How to Choose the Right Puppy Food

How to Choose the Right Puppy Food

by Scritch

There's nothing quite like the joy of bringing home a new puppy. But with a new puppy comes many questions, namely: "What am I supposed to feed them?" Most pet parents have been there, and we know these initial decisions are the crucial ones. Bringing home a puppy means taking on the responsibility of keeping them healthy and happy. So how can we make sure to do it right from the start?

We all know that health is one area where you should never compromise, so here are some nutritional requirements to consider when choosing a puppy food, to help you make the best choice for your new addition to the family.

Puppy food: Essential nutrients

The reason it’s important to buy food specifically formulated for a puppy is because it means that the recipe includes enough of the nutrients that puppies need to grow. When choosing a puppy food, understand the nutrients that play a vital role in puppy health and development, and make sure any diet you consider includes the essential nutrients (in appropriate amounts).

1. Calcium and phosphorus

Just like a child needs to get calcium for strong bones, a puppy also needs the right fuel to develop properly. And while getting enough calcium is important, calcium control is equally essential. Sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.

A quality puppy food will not pump each bite with as much calcium as possible, but will carefully balance the optimal amounts of calcium and phosphorus to promote adequate bone growth, without creating risk of debilitating orthopedic disorders (which can develop as a result of excess calcium). This ratio is especially important for large breed puppies.

The appropriate amount of calcium for a growing puppy is 2.5-4.5 grams for every 1,000 calories. The calcium to phosphorus ratio should be 1:1, and no more than 2:1. Unfortunately, the tricky part is that this isn't listed on the guaranteed analysis on pet food packaging.

So how can you determine if a puppy food has the right balance of calcium and phosphorus?

First, you’ll want to look for the AAFCO statement on the food packaging that says it's appropriate for puppies (some foods like NomNomNow may say "all life stages" -- this includes puppies!). If a food doesn’t have this statement, you’ll want to rule it out. However, just because a food has this statement doesn’t mean that it has the appropriate calcium to phosphorus ratio, and your work as a responsible puppy parent is not yet done.

As a second step, you’ll want to email the company and ask for the amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the final product. AAFCO only requires testing of the initial ingredients, and doesn’t enforce that amounts and ratios are maintained in the final, cooked product. So it is possible that the food may have offered the right balance before being cooked, but no longer meets those standards (despite having the AAFCO puppy statement on the label). Make sure that the amounts are those listed above in bold. If the pet food company responds with units other than those listed above (# of grams per # of calories), then it’s a red flag that the food may not have been well-assessed.

2. Protein

As we all know, protein is a source of calories which the body relies on for growth and energy. When selecting a puppy food (or food for any dog), the highest-quality source of protein is always animal protein, rather than plant protein (unless you discover your dog has allergies to animal proteins).

Meats have a high-protein profile, meaning that they provide a higher percentage of protein per number of calories. They also provide healthy fats (dogs don’t have the same issues with animal fats as we do).

Plant sources of protein, on the other hand, provide mostly carbohydrates, and a have limited protein profile. Plant proteins should not be the main source of protein in a pet's diet, yet should be present as a lesser-ingredient to provide the sugars needed. (This is why vegan diets, while possible for dogs, are very delicate to balance, and shouldn’t be cooked at home without a veterinarian-approved recipe.) Vegetarian diets can rely on animal proteins such as eggs to provide the right balance of protein.

How can you tell what are the main sources of protein in a puppy food?

The ingredients on a food label are listed in order based on what is most abundant in the recipe. The first few ingredients make up most of a dog food recipe. By looking at listed ingredients, you can tell if there are more plant or animal sources of proteins by the order in which they are listed. Animal protein sources, whether meats or egg, should be listed before plant protein sources.

3. DHA

Found in fish oil, DHA is one of those smart foods that benefits dogs and humans alike. You may have heard that it's recommended when you need to study; this powerful nutrient enhances brain development and learning. DHA (and fish oil) is not a required ingredient according to AAFCO guidelines, but is a great supplement for a growing dog. For puppy parents who want to treat their pup right, consider adding fish oil to your puppy’s food, or looking for a nutrient-rich puppy food that packs this punch.

Puppy food: Choosing a brand you can trust

Analyzing the contents of a dog food is essential to determining if a puppy food is a ‘good one’ and a responsible choice for your puppy. So, if a puppy food meets the requirements above, what else should you consider before serving it to your dog?

1. Ask your vet

As a rule of thumb, it’s always great to ask your vet about what diets you should feed your puppy. You can show your vet the Guaranteed Analysis, and let them look at the ingredients if you want a second eye. If there is an ingredient that you aren’t familiar with, ask them what it is. Is it an artificial preservative or filler? That’s a red flag. Do the order of ingredients imply that there is less of the ‘good stuff’, and more cheap ingredients? (Keep in mind that this varies between fresh diets and kibbles, due to higher moisture content in fresh foods.)

Even after you bring home your puppy and begin feeding them, always pay attention for signs of allergies or other irritants caused by food, and continue to ask your vet for their input in case diet is a cause.

2. ‘Biggest’ doesn’t mean ‘best’

Even with the food we eat ourselves, it can be hard to know which brands are truly ‘reputable’. The puppy food space is dominated by many companies who have been around for a long time, and produce food on a mass scale (with a greater focus on cost efficiency over quality).

Luckily, there are many new types of puppy food. There are more and more puppy foods that can promise no artificial fillers, higher quality cuts of meats (rather than ground carcasses, or organ meat), and can provide proof of testing their final product with nutrient balances that live up to veterinary standards, rather than solely providing initial testing scores that aren’t representative of the final product.

Look at puppy foods in a way you would look at food for yourself. Are whole ingredients used? Are vitamins and nutrients added? Or, do you maybe see long-name chemicals you’ve never heard of, and ingredients that you wouldn’t go near? What is the shelf-life? Are you getting something that has been sitting stale for a long time, or something that still holds all the nutritional value of the ingredients used?

Puppy food reviews are helpful for getting started, but always analyze foods for yourself, and keep your standards for your puppy’s health high.

NomNomNow seeks a natural approach to pet nutrition. By analyzing a pet parent’s needs, NomNomNow creates a unique health profile for pets, and then crafts and delivers fresh, human-grade, personalized home-cooked meals for pets, shipped weekly, biweekly and monthly, Find out more at