Best Puppy Food Brands of 2020


What Kibble Should My Puppy Nibble: A Guide to the Best Puppy Food

Seeing as you landed on this page, we believe congrats are in order! You must be ecstatic about getting your new puppy!

While you are undoubtedly overjoyed about welcoming a new furry member into your family, you must also be somewhat flurried about how to take care of them properly. One of the first things you have to learn is how to feed your teensy pooch. Unfortunately, one stroll down the dog food aisle in any pet store is more than enough to leave you overwhelmed and befuddled, wondering how to recognize the finest puppy food brands.

That is why TheDogDigest team singled out the best food for puppies that we could find. You can rest assured that we are not sponsored by any company we mention and that we don’t profit from affiliate links. The findings presented below are entirely our own. We followed a set of rigorous criteria to unravel the healthiest puppy food for your pooch. 

How We Evaluated the Best Puppy Food

Having a new puppy and figuring out how to feed it right is tough, and being proud dog owners ourselves, we feel your pain. That is why we made sure to present only the food that we honestly think is the best.

To ensure that our picks are indeed top of the line, we spoke to our trusted veterinarians. We put our pooches’ health in their hands because we know that they are experts in the field. They told us all about the nutritional requirements and feeding habits of the littlest of cubs and everything else they need in their formative months.

We didn’t stop there. We also talked to local pet store owners (both independent and chain). We picked their brains on the subject and learned that their customers usually buy the following puppy food brands for their furry babies:

  • Natural Balance
  • Hill’s Pet
  • Pedigree
  • Purina
  • Royal Canin
  • Iams
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Wellness Pet Food
  • Eukanuba

That gave us solid ground to start our quest. Our final step was asking dog parents themselves — who better to tell us what doggos enjoy munching the most! They kindly imparted their wisdom and shared their experiences to help us select the tastiest recipes.

How We Selected Our Top Puppy Food Picks

At this point, we already covered all our bases — we learned all about the science behind puppy nutrition, had the names of the most popular brands, and figured out the yummiest ingredients.

We selected 33 of the best puppy food brands based on the info discussed above, and the time came to put the food to the test. We set the following criteria:

  1. The food had to have the right nutrient ratios. To ensure that, it had to be in accordance with the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) recommendations for dogs in the growth and reproduction stage. 
  2. The food had to contain real meat and not by-products. If we have a puppy food pet peeve, it’s shady ingredients! All our choices have named, natural ingredients, such as beef, turkey, chicken, etc.
  3. Our own pooches had to love it. You didn’t think we would recommend something that didn’t have their stamp of approval, did you?

The members of our team tested the food for three months flat. We also checked out online reviews of the recipes we were testing. Only then were we confident enough that we’d made the right choices.

What Is the Best Puppy Food?

Our selection process helped us sort out the best puppy food from the tested batch. We singled out the overall winner and a close second, but we also wanted to give you more options. You will find the owner-on-a-budget pick and our large and small breed puppy food favorites on the list as well.

TheDogDigest PicksBrandRating
Best overallWellness Complete Health Puppy4.9
Runner-upPurina ONE SmartBlend Healthy Puppy Formula Premium Dog Food4.8
Best on a budgetHill’s Science Diet Small Paws for Puppies Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Recipe4.8
Best for small breed puppiesWellness Complete Health Small Breed Puppy Turkey, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe4.7
Best for large breed puppiesBlue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe4.7

Our Prime Choice: Wellness Complete Health Puppy

Credit: Wellness Pet Food

Wellness Complete Health Puppy stood out from the bunch as the perfect puppy food blend that has a taste to match. This formula is packed with precious DHAs and Omega fatty acids from salmon meat and oil, which are listed as the main ingredients. It also contains veggies, such as tomatoes and peas, that are loaded with antioxidants. All those ingredients together provide ideal support to your puppy’s eye and brain development.

