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Welcoming a new puppy into the family is an exciting time in which you’ll discover all sorts of fun ways to bond. But, raising a brand new puppy is also a lot of work, and one of the things you’re likely looking into is the best diet for your new puppy.
As you research what’s best for your new addition, you may be considering dry food. Here, we’ll take a look at the nutritional requirements of puppies, and suggest some of the best dry dog food available to keep your puppy happy and healthy.
Canine Nutrition Basics
Regardless of breed, protein is key to a puppy’s healthy diet, as it supports growth and development. Fat is a concentrated source of calories that’ll help your pup absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Though your puppy has no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates (though healthy sources can provide essential nutrients), he will need a mix of vitamins and minerals.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has determined the minimal requirements for key nutrients in dogs. AAFCO recommendations state a minimum of 22% protein and 8% fat for canine growth and reproduction for puppies and lactating females. These numbers are higher than what’s recommended for adult dogs as puppies require more fat and protein because of their developing bodies and greater caloric expenditure.
To meet these requirements, feed your puppy a high-quality puppy food made with real, whole-food sources of these nutrients. Animal protein like meat or poultry should be the focus with higher than average fat and limited carbohydrate content. Keep in mind as well that not all dog foods have the same calorie content, so compare the calories per cup to the feeding recommendations according to your dog’s age and weight.
Remember that AAFCO standards exist to encourage commercial pet food products to adhere to minimum nutritional requirements. However, your puppy deserves more than the bare minimum. Checking for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on the label is a good way to weed out the really bad dog foods, but it does not guarantee high quality.
As a dog owner, it’s important to understand the truth about dog food. Make sure the food you’re considering is of high quality and will do more than just meet your dog’s minimum nutritional needs.
Dry Food for Puppies: Specific Nutritional Needs
When it comes to what to feed your puppy, breed size plays an important role. Small breeds and large breeds, in particular, have different nutritional requirements based on the size of their bodies and how their bodies function. Small dogs, for example, reach maturation more quickly than large breeds. Puppies are generally switched onto adult food once they’ve reached 80% of their expected adult size, which for small dogs means 9-10 months, as opposed to other breeds which reach similar points in 12-16 months.
A known health condition that can affect large breed dogs is hip dysplasia. Too many calories and calcium, along with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium, can promote overgrowth and hinder bone and cartilage development. So, you’ll also want to examine the vitamin content of your dog’s food carefully, especially as a puppy when developing strong bones is critical, writes veterinarian Betsy Brevitz in her guide Hound Health Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Dog Happy, Healthy & Active. Brevitz recommends between 1 to 1.5% calcium for your puppy’s diet as a whole.
On the other hand, not getting enough calories is a risk factor for small breed puppies. Hypoglycemia occasionally affects small breed puppies, according to Brevitz, and though it may not be a common occurrence, it can be fatal and requires immediate veterinary attention. Hypothermia is also another related consideration. Small breed puppies are susceptible to these issues, because their bodies, while small, have a much higher metabolic rate and energy requirement than large breed dogs. Due to a tinier stomach, they may not be able to eat as much in one sitting as a large breed puppy, but those small meals should be densely packed in calories, protein, and fat to keep up with their speedy metabolisms to ensure they are getting enough of the nutrients they need.
Dry Food for Puppies: The Difference Between Wet Food
Dry food has the advantage of being more affordable and less messy when feeding and cleaning up after your puppy at mealtimes. It also has a longer shelf life than wet food (be sure to check the date on the label before buying). According to PetMD, dry food has been found in some cases to help maintain dental health in dogs (in accordance with regular teeth cleanings and dental chews). Keep in mind that dry food tends to have a higher carbohydrate content than wet and, especially for small breed puppies, kibbles can be harder to chew (unless they are sized appropriately).
According to the Clinical Nutrition Service (part of Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University), wet food can be easier for dogs to chew and swallow and is also a good option for picky eaters. Canned food also has higher water content, which can be beneficial for doggos with certain health considerations. Fat and protein are more prevalent in wet food, so this may be a good option if your puppy requires a higher protein diet, but not a good choice for puppies who need to watch their fat consumption.
When used occasionally or at the recommendation of your vet, with wet puppy food can be a great supplement to dry puppy food.
Dry Food for Puppies: To Grain or Not to Grain
As mentioned above, grain-free is another potential type of puppy food to consider. Some owners prefer grain-free as it is closer to the traditionally carnivorous Canis genus diet and can be easier on a dog’s digestive system, especially if your dog has grain allergies or sensitivities.
However, grain-free diets have been potentially linked to heart issues in canines by the FDA, so it’s best to check with your veterinarian before switching or starting your dog on one. Single, whole-grain dog food is another potential option and it is exactly what it sounds like: dog food made with a single whole grain (as opposed to a compound of different grains).
Best Dry Food for Puppies
Now that you’ve learned a little more about dog food and what ingredients are best for your puppy, here are some great dry food options available for purchase.
Blue Buffalo’s Chicken and Brown Rice Life Protection Formula leads its ingredients’ list with deboned chicken.
This formula also contains wholesome grains, fruits, vegetables, and key fatty acids such as DHA and ARA that are found in mother’s milk and are important for cognitive and retinal development. No byproducts, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives in this bag!
Certified organic and made in the USA, Castor & Pollux’s grain-free puppy recipe contains free-range chicken as its first ingredient.
Packed with nutrient-dense ingredients such as organic blueberries, sweet potatoes, and flaxseed, this recipe is for puppies of different breed sizes and is free of corn, soy, and gluten.
Made with small breed pups in mind, smaller kibble size is just right for their tinier mouths.
Wellness is known for its quality ingredients and lack of byproducts, fillers, and artificial flavors in its pet food formulas. Deboned turkey, chicken meal, oatmeal, and salmon meal are among its top ingredients.
Free of peas, lentils, and potatoes, Merrick’s Puppy Recipe leads with deboned chicken, but also includes a blend of whole and ancient grains for all around puppy nutrition.
Packed with omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, this formula is free of the things you don’t want in your puppy’s food such as gluten, preservatives, wheat, and soy.
Formulated with safe levels of calcium for growing large breed puppies, this dry food also contains glucosamine and chondroitin for large puppy’s joint health.
Chicken Soup’s classic recipe contains chicken and turkey as its top two ingredients. Made in the USA, this recipe contains zero corn, soy, or wheat.
Family owned Taste of the Wild’s recipe is for pups who favor fish (or may be allergic to other proteins). Sustainably sourced salmon and ocean fish meal are the leading ingredients in this formula that is free of eggs for doggos with allergies.
Antioxidants and probiotics help keep puppy’s immune and digestive systems healthy.
For puppies of the small breed variety, farm-raised chicken is the top protein in this made in the USA brand’s ingredient list. You’ll also find whole grains, sweet potatoes, and dried beet pulp—along with vitamins and minerals—to give tiny, furry friends a well-balanced diet.
Talk to Your Vet Before Choosing Any New Food for Your Dog
We’ve selected some great dry food options for your puppy. But before introducing any new foods into your dog’s diet, we suggest consulting with your vet. Your veterinarian can help you understand any health issues your puppy may be experiencing, and can recommend dog food that’s going to best support his specific health needs.
Learn more about caring for your puppy in the articles below.