By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA & Jen Larson, KPA-CTP
Congratulations, you’ve just gotten a new puppy! You’ve been reading up on how to crate train puppies, give them baths, and even where you can get them trained, excellent! But now you think: what the heck am I going to feed this frenzied furball?
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as opening up any ol’ can of dog food and emptying it into their bowl. Just like babies, puppies have special dietary needs. It’s up to you to craft a healthy food plan for them, and here’s how.
What You Should NEVER Feed Your Puppy
Puppies need specialized formulas to help their growing body, which means adult food is a no-go. Puppy foods have different nutrient levels than adult food, including higher protein. These nutrients help jump-start a puppy’s growth.
While at the store, flip cans over to scan their ingredient panel. If a whole meat (like chicken, lamb, beef, pork, etc.) isn’t the first ingredient, then don’t buy that food. The majority of your puppy’s protein should be derived from an animal, not vegetables or by-products.
A word about by-products: if the food in question contains chicken by-product, that means any part of the chicken (beaks, feet, etc). Animal by-product? You guessed it – any part of ANY animal. READ THE LABELS!
Keep a watch out for these common fillers that companies shove into their food to increase volume/calories and decrease costs, such as:
These ingredients are empty calories at best, and toxic substances at worst. If you want more in-depth information on what substances are good for dogs to eat and which aren’t, please check out our handy diet sheet. It details toxic ingredients, healthy diets, and how to properly feed dogs.
We also strongly urge you not to ask a vet to recommend foods. Vets will openly admit it: they aren’t nutritionists. They actually get very little in the way of formal education on nutrition. Plus, the food sold at the clinic is often brands like Science Diet (blegh!), who award veterinary scholarships and incentivize vets to push their products.
Some of the worst offenders when it comes to dog foods include:
These companies pour money into marketing plans and pretty packaging to distract customers from their complete lack of nutritional value. These brands are about as healthy as junk food, and even that’s being a bit generous!
It’s really up to dog owners to do our research when it comes to dog food brands. We love to recommend dogfoodadvisor.com. They give up-to-date information on recalls, the potential harm of certain substances, and honest, informative brand reviews. Here’s their best puppy foods.
Be Careful When Feeding Puppies Table Scraps
We’ve warned against feeding table scraps in the past, but you can make a few exceptions. Some table scraps can make great rewards for good behavior. However, you must be completely positive that what you’re feeding is safe for puppies.
Sadly, puppies just don’t know what’s good for them. They’ll beg, whine, and plead for you to give them anything, even poisonous foods! That’s why we have to be aware of what’s toxic and what’s not. Here’s a quick list of foods you should NEVER give your dog, under any circumstances:
- Macadamia nuts
- Raw Potatoes
These foods can be deadly when ingested, especially Xylitol. Don’t leave any sugarless candy or gum unattended. Also, make sure to throw away your cooking leftovers. Leftovers like onion peels or garlic shavings can send your dog to the emergency room.
Watch the amount of calories that are in the table scraps you give your puppy. A small bit of cheese packs way more calories than a whole handful of kibble. Also, giving your puppy too many fatty or greasy scraps can cause a pancreatitis attack.
What You Should Feed Your Puppy
While there are plenty of reliable and healthy brands out there, not all of them make puppy formulas. Here are some of the best dog food brands for puppies:
All of these foods have five-star ratings on dog food advisor, and they steer clear of harmful grains and by-products.
You can also make healthy, tasty snacks for your puppy out of human food. Giving varied treats is key for effective reward-based training, so we like to keep things mixed up. Veggies and fruits like carrots, apples, bananas, strawberries, and pumpkin puree are all delicious, low-calorie treats you can use as rewards.
If you have a Kong toy, take a look at these recipes for ideas on what you can stuff in there. We love a puzzle toy like this because it works a dog’s mind as well as his belly. These toys are great for puppies too.
When you feed your puppy regular food, it’s better to give them small, frequent meals instead of one or two large meals a day. It’s easier for them to digest food in small bursts, and it keeps them from getting hungry later in the day. If you’re starting crate training, remember to feed them inside their new crate to begin a positive association.
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