to support your growing puppies nutritional needs. 


AAFCO guidelines recommend that healthy fats derived from animal sources should make up a minimum of 8.5% of your puppies' food.

Healthy fats are considered fuel for energy and are essential to your puppies' health. They help with possible inflammation in the body, support joint and bone development, and help regulate hormone production. Healthy fats also promote healthy skin, shiny coats, bright eyes, and healthy brain function. 

Healthy, natural fats are found in: 

  • Protein - animal fats
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - salmon oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, 
  • Omega-6 fatty acids - safflower oil, canola oil

Micronutrients & Natural preservatives:

The list of recommended micronutrients for puppies is very long and in a less fancy way are  known as vitamins and minerals. Key micronutrients in puppy food should contain calcium, magnesium, iron & phosphorus as they all promote strong joints and bones. Natural preservatives like Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are much healthier and non-harmful alternatives to artificial preservatives like BHA & BHT

Bad ingredients in puppy food to stay away from:

Meat by-products:

Many pet food manufacturers use meat-by-products as their protein source as a way to keep costs low. AAFCO meat-by-product description is as follows: 

“Most of the parts of the animal other than the muscle tissue, including the internal organs and bones. It includes some of the parts people eat (such as livers, kidneys and tripe), but also parts that are not typically consumed by humans in the US.

Some by-products, like udders and lungs are not deemed "edible" by USDA for human consumption, but they can be perfectly safe and nutritious for animals not inclined to be swayed by the unappealing nature of these parts of animals. As with "meat," unless the by-products are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the species must be identified.” 

Meat-by-products offer little to no nutritional value compared to actual meat to dogs of any age, especially growing puppies.

Corn & wheat:

Dense grains, like corn and wheat are difficult for the digestive system to break down, especially in puppies who have undeveloped digestive systems. Often used as filler ingredients to provide empty calories, corn and wheat don’t offer much contribution to your puppy’s growth. 

Rendered fats:

Rendered fats are difficult to keep on top of as poor quality fats can be grouped in with a generic label like “animal fat”. These fats can come from diseased or dead animals, and when it is grouped under generic labeling companies do not have to specify where their source is from. 

Is there a difference between puppy food and adult dog food?

Two young dogs eating

Puppies are in every form of the word, growing. Mentally, physically, emotionally, puppies grow up fast. Physically they are at the stage of building muscles, strengthening & growing their bones, and developing organs. Where adult dogs are at the stage of maintaining their health and bodies.

The nutritional requirements are much more expensive than that of an adult dog. They require extra calories for energy and growth, and those calories need to come from healthy sources. According to the AAFCO guidelines this is how puppy food and adult food differs nutritionally: 



















Because AAFCO cannot give calculations for each individual breed these numbers are a general calculation and will vary depending on the size & breed of your puppy. 

Can my adult dog eat puppy food?

In short, yes. A healthy adult dog can eat puppy food - this is especially true if they are a working or sporting dog and are burning a lot of calories. Because puppy specific kibbles are higher in fats you want to make sure your adult dog does not become overweight as that will  negatively affect your dogs health and longevity. 

How long should I feed my dog puppy food?

Knowing how long you should feed your puppy a puppy specific diet changes with their age, breed, and size. This chart offers a broad overview of when you can begin switching your puppy from their growth meals to adult meals. 

Puppy Feeding Chart

Small Dogs: Small breed dogs can make the switch to two meals a day and can begin transitioning from their “adult food” or decrease their “all stages” meal intake between 9-12 months. Spaying or neutering your pup will also lower their necessary energy requirements.

Large & Medium Breeds: Large breed dogs often begin transitioning their dietary needs from 12-18 months (sometimes longer for giant breeds). When it comes to larger breeds, it is better to be on puppy food a little longer than not long enough, but double check with your vet and keep an eye on their weight and energy levels. 

How much should a puppy eat? Is meal time too big, too small, or just right?

Feeding a puppy

Knowing how much to feed a puppy does not need to be stressful. First of all, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to feeding puppies. Second, your puppy is going to go from eating three meals a day until they are about 6-12 months old (this greatly depends on the breed & size) to two meals a day. Since puppies grow at accelerated rates they need a lot of calories to fuel them - this averages from 5-6% of their expected adult body weight per day causing puppies to eat double the amount they would as an adult, if not more!  

