Complete and balanced nutrition is paramount to your puppy’s health and growth so it’s essential to do the research and find the best puppy food brand. You want a brand that offers a puppy food your pup will not only love but one that will provide the nutrition your puppy needs from high-quality sources. So let’s talk about what options there are and how to tell who you can trust. We’ll go through ten puppy food brands that we believe provide quality products. But before we do, let’s discuss the features of each brand on which to focus.
Everyone has heard the age-old saying, “You are what you eat.” It’s true for our furry friends as well. When looking at the ingredients in your puppy’s food, you must look at what they are and where they come from. The most important ingredients are the main ingredients, which should also be the sources of protein and fat (and sometime carbohydrates).
The digestive system of a dog is practically the same as that of their wild ancestors. Finding a diet that mirrors what they would eat in the wilderness is a smart way to go. This means a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Carbs are nutritionally beneficial in smaller amounts. In the wild, the food sources for canines are mostly other animals, but they are not strictly carnivores. Canines are omnivores, meaning they eat meat and vegetation. They get this vegetation from eating fruit like berries from bushes, as well as the content of their prey’s stomach.
A strong source of protein should always be the first ingredient listed. On the label, the ingredients are listed by weight with the most abundant first. Protein is essential to the complete nutrition of your puppy. What you want to see are simple, specific, whole animals names. Good examples of this include chicken, beef, turkey, duck, lamb, venison, salmon, and flounder. Notice that when you see those ingredients, you know exactly what they mean.
Protein sources to avoid are terms that are vaguer like poultry, animal meat, and fish. These are generic terms. Companies use these to avoid being specific and telling the consumer their exact ingredients. It’s a good indication that they are trying to hide something like using roadkill unsavory parts of an animal like the hide, hooves, or hair.
What if the protein source is specific (like “chicken”), but is followed by a word like “meal” or “by- product.” Both of these terms are not necessarily negative, but let’s take a closer look. When an ingredient includes the word “meal,” that means that the meat has been rendered. The meat is baked such that all the water cooks off and what is left is baked. The end product is a powder. All dry puppy foods are processed to some extent and this is a very normal practice. It does not mean that the quality is necessarily lower. Depending on what the original raw materials were. If they were high quality, then the meal will be high quality as well.
What about “by-products”? By-products are essentially meat scraps. Like meal, by-products can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what they consist of. This is a situation where you have to trust the brand. Lower quality brands will include waste materials like hooves, hide, and hair. Higher quality brands will include nutritionally beneficial things like giblets, liver, heart, and necks. In the case of by-products, it is very important that they are specific (eg chicken by-product). Generic terms (eg animal by-product) often mean that the by-products are left over waste material and the source may not be known. They can also come from dead-on-arrival sources. So what should you conclude? Know the brand so you know you can trust the ingredients.
Fats get a bad rap, but they are an essential part of the complete nutrition your puppy needs. They are energy dense, provide great taste, and easily digested. They keep your puppy’s coat healthy, are a facilitator for vitamin absorption, and help prevent dehydration. So what should you look for?
Great sources of fat include specific fats and oils. Just like with protein, you want to avoid generic terms like animal fat and vegetable oil. Good fatty ingredients include chicken fat, canola oil, salmon oil, flaxseed oil, and coconut oil. When chicken fat is included as an ingredient, it is often followed by “preserved with mixed tocopherols.” Even though this might sound odd, it’s a good thing! Tocopherols are rich in vitamin E and are great for your puppy.
Puppies don’t need a ton of carbs, but they often contain some great vitamins and minerals and can boost the energy level of your puppy. It’s all about the source of the carbs! There are great plant sources like sweet potatoes and peas. Grains have recently obtained a bad reputation, which we’ll talk about later in the “Fillers” section, but whole grains are delicious, nutritious, and can aid in digestion. Some great grains include brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. In the case of carbs, too much is definitely a bad thing as the canine digestive system is built for high protein, low carbohydrate diets. So a little bit is great but too much is definitely bad.
What do you think of when you hear the term “fillers”? Generally, people think of corn and grains. In reality, whole grains are good for your dog. Fillers are generally leftover by-products of human food processing. They are cheap and rarely, if ever, contain any nutritional value for your puppy. Companies use fillers as ingredients to bulk up their food in the cheapest way possible, making your puppy ingest useless and sometimes harmful foods. Some examples include cereal food fines, brewers rice, grain fermentation solubles, corn bran, corn gluten meal, wheat mill run, oat hulls etc.
But please don’t group healthy, whole grains into this category. Nutritious ingredients like brown rice, oats, barley, and oatmeal are good for your pup.
