What To Look For in Your Puppy’s Food?

In my other blogs, I’ve often said that one of the most significant responsibilities you take on as a new puppy parent is to feed your puppy a healthy, nutritious diet. That includes their regular, everyday kibble and any type of snack foods you want to give them. You also need to consider any treats you give your puppy when you’re busy training them.

Today, If you go to any big-box retailer that sells pet products, you’ll likely become dizzy from the vast array of different dog food brands you’ll encounter. The fact is, Americans spend billions of dollars on dog food every year, and many manufacturers are keen to get in on the action. Sales in 2020 of dry dog food alone were $5.2 billion! (It’s the most significant segment in the pet food industry.)

Knowing that your precious puppy relies on you for their health and welfare, one of your essential tasks is to learn about dog food ingredients. That’s especially true of the less nutritional elements that can cause your pup problems down the road. Knowing what ingredients to look out for is an important skill you need as a new puppy parent.  It’s also a skill that begs the question; what to look for in your puppies’ food?

The answer to this question is that, at the very least, your puppy’s food needs to contain 6 essential ingredients. They are protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.  All of these separate elements should be in any puppy food you purchase.

Manufacturers put other ingredients in their puppy food, no doubt. However, now you know the basics of what to look for in yours. Read on if you have more questions about puppy food, including the difference between puppy and adult dog food and what ingredients should not be in puppy food. I have the answer to those questions and several more below to help you make the best food choice for your precious puppy. 

Puppy VS Adult Dog Food

The details are relatively straightforward when it comes to the differences between puppy food and adult dog food. The first is that puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, mainly because they burn through calories very quickly.

Puppies also lose body heat faster than adult dogs and work harder to maintain their body temperature. To replace the calories they use, maintain their body temperature, and refuel their energy reserves, puppies need to eat more frequently, and their food needs a denser caloric load. (i.e., it needs to have more calories.)  In short, puppy food should and usually does have extra calories. Those calories, by the way, typically come from protein.

Here’s the thing; between 22 and 23% of the calories a puppy eats every day should come from protein. However, an adult dog only needs about 18% of the calories in their food to be derived from protein. It’s not a huge difference, to be sure, but it’s the most significant difference between puppy food and adult dog food. 

Puppy food is also a bit smaller than adult dog food for their smaller teeth and mouth. Besides that, the other two significant differences between adult dog food and puppy food is that puppy food contains double the amount of amino acids and about 40% more fat. 

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets the level for the amount of protein, fat, and amino acids that should be used in dog and puppy food formulas. They require that puppy foods have double the amount of amino acids, and 8.5% of their calories should come from fat, compared to 5.5% of four adult dog food. 

What Ingredients Should Good Puppy Food Have?

To ensure your puppy gets all the nutritional elements they need to stay healthy end grow strong, puppy food contains a vast array of different ingredients. Typically, all components are part of the six essential ingredients in all puppy food: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Let’s look at those six essential ingredients and what puppy food manufacturers use to meet their requirements.


As I mentioned earlier, a puppy needs more protein than an adult dog. That protein can come from several different sources. They include organ and muscle meat from animals like cows and pigs. Protein can also come from animal by-products, including hair, hooves, lips, and so forth. Lastly, there’s protein from vegetables and grains, including soy and corn.


Carbohydrates are essential for your puppy’s health and wellness. However, the carbohydrates in puppy food can come from a variety of ingredients, some better than others.  For example, lower quality puppy food uses corn and wheat, whereas a better quality puppy food will use oats, barley, and rice to provide carbohydrates. By the way, about 42% of your puppies’ food should be carbs, showing how essential they are to your pup’s health.


While carbohydrates provide quick energy for your puppy, fats give them long-term, stable power. Fats are essential for several reasons, including stabilizing your puppy’s temperature and ensuring their skin and coat stay healthy. Fat also helps mobilize your puppy’s digestion or, in layman’s terms, helps them to poop. 

One interesting fact about fats is that they’re typically the most expensive ingredient in puppy food. The reason is that fats are more difficult to extract and even more challenging to preserve. About 15% to 20% of your puppy’s food should be made up of fats, so do check the label when purchasing.


As with human food, there are two types of vitamins on the ingredient list in your puppy’s food. They include the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and water-soluble vitamins B and C. Dogs and puppies need vitamins to unlock nutrients from other food and absorb their energy. Also, vitamins help your puppy’s digestion and elimination processes. About 1% of their food source should come from vitamins.


Typically, puppy food will contain phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, sulfur, and several micro and macro-minerals. 


All puppy food contains water which is used to help bind the food and make it easier to digest. Dry puppy food is between 10 and 12% “moisture content” (i.e., water), whereas wet dog food is between 75 and 78% moisture.

What Ingredients Should Not Be in Puppy Food?

Looking for the right ingredients in your puppy’s food is essential, but it might be more critical to look for elements you don’t want to be on the list. Some of the worst include the following:

  • Propylene glycol- Artificial ingredient used to keep food soft.
  • Carrageenan- Not harmful when fresh, very dangerous after it breaks down.
  • Food dyes- Used to make their food more appealing…to humans! 
  • Corn syrup- Awful for puppies, as it is for humans also.
  • MSG. Monosodium glutamate in dog food? No, thank you.
  • Melamine- Plastic added to food to increase the protein content.
  • BHA and BHT- Artificial preservatives.
  • Sodium hexametaphosphate- Used to prevent tartar buildup on pup’s teeth. Not healthy.
  • Meat meal. Nasty stuff you shouldn’t give to any living creature, let alone a growing puppy.

Vet Recommended Puppy Food Brands

Below are some of the top puppy food brands. I recommend trying them all and determining which your puppy likes best. All will provide a well-balanced diet for your precious pupper.

  • Wellness Complete Health Puppy Food
  • Ollie Fresh Dog Food
  • Blue Buffalo Life Protection Puppy
  • Purina Pro Plan Puppy Food
  • The Farmer’s Dog Fresh
  • Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Food
  • Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy
  • Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy
  • Eukanuba Puppy Large

Final Thoughts

Congrats, you now know what to look for in your puppy’s food. It should contain at least six essential ingredients: protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fat, and water. More importantly, these ingredients should come from high-quality sources rather than low-quality ones. The higher quality the source, the better the food will be for your puppy.

I hope today’s blog answered all of your questions about what to look for in your puppy’s food. If you want to learn more about becoming an excellent puppy parent, please see my other blogs. They all have interesting and valuable information, advice, and tips you can use to raise a healthy, happy puppy and ensure your furry friend lives a long, happy life.