Other benefits:

  • Balanced nutritional value
  • Ideal calcium and phosphorus ratio
  • Contains whole grains
  • Rich in protein
  • Boosts the immune system
Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Proteinmin. 29%
Crude Fatmin. 18%
Crude Fibermax. 4.5%
Moisturemax. 10%
Calciummin. 1.2%
Phosphorusmin. 1%
Vitamin Amin. 25,000 IU/kg
Vitamin Emin. 200 IU/kg
Omega-6 Fatty Acidsmin. 3.8%
Omega-3 Fatty Acidsmin. 1%
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)min. 0.1%
Taurinemin. 0.09%
Total Lactic Acid Microorganismsmin. 20,000,000 CFU/lb

Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Ground Barley, Peas, Chicken Fat, Salmon Meal, Tomato Pomace, Ground Flaxseed, Salmon Oil, Tomatoes, Carrots, Natural Chicken Flavor, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Spinach, Vitamin E Supplement, Taurine, Zinc Proteinate, Mixed Tocopherols added to preserve freshness, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, Blueberries, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Proteinate, Chicory Root Extract, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Garlic Powder, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Dried Lactobacillus Plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

The Runner-Up: Purina ONE SmartBlend Healthy Puppy Formula Premium Dog Food

Credit: Purina

Purina ONE SmartBlend Healthy Puppy Formula Premium Dog Food came in as a close second, but it is regardless an excellent choice of nutrition for your little muncher. It has an ideal proportion of essential nutrients for your cub, so you can sleep soundly knowing that they are getting the energy kick they need to grab life by the bone!

What we loved most about this blend is that it has a mouth-watering aroma that our pups were unable to resist! A word of caution is in order when speaking about such scrumptious formulas — stick to the recommended servings (either by the manufacturer or your pooch’s vet). Otherwise, your little one may chow down on too much food and pack up extra pounds before you know it!

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein (Min)28.0%
Crude Fat (Min)17.0%
Crude Fiber (Max)3.0%
Moisture (Max)12.0%
Linoleic Acid (Min)1.4%
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) (Min)*0.05%
Calcium (Ca) (Min)1.1%
Phosphorus (P) (Min)0.9%
Zinc (Zn) (Min)150 mg/kg
Selenium (Se) (Min)0.35 mg/kg
Vitamin A (Min)13,000 IU/kg
Vitamin E (Min)250 IU/kg
Omega-6 Fatty Acids (Min)1.6%

Ingredients: Chicken, rice flour, corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal (source of glucosamine), whole grain corn, soybean meal, oatmeal, beef fat naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols, glycerin, mono, and dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, fish oil (source of DHA), liver flavor, salt, caramel color, potassium chloride, dried carrots, dried peas, VITAMINS [Vitamin E supplement, niacin (Vitamin B-3), Vitamin A supplement, calcium pantothenate (Vitamin B-5), thiamine mononitrate (Vitamin B-1), Vitamin B-12 supplement, riboflavin supplement (Vitamin B-2), pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B-6), folic acid (Vitamin B-9), menadione sodium bisulfite complex (Vitamin K), Vitamin D-3 supplement, biotin (Vitamin B-7)], MINERALS [zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite], choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, sulfur. F-4164

Our Budget Pick: Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws for Puppies Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Recipe

Credit: Hill’s Pet

Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws for Puppies Chicken Meal, Barley & Brown Rice Recipe may be the least expensive item on our list, but it is definitely on par with all our other picks! Here is just a taste of what you can get for your puppy for a fraction of the cost:

  • DHAs from fish oil for optimal neurological development
  • Protein for strong and lean muscles
  • Minerals for a healthy skeletal system
  • Antioxidants for airtight puppy immunity

The kibble is nibble-size, which makes it ideal for the tiniest of pooches and also small and miniature dog breeds. This formula is designed for puppies as well as pregnant and nursing dogs, so you know your furry baby will only get the best quality nutrients. 

