The Best Puppy Foods of 2023

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Welcoming a new puppy into your home is a momentous occasion, but also brings with it a lot of responsibilities. After all, you will be in charge of all aspects of this tiny, new creature’s health & wellness.

Here we help you with one of those important aspects – the best puppy food to support his growth & bone development during that crucial first year of puppyhood.

Our picks at a glance

Best puppy food

Do puppies need puppy food?

Yes, they do. Puppies grow rapidly during the first 6-9 months of their lives. During this period they need the right nutrients and minerals to support that growth, especially bone & joint growth so it doesn’t become a problem later on in life. Puppy food provides these nutrients better than adult food can.

Rather than looking at flavors or ingredients, a simple way to pick the best puppy food is by checking the label in the back, at the bottom next to the ingredients you should see the quality assurance check.

[Name of product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth.

It should look something like the above. There’s just 2 important words to look out for here: AAFCO & growth. AAFCO sets the standards for quality & safety of pet food, and seeing this mark on the bag assures you that the food went through the proper safety checks. “Growth” means that the dog food is formulated to support the growth phase of puppies.

Best dry puppy food

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Acana, Wholesome Grains

What we like

  • Top 2 ingredients are chicken
  • Next ingredients are healthy grains & fats
  • Come in multiple sizes
  • Puppies seem to love the taste

What we don’t like

  • There’s not much to dislike about this product!
Runner-up & budget pick

What we like about it: the first two ingredients are both chicken, followed by brown rice and grains. Comes in multiple sizes, as small as 5 pounds so you can do a trial run first.

What we like about it: a very popular choice among fur parents. Produced by one of the oldest pet food brands around. Chicken is the top ingredient, followed by grains.

Best wet puppy food

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Hill’s Science Wet Dog Food

What we like

  • Has a variety of meats & healthy grains
  • Good balance of price & quality

What we don’t like

  • No flavors other than chicken
Runner-up & budget pick

What we like about it: A variety of meats in the first few ingredients. Fish pâté flavor is enticing. Has healthy grains only. But it’s on the pricey side.

What we like about it: Less common lamb flavor, with zero fillers. Very popular choice in the wet food segment. Very reasonably priced.

Best puppy food for small breeds

Small breed puppies have unique nutrient needs. They need a high protein, balanced diet to support their puppy growth, but they also need smaller-sized kibble that can deliver all the nutrients they need in small volume. That’s why small breed food is the better choice for them.

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Hill’s Science Small Paws

What we like

  • Kibble size is small
  • High in protein
  • Comes in a small bag
  • Calorie count printed on the bag

What we don’t like

  • Not suitable for toy breeds
Runner-up & budget pick

What we like about it: 3 types of meat & 2 healthy grains in the first 5 ingredients. Comes in a small bag. Very popular choice in the small puppy segment. Trusted brand.

What we like about it: Comes in a variety of sizes. Can be used for small or medium breeds. Good source of healthy fats.

Best puppy food for large breeds

Specially formulated puppy food is particularly important for large breed dogs (puppies that are expected to weight 50+ pounds in their adulthood). They need the proper support for bone & joint growth, to support the bulky frame they’ll eventually develop.

Without this proper support, joint dysplasia – already a common problem in large breed dogs – becomes an even more common problem. Starting them on large breed food during their puppy years is the best way to prevent this problem.

What we like

  • Top 5 ingredients are all meats
  • High-quality & well-balanced with healthy grains & fats

What we don’t like

  • Price is prohibitive
Runner-up & budget pick

What we like about it: Chicken is the 1st ingredient. Wide variety of healthy grains to support a big dog’s growth. Sold in a variety of sizes. Reasonably priced.

What we like about it: Unique lamb flavor. Well balanced grains and vegetables. Sold in a variety of sizes.

Which is better for puppies — dry or wet food?

In general, we recommend dry food for most puppies. Dry food is less expensive, has a longer shelf life, and is much more convenient to use. As long as you find the AAFCO seal on the back, you can be sure your puppy is getting a complete & balanced diet.

In some cases, wet food might be the better choice. Wet food tastes better, and it has more smells & textures that puppies would enjoy. So if you’ve noticed your puppy is a picky eater, or that he’s suddenly lost his appetite for the dry food you’ve been giving him — giving wet food a try may be a good idea. Just be mindful that wet food is more expensive & has a shorter shelf life.

Is a grain-free diet good for puppies?

Grain-free diets for dogs has been under some debate recently, with the FDA even issuing a report about it in February of 2019. The report states that the FDA is investigating the link between grain-free diets and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, but they haven’t come to any definite conclusions so far.

As of their last report, they’ve listed a few ingredients to watch out for: peas, lentils, beans & chickpeas — if you see any of these ingredients within the first 5 ingredients listed on a bag of food, and your dog is a breed with known predisposition to DCM, that food is probably not the best choice for your dog.

Our advice: stick to food with grains as much as possible. If you decide on a grain-free diet, check that peas, lentils, beans & chickpeas are not among the first 5 ingredients listed, and always talk to your vet about it first.

Is a raw food diet good for puppies?

Raw food is not recommended for puppies. A puppy’s immune system hasn’t fully formed in their first 6 months of life, so they may not be able to safely digest raw dog food.

Does my puppy need breed-specific food?

Breed-specific food is not necessary. While certain breeds do have known health issues, there’s been no proof so far that a specific diet would be helpful.

Rather than picking food marketed for a specific breed of dog, picking food based on the size & life stage of your dog has clearer benefits.

How often should I feed my puppy?

The short answer is three times a day. From the time your puppy is weaned off his mother’s milk (around 6th week of life) up to his 6th month of life, three times a day is the optimal feeding frequency to support the rapid growth they’re undergoing.

If you’re not able to stick to a thrice-a-day feeding schedule, your puppy will be able to adapt to twice a day feedings without much problem. Just make sure you’re still feeding them the right amount of food per day.

When to transition to adult food

Once your puppy has completed his rapid growth cycle and has reached full maturity, it’s time to switch him over to adult food. A good rule of thumb is to do this at 12 months old.

However, different breeds mature at different rates, so we’ve written a more detailed guide to making this transition. Check it out below!

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