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What should I feed my puppy?

Paws vet Steph takes a deep dive into everything you need to know about your pup’s nutrition.

Written by Dr. Steph Wenban

April 3, 2019

You’ve just arrived home with your brand new pup. You’re nervous, you’re excited, and you also need to start making some big decisions, kicking off with: What the heck should I feed my puppy?

It’s a big question with big implications for your dog. And there's no single straightforward answer. But with a little help from the Q&As below, we’ll have you brought up to speed on the ins and outs of your pup’s nutrition needs in no time.

Should I stick with my starter food or switch to something else?

When you go to pick up your new bundle of joy, you’ll probably be given some starter food to help take the heat off those first few meals. This will be the same food the breeder or shelter has been feeding your puppy and typically, will last around 1-2 weeks. After this you’ll need to make a choice: stick with the same food or switch to a new one. 

Quick word of wisdom: 

When bringing a new puppy home, it’s important to maintain as much continuity as possible to help them settle in. For this reason, I recommend sticking with the food your breeder or shelter gave you for 1-2 weeks. If you do decide to switch, do so gradually over a period of 7 days.

What makes for a “good” puppy food?

Begin by looking at your dog’s food label which will list out all the ingredients in your dog's food in order of quantity.

Because puppies' diets require 22-25% of protein (compared to adults who only require a minimum of 18%), it’s preferable that the first ingredient listed on their dog food label is a meat protein like beef, salmon or chicken, rather than a carbohydrate like cereal or grain. 

Quick word of wisdom:

When choosing a new food, always look closely at the ingredients list. A food label with the words ‘with chicken’ written on it may contain as little as 4% of actual chicken.

Which nasties should I be looking out for in my puppy’s food?

When checking your puppy’s food label, be sure to keep an eye out for any unnatural preservatives and additives that have snuck their way into your pup’s food. Typically, you will see these labelled as “EU” and “ECC approved/permitted additives.” A big one to be wary of is BHT (E321) as it has been linked to some cancers.

For more information on what other nasties may be lurking in your pup’s food, check out our Paws Dog Food Transparency Report.

Puppy food vs. Adult food. What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Another important consideration is the type of food you feed your puppy. Because young pups grow at such a rapid rate, they require a unique balance of protein, fat, and minerals like calcium and phosphorus to ensure healthy bone growth. 

For this reason, it’s important that you feed your pup food that has been specifically designed for puppies until he or she has reached adulthood. This point can vary from breed to breed, with small dogs usually reaching full size at around 9 months of age, while big dogs like Great Danes and Newfoundlands can take up to 18 months to completely fill out.

What is breed-specific dog food and does my puppy need it? 

Because of their size, the energy needs of big dogs will be slightly different to that of smaller pups. Not only do larger breeds require less protein and fat than small pups, they also need to be fed in such a way that they don’t grow too fast, as this can cause damage to the growth plates in their bones and lead to skeletal abnormalities later in life.

So the best thing to do if your dog is (literally) destined for great heights is to opt for a breed-specific brand of food that has been made with big bones in mind. 

For all dogs mid-sized and under, a high-quality puppy food will do just fine.

The Wet vs. Dry debate. Which one’s better for my puppy?

As every pet parent will learn, there are A LOT of mixed opinions when it comes to feeding your dog dry versus wet food. Some owners swear by dry, while others sit fast and firm in the wet camp.

Part of this is to do with the contrasting benefits each has to offer. For instance, dry food comes with a longer shelf life and is more convenient to store. There have also been some studies linking dry food to a reduction in dental plaque - though the jury’s still out on this one.

Wet food, on the other hand, tends to score more points in the tasty department. Rich in both smell and flavour, it often fares well amongst pups with a particular palate. 

But as far as nutrition goes, wet and dry food are both totally fine! As long as you’re feeding your pup a balanced diet composed of high-quality food, you can dish up whatever he or she prefers. Wet, dry, or a fusion of the two. 

Quick word of wisdom:

A cup of dry food contains more calories than the same size cup of wet food. So if you do decide to mix the two, keep this in mind so you don’t exceed your pup’s daily calorie requirements as this could cause them to gain excess weight.

Why is nutrition so important to my puppy’s development?

Along with exercise, your puppy’s diet will have the biggest influence on his or her physical development. Not feeding your puppy enough can result in delayed growth, just as feeding them a diet overly dense in calories can lead to rapid growth and bone and joint abnormalities. For this reason, it’s really important you take the time to sniff out a brand that will help set your puppy up for a bright, healthy future.

Click here to see Paws top 10 recommended puppy foods!


  • Canine and Feline Nutrition 3rd ed. (2011) by Case Hayek, Daristotle, & Raasch

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