Guaranteed Analysis
Protein29.9%
Fat20.0%
Carbohydrate / NFE39.8%
Crude Fiber1.7%
Calcium1.70%
Phosphorous1.29%
Potassium0.84%
Sodium0.48%
Magnesium0.127%
Vitamin C214 ppm
Vitamin E881 IU/kg
DHA0.174%
Total Omega-3 FA1.18%
Total Omega-6 FA4.02%

Ingredients: Chicken Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Sorghum, Chicken Fat, Whole Grain Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Cracked Pearled Barley, Brown Rice, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dried Beet Pulp, Pork Flavor, Flaxseed, Fish Oil, Dicalcium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Soybean Oil, Potassium Chloride, Iodized Salt, L-Lysine, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Choline Chloride, L-Threonine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Calcium Carbonate, Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Natural Flavors, Green Peas, Apples, Cranberries, Carrots, Beta-Carotene, Broccoli.

The Best Puppy Food for Small Breeds: Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Puppy Turkey, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe

Source: Wellness Pet Food

Wellness Complete Health Small Breed Puppy Turkey, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe combines turkey meat and salmon oil with whole grains to meet your puppy’s nutritional needs for protein. It is also packed with Omega fatty acids that nurture your pup’s coat and skin. 

This formula is also packed with energy- and immunity-boosting ingredients, such as oats, barley, chicken, flaxseed, carrots, and spinach. All those work in unison and, as the name suggests, provide complete health support for your growing pooch. 

If you want to prepare for your doggo’s adult diet ahead of time, have a peek at the best dry dog food for small dogs.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Proteinmin. 28%
Crude Fatmin. 19%
Crude Fibermax. 4.25%
Moisturemax. 10%
Calciummin. 1.5%
Phosphorus min. 1%
Vitamin Amin. 25,000 IU/kg
Vitamin Emin. 200 IU/kg
Taurinemin. 0.09%
Omega-6 Fatty Acidsmin. 4.20%
Omega-3 Fatty Acidsmin. 0.60%
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)min. 0.1%
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)min. 100 mg/kg
Total Lactic Acid Microorganismsmin. 20,000,000 CFU/lb

Ingredients: Deboned Turkey, Chicken Meal, Oatmeal, Salmon Meal, Barley, Ground Brown Rice, Oats, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Tomato Pomace, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tomatoes, Pea Fiber, Salmon Oil, Natural Chicken Flavor, Carrots, Spinach, Potassium Chloride, Ground Flaxseed, Salt, Sweet Potatoes, Blueberries, Apples, Choline Chloride, Mixed Tocopherols added to preserve freshness, Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Chicory Root Extract, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Taurine, Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Vitamin A Supplement, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Copper Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Sodium Selenite, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract, Green Tea Extract, Spearmint Extract.

The Best Puppy Food for Large Breeds: Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe

Credit: Blue Buffalo 

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Puppy Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe is the perfect blend to keep your growing large breed puppy’s health in check. It all comes down to the ingredient list, which includes:

 

  • Deboned chicken

 

  • Whole grains — flaxseed and brown rice
  • Fruit — blueberries and cranberries
  • Garden veggies — peas, tomato, potato, garlic, carrots, and parsley

All those natural ingredients work wonders for your pooch’s health. They provide antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and DHAs in sufficient amounts to guarantee strong immunity, sturdy bones, lean muscles, and a shiny coat. Not to mention the yummy taste!

When your doggy finally matures, here are the best large breed dry dog food options that will ensure he remains as healthy as a horse!

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein27.0% min
Crude Fat16.0% min
Crude Fiber5.0% max
Moisture10.0% max
DHA0.10% max
Calcium1.3% min
Phosphorus1.0% min
Choline2,750mg/kg min
ARA0.04% min
Omega 3 Fatty Acids0.75% min
Omega 6 Fatty Acids3.0% min.

Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Barley, Menhaden Fish Meal (source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids), Peas, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Flaxseed (source of Omega 6 Fatty Acids), Natural Flavor, Dried Tomato Pomace, Dried Egg Product, Pea Protein, Fish Oil (source of ARA-Arachidonic Acid and DHA-Docosahexaenoic Acid), Salt, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Dicalcium Phosphate, Potatoes, Dried Chicory Root, Pea Fiber, Alfalfa Nutrient Concentrate, Calcium Carbonate, DL-Methionine, preserved with Mixed Tocopherols, Vitamin E Supplement, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Garlic, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Sulfate, Vegetable juice for color, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Blueberries, Cranberries, Barley Grass, Parsley, Turmeric, Dried Kelp, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), L-Carnitine, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), L-Lysine, Copper Sulfate, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Vitamin A Supplement, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Sulfate, Taurine, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Calcium Iodate, Dried Yeast, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Aspergillus niger fermentation extract, Dried Trichoderma longibrachiatum fermentation extract, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation extract, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Sodium Selenite, Oil of Rosemary.

The Ideal Ratio of Macros and Micros for Your Puppy

Dog food is made from micro- and macronutrients. The former are vitamins, minerals, and organic acids, while the latter are proteins, fats, and carbs.

Macros are the backbone of your puppy’s diet. Puppies need a lot of them to grow up into healthy canines. Macronutrients make the bulk of what your cub eats and are not compensated easily. 

Micros are required in much lower amounts. While doggy food should have enough micronutrients, they can also be taken through supplements (check out the Nutra Thrive dog food supplement). One micronutrient is more relevant for puppies than for adult dogs — calcium.

If you feed your puppy with low-quality food that doesn’t meet their nutritional requirements, your pup will become lethargic, fatigued, and will be at risk of developing more severe health issues. Take a look at the recommended ratio of the essential nutrients for your cub’s diet.

NutrientRatio on a dry matter basis
Protein 22–32%
Fat 10–25%
Carbohydrates ~20%
Calcium 0.7–1.7%

Protein

Proteins consist of numerous amino acids that puppies need for proper development. In fact, they need some of them up to four times more than adult dogs. On average, the recommended protein intake for puppies is 28%, while grown-up pooches need only 18% protein. The top sources of this macronutrient in puppy food are eggs and meat, particularly poultry, beef, lamb, venison, and fish.

Fat

Lipids in puppy diet refer to essential fatty acids. They are found in food of both plant and animal origin, such as flaxseed and cold-water fish, especially salmon and sardines.

Fat is your puppy’s main source of energy — it produces 2.5 times more energy than proteins and carbs. Anywhere from 10% to 25% fat is enough for the healthy development of most puppies.

Carbs

Unlike humans, canines don’t need carbs to survive, but they are instrumental in tissue development and repair and are also a great energy source.

Carbs provide your puppy with calories to burn, but any excess will convert into fat and be stored in their body. It is essential to match your pooch’s diet to their activity levels and hinder obesity.

Carbohydrates are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, especially if it comes from beet pulp, whole grain, fruits, green and yellow veggies, and legumes.

Calcium

Calcium is an essential micronutrient in your puppy’s food. It is, after all, one of the most abundant minerals in their body. Over 90% of it is stored in your dog’s bones and teeth, which testifies to how vital it is for your pooch’s skeletal and dental development. Along with phosphorus, calcium is responsible for the health, strength, and rigidity of canine bones and teeth.

The Main Differences Between Puppy Food and Adult or Senior Meals

The proportion of nutrients is significantly different in puppy food than in adult or senior formulas.

Puppies need food with a higher fat content for optimal energy levels and proper brain development. To ensure healthy bones and teeth, they need more protein as well as different calcium to phosphorus ratio than adult doggos. In order to have a resilient immune system and crystal-clear vision, cubs also need a diet rich in Omega fats and essential minerals.

Here are the AAFCO minimum recommended amounts of the vital nutrients depending on the age of the dog.