As a general rule puppies should be fed about double what they would eat at their adult weight. For example, if you have a Great Dane puppy that is going to grow to be about 150lbs, you’re going to be feeding your little-giant puppy the same amount of food you would feed a 300 lb dog. Give or take a little, of course, and as they age the amount will begin to decrease and with time your understanding of “how much should I feed my puppy” will become clearer.

Most, if not all brands of puppy food offer a feeding guide somewhere on the packaging or on their website. This printed guide should be used as a recommendation as your specific puppy may need more or less than what the company is suggesting. If you are feeding a healthy and holistic meal then the most accurate way to determine how much fresh food your puppy should be eating is through our feeding calculator

Does my large breed puppy need specific puppy food?

Bernese Mountain Dog Puppy

While all puppies grow at accelerated rates, the rapid growth rate in large breeds can cause involuntary stress on their bones and joints that are freshly developing. Large breed puppies need a diet that is lower in calcium since their bodies hold and absorb high levels which can lead to growth deformities. 

So the question remains, what is the best puppy food for large breeds? The answer is going to vary depending on who you ask and we believe that by educating yourself on the different types of diets out there, and what your specific large breed puppy nutritionally requires, that you will be able to make the decision on what type of food is best for your puppy. 

How to decide on the best puppy food

Many pet owners these days are looking for the trifecta of puppy foods. Affordable, healthy, and convenient and the answer to what the best puppy food is is going to vary depending on who you ask. It’s easy and convenient to go with the generic options like kibbles and wet food - but thinking a little outside the box may just lead you to finding your trifecta. Alternatives like Kafka’s Organic fresh food meals already have added (non-synthetic) supplementation in them to aid and support your growing puppies needs. Fresh food takes away any stress or worries you may have that your puppies meal is actually balanced. Research is key to finding the perfect food for your family's lifestyle and your puppy’s needs.

Top 5 best puppy foods

Our list works backwards from our No.5 pick and ending with our No.1 pick. For each specific type of food we compared them to other highly rated, high quality foods that met the necessary standards for your beautiful growing puppy. 

5) Best dry food for puppies

Open Farm Puppy Food

Open Farm - Puppy Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: Humanely Raised Chicken, Wild Pacific Salmon, Ocean Whitefish Meal, Sweet Potato, Field Peas

  • Life Stage: Formulated to meet nutritional levels established by AAFCO for all life stages  
  • Suitable for: Puppies including growth of large sized dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult)
  • Caloric content (kCals/kg): 4,230.77 kcal

Kibbles go through a lot of heavy processing at high-temperatures which changes the molecular structure of their ingredients. We found the best shelf -stable commercial food for your growing puppy comes from Open Farm. Made in the USA, they use ethically sourced ingredients that are high in protein and natural sources of fiber.

Things to consider: Because this is a dry food, to ensure your puppy is getting a proper amount of moisture consider adding water, bone broth, or a meal topper to their meal. This will offer higher levels of moisture and other supporting nutrients. 

Dry Matter Basis Analysis

Protein % (min.) 36.26%

Fat % (min.) 17.58%

Fiber % (max.): 4.95%

Moisture % (max.): 0.00%

4) Best wet food for puppies

Ziwi Peak Beef Dog Food

ZIWI Peak - Wet Beef Recipe for Dogs

Top 5 Ingredients: Beef, Water Sufficient for Processing, Beef Lung, Beef Kidney, Beef Tripe,

  • Life Stage: Formulated to meet and exceed the nutritional levels established by AAFCO for all life stages 
  • Suitable for: all life stages and all breeds including growth of large sized dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult)
  • Caloric content (kCals/kg): 1250 kcal

Ziwi Peak offers the best wet dog food that is nutritionally formulated for dogs of all life stages and has created a  clean and simple moisture rich recipe. It features world-class New Zealand grass-fed and free-range beef and is moisture rich with 91% beef, organs, bone and New Zealand Green Mussels. Designed with your pup in mind to match their biological needs for a diet high in meat. Additionally they use no artificial preservatives or unwanted binders like carrageenan, agar agar, or gums!

Things to consider: Feeding a strictly wet food diet to your pup is a great option when feeding a high-quality canned food and rotating through different proteins. However, make sure you keep an eye on their teeth as wet puppy food will stick to their teeth causing plaque buildup if they are not given things to chew on. 