The other, less abundant ingredients are also important to examine. To obtain complete, balanced nutrition, it’s important for puppy food companies to add supplements of vitamins and minerals, as well as fruits and vegetable to provide fiber and other nutrients. Remember to follow our main rule and look for whole foods that you recognize.
You also want to be aware of ingredients to avoid and these include sweeteners, preservatives, antibiotics, artificial flavoring, artificial coloring, and pesticides.
The guaranteed analysis depicts the nutrient content of the food by percentage. Determining the exact percentage is very difficult so instead, the label offers minimum or maximum percentages depending on the nutrient in question. For example, there should be a high percentage of protein so the guaranteed analysis will say something like “30% minimum,” which means at least 30% of the puppy food is protein; it could be a little more. Fiber, on the other hand, is a nutrient that should be on the low end, so the label will say something like “5% maximum,” which means no more than 5% of the puppy food is fiber.
Unfortunately, you cannot directly compare 25% minimum protein to 30% minimum protein in 2 different puppy food formulas if the moisture percentage is not equal. This is because dog food labels use an “as is” or “as fed” basis. The level of moisture skews the data. So if formula A has a different moisture percentage than formula B, the nutrient percentages will be on a different basis when compared to each other.
When comparing two dry food formulas, the difference is minuscule. BUT the moisture content of wet is so much higher than dry food, it is impossible to compare their nutrient profiles without accounting for that difference in moisture. What you must do is determine the nutrient profile on the “dry matter basis,” which means with all of the moisture removed.
Who wants to know how to do the math?
In general, a quality puppy food brand will provide a high percentage of protein, a fairly high percentage of fat, and a low percentage of fiber. Other things included in the guaranteed analysis include omega fatty acids, calcium, and phosphorus. Depending on the size and activity level of your puppy, the ideal percentages differ a little. Because of the rapid growth of puppies, they need higher levels of protein and more calories than adult dogs do. Large breed puppies need a specific amount and ratio of calcium and phosphorus for optimum growth. Learn more about large breed puppy food here.
Let’s talk about brands in general and what you should learn about your puppy food brand in order to develop trust. Researching can be tedious, but it can also be fun to learn about the history of the different brands. What is their motivation? What makes them passionate about pet food? What steps do they take to ensure the nutrition, quality, and safety of their products? Here are the main things we look for:
Now that we know what to look for, let’s look at some of our favorite brands. We’ll provide in-depth information so you can make an informed decision about what is the best puppy food brand.
Blue Buffalo was founded by Bill Bishop in 2002 after being inspired to created healthy and balanced recipes for dogs and cats when his dog, Blue, was diagnosed with cancer. It is a family run company that works hard to ensure they are using high-quality ingredients to provide complete and balanced nutrition for your puppy, which is why it is one of the best puppy food brands.
Blue Buffalo strives to use the finest natural ingredients as a foundation in their formulas, supplemented with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They specially formulate each recipe for dogs and cats of differing life stages, weight conditions, taste preferences, and personal feeding choices so whatever your pup’s needs, you will be able to find a Blue formula perfect for her. Let’s take their Blue WildernessⓇ Chicken Recipe for Puppies for example. The first 2 ingredients are deboned chicken and chicken meal, both great sources of protein! The next ingredient is tapioca starch, which is a high-quality source of carbohydrates that is gluten-free and non-GMO. It provides energy as well as essential minerals and fiber. Next on the list is a powerful ingredient: peas. They provide protein, carbohydrates, and added nutrients. After that is turkey meal, pea protein and dried egg, more protein sources.
The eighth ingredient is chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), the main source of fat in this formula. Chicken fat is highly nutritious and will provide an abundance of energy for your pup. The mixed tocopherols are also a great source of vitamin E. Chicken fat is perhaps our favorite main source of fat for puppy food.
The rest of the ingredients include fruits and veggies, like blackberries, pumpkins, carrots, and spinach, along with nutrient supplements to ensure that this formula provides the complete and balanced nutrition your puppy needs to grow up healthy and strong. There are no useless fillers or harmful ingredients.
We did the math for you and determined the percentages of protein, fat, and fiber on a dry matter basis (rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent) for their Blue WildernessⓇ Chicken Recipe for Puppies.
At 40% protein, Blue clearly recognizes that a diet high in protein is essential for healthy growth for your puppy. The relative amount of fat is appropriate, not too much, but a substantial amount for extra energy and a beautiful, healthy coat. At 5.6%, the fiber level is right where it should be. This amount of fiber will aid in healthy digestion, without overwhelming your puppy’s system.
When the Bishop family discovered their Airedale, Blue, had cancer, they were inspired to take a serious interest in pet health issues and learned that nutrition was key. They took it upon themselves to provide pet food recipes that were made from the finest ingredients and specially formulated for cats and dogs of different ages and needs. Bill Bishop founded Blue Buffalo in 2002 and named it after Blue the Airedale. As they say at Blue Buffalo, “Love them like family, feed them like family.”