NutrientsGrowth and reproduction stageAdult stage
Crude Protein22.5%18%
Crude fat8.5%5.5%
Calcium1.2%0.5%
Phosphorus1%0.4%
Iron88 mg/kg40 mg/kg
Magnesium0.6%0.6%
Sodium0.3%0.08%
Zinc100 mg/kg80 mg/kg
Manganese7.2 mg/kg5 mg/kg
Copper12.4 mg/kg7.3 mg/kg

Small breed puppies mature faster than large breed ones. When your tiny pooch is about 10–12 months old, you can think about switching to adult formulas. For large and giant canines, you may need to wait anywhere between 12 to 24 months until they reach adulthood.

When your pooch is old enough to change their diet, consult with the vet for the best formula. You can also take a look at our picks of the best dry dog food and learn how to recognize the worst dry dog food.

Switch your pup to adult meals gradually over the course of several days. That will make the transition easy on their sensitive stomachs and curb digestive issues.

The Puppy Diet Conundrum: Wet Food, Dry Food, or Both?

You should offer your puppy wet meals first. They have a familiar moist texture and will be more appetizing to your cub (here is the best canned dog food, in our opinion). Alternatively, select smaller kibble chunks and wet them with water.

When you first bring your puppy home, it’s best to continue feeding them with the same food the breeder used before you slowly move to your desired option. Sudden changes in nutrition will likely end up in digestive issues, especially with your furry youngster.

Once you find the wet or dry option your pup enjoys, stick with it for a while. You can mix them together later to give the best of both worlds to your puppy, both in terms of taste and nutrition. Here is a rundown of the pros and cons of both kinds.

Dry KibbleCanned food
Pros Cons Pros Cons 
Affordable Less tastyDelicious Expensive 
Long shelf lifeEasy to overeat onEasy to digestShort shelf life
Great for dental hygieneHard to overeat on

How Much Food to Feed Your Puppy

We will answer that with our favorite motto — mind the dog, not the dish. The exact amount of food your puppy should eat depends on several factors:

  1. Age
  2. Size
  3. Breed
  4. Activity levels
  5. Health

In the first three months, your puppy should have four regular, small meals a day to keep their sugar levels up and keep hypoglycemia at bay. In the period between three and six months, you can choose to take the feedings down to three a day. As your pup reaches adulthood, switch to two daily meals to prepare them for grown-up dog formulas.

The size and breed of your pooch also enter the equation. Small puppies, like Doxies, have a higher metabolism than large breed ones, but also smaller tummies. They require more nutrients packed into smaller servings, while large pups, such as the likes of German Shepherds, need bigger portions with lesser calorie density. 

Not all puppies are equally active. Their food intake needs to match the rate at which they burn their calories. You should ask your doggo’s vet for advice on how to measure their meals. That is particularly vital if your cub needs to have a prescription diet due to some illness.

The Digest of It All

We tried and tested various foods for puppies, and we feel proud to have done our due diligence and selected the crème de la crème for your weeny pooch. We stood by our criteria and consulted experts in the field to distinguish the best puppy food on offer.

Whichever chow from our list you choose to serve to your cub, you won’t go wrong, and we’re sure that they will clean their bowl voraciously. Most importantly, they will get all the goodies they need to grow into healthy and mighty goggies! 

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puppy_nutrition
  2. https://www.quora.com/What-do-puppies-eat
  3. Klein, Carmen, et al. “Metabolisable Energy Intake and Growth of Privately Owned Growing Dogs in Comparison with Official Recommendations on the Growth Curve and Energy Supply.” Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, vol. 103, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1952–1958., doi:10.1111/jpn.13191.
  4. Stilwell, Victoria. The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Puppy: How to Train and Care for Your New Dog. Ten Speed Press, 2019.

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Kevin Bentley

Hi, I’m Kevin Bentley, a dog lover and enthusiast. Though I started out as a cat person, my wife quickly set me on the true path of dog love. Now I’m full-on obsessed with dogs and everything related to dogs. I’ve purchased every dog accessory you can think of, so I decided to collect my thoughts about them on this site.

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