Dry Matter Basis Analysis

Protein % (min): 45%

Fat % (min): 36%

Fiber % (max):  2%

Moisture % (max): 0.00%

3) Best raw food for puppies

Big Country Raw Puppy Food

Big Country Raw - Turkey Salmon Lamb

Top 5 Ingredients: Turkey (Meat And Bone), Salmon, Lamb Liver, Lamb Spleen, Lamb Kidney.

This blend of Ontario raised turkey, Canadian salmon, and Ontario raised lamb liver contains essential amino acids that calm the skin, support a healthy, shiny coat, and is a nutrient rich meal for cats (yes cats), puppies, and dogs of all ages. As a general rule raw food for dogs and puppies has proven to be a beneficial, if not fast paced trend for many dog owners. Oftentimes, such as with this recipe, raw food diets do require additional supplementation for your puppies growth and development. 

While we recommend and encourage different aspects of feeding raw, like adding fresh fruits and steamed vegetables to your puppies meals, if there are certain nutritional needs that are not being met then your puppy will be missing out on vital nutrients and can become very sick. Individual supplementation can get overwhelming and expensive making raw puppy food much more expensive than originally intended.

Things to consider: 

Extra supplementation is recommended to make meals balanced: 

  • added omega-3 fatty acids
  • trace minerals & antioxidants
  • calcium & phosphorus
  • Probiotics to aid in digestive health

Dry Matter Analysis

Protein % (min): 61.76%

Fat % (min): 29.41%

Fiber % (max): 5.03%

Moisture % (max): 3.79%

2) Best grain-free food for puppies

Primal Freeze Dried Puppy Food

Primal Freeze-Dried Raw Pronto Puppy Recipe

Top 5 Ingredients: Chicken (with ground bone), Chicken Liver, Beef (with ground bone), Salmon, Organic Squash, Organic Kale

  • Life Stage: Formulated to meet nutritional levels established by AAFCO for growth
  • Suitable for:  Puppies including growth of large sized dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult)
  • Caloric content (kCals/kg): 4190 

We love a good grain-free freeze dried meal and this complete & balanced freeze-dried raw diet for puppies is at the top of our list. Crafted with ethically raised cage-free chicken, USDA certified organic produce, and no synthetic vitamins

Things to consider: Primal pronto is a great option as a small breed puppy food since the 

Dry Matter Analysis

Protein % (min): 45.07%

Fat % (min): 27.75%

Fiber % (max): 3.07%

Moisture % (max): 0.00%

1) Overall best dog food for puppies - Human-grade fresh food

Kafka's Organic puppy food

Kafka’s Organic - Chicken Chunk Bliss Fresh Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: BC Sourced Lean Ground Chicken, Potato, Organic Celery, Organic Green Peppers, Organic Parsley

  • Life Stage: Formulated to meet nutritional levels established by AAFCO for all life stages  
  • Suitable for: Puppies including growth of large sized dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult)
  • Caloric content (per 454g): 543.04 kcal 

Formulated by a veterinary nutritionist to exceed the guidelines set by AAFCO, Kafka’s Organic fresh pet meals are full of ingredients that promote health and longevity in your puppy. Gently cooked and made in small batches ensure that any harmful bacteria is removed. 

Ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein, vegetables, special blend of vitamins & minerals, and natural calcium & phosphorus promote and support: 

  • Healthy joints
  • Healthy skin & a shiny coat 
  • Healthy weight 
  • Boosts the immune system to fight of sickness and allergies

Things to consider: Omega 3-fatty acids are present in all meals but we still recommend offering your growing puppy or adult dog a variety of proteins. 


Protein % (min): 48.90%

Fat % (min): 23.47%

Fiber % (max): 4.58%

Moisture % (max): 0.00%

Why fresh food is our top puppy food choice

Making sure your precious four-legged baby maintains a healthy weight from puppy to adult goes hand in hand with making sure they are getting ingredients in their food that can turn into fuel. Just like people - clean, natural ingredients are imperative to their health and promotes the healthiest living.

Kafka’s Organic fresh food is the best dog food for your puppy as it encourages and supports their body in absorbing the natural nutrients that are present in the whole food. This means instead of eating something akin to a bag of chips (kibble) for dinner every night, your dog is actually getting a meal along the lines of steak dinner (fresh food). A meal that is jam packed with all the nutrients they need to grow big and strong and to keep them healthy as they age! 

Looking to get your puppy on Fresh Food? Start here!

Pup eating fresh food

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