The Bishops’ story is heartwarming and it is clear they care deeply about their pets and their customers. They established the Blue Buffalo Foundation in 2003 with the goal of providing funds for universities and clinic with programs “ dedicated to gaining a greater understanding of the causes, treatments and prevention of dog cancer and cat cancer.” Learn more about it on their website.
Blue Buffalo has been involved in a few voluntary recalls where they have taken immediate action to prevent any risk to their customers.
Blue Buffalo goes above and beyond testing and ensuring the quality and safety of their products. They are not one to look the other way even at the smallest problem. They are dedicated to their customers and provide high-quality formulas for cats and dogs. All of their products are manufactured in the U.S.
As for compliance with AAFCO nutrient profiles, all of Blue Buffalo’s dog and puppy food formulas “meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” for either growth, maintenance, or all life stages, depending on the formula.
The people at Blue Buffalo would love to hear from you with any questions or concerns. They are easily reached and eager to assist. Their contact us page on their website has a few ways to contact them: by phone, email, or snail mail. They are eager to build community by sponsoring events and urging Blue pet owners to share their stories. You can’t go wrong with Blue.
Taste of the Wild dog food has been manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods, Inc since 2007. They offer premium, natural, and grain-free recipes for dogs and cats. Digestible energy and excellent nutrition are their focus. Their manufacturing plants are located in California, Missouri, and South Carolina.
Taste of the Wild boasts of “real roasted meats...supplemented with vegetables and fruits.” Studying their ingredient list, you will find specific whole foods, which are what you want to see. If you take their High Prairie PuppyⓇ Formula, for example, the first ingredient is buffalo, a specific animal source of protein. Next is lamb meal, another great protein source, and then sweet potatoes, a non-grain source of carbohydrates and some great nutrients! Egg product is the fourth ingredient providing more protein. Then comes pea protein, peas, and potatoes, all things that provide essential nutrients for your puppy without wasteful fillers.
The eighth ingredient is canola oil, the main source of fat in this formula. Canola oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. I would classify it as middle-of-the-road when it comes to main sources of fat as it is less beneficial than chicken fat or herring oil. However, canola oil is FAR superior to cheap, low-quality sources like lard or tallow. This formula also includes salmon oil further down the ingredient list, which is great for providing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
The rest of the ingredients listed include fruits, vegetables, and other protein sources, as well as supplemented vitamins and minerals. There are no obvious fillers or unhealthy additions like artificial flavors or colors.
We did the math for you and determined the percentages of protein, fat, and fiber on a dry matter basis (rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent) for their High Prairie PuppyⓇ Formula.
You can see that this formula is high in protein, which is great for the growth and development of your puppy. It is also fairly high in fat, which aids in nutrient absorption and provides energy. The fiber content is right where is should be: existent, but low. Fiber aids in healthy digestion in small amounts.
Taste of the Wild may be the most controversial of our top 10 puppy food brands. The reason for this is that they are manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods, Inc, which has had a number of recalls for their products in their past. The Taste of the Wild brand was created to appeal to the new market of people wanting natural, healthier food for their pets. And they have accomplished their goal. Their ingredients are high-quality specific, whole foods.
As for recalls, Taste of the Wild has been involved in a single recall since their 2007 inception. This occurred in 2012 when Diamond Pet Foods, Inc announced a recall of their products due to a Salmonella outbreak. Taste of the Wild products were added to the list of voluntary recalls after the fact, though none of those tested were positive for Salmonella.
Diamond Pet Foods explains their safety precautions in this video.
Here is a short summary of the video:
As for compliance with AAFCO nutrient profiles, all of their 9 dry dog food formulas comply with one of the standards. The products “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance” include the Appalachian ValleyTM Small Breed Canine Formula, the Wetlands CanineⓇ Formula, the High Prairie CanineⓇ Formula, and the Pacific Stream CanineⓇ Formula. The products “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages including growth of large size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult) include the Pine ForestⓇ Canine Formula, the Southwest CanyonⓇ Canine Formula, the Sierra Mountain CanineⓇ Formula, the High Prairie PuppyⓇ Formula, and the Pacific Stream PuppyⓇ Formula.
The customer service team at Taste of the Wild is accessible and helpful. They have a phone number you can call if you want to speak to someone directly (800-342-4808) or you can submit your inquiry on their website.
Anna is a canine enthusiast. She loves everything about dogs from their loyalty to their energetic spirits to their stubborn moments. She has a passion to learn everything she can to become a better "dog-mom" to her Toller, Penny, and to share her knowledge of dogs with all who are interested in the hopes of educating people on the best canine care.