If you’re bringing a new puppy home, you are probably overwhelmed and excited! Adding a puppy to your family is such a fun experience. However, puppies require specific care to grow and live a healthy life. One of the most important items you will need to attend to is what food you give your puppy. It feels like there are a million brands and types of puppy food out there – how do you choose?
It may feel overwhelming to scan the stacks of puppy food at the store. However, not all puppy food is created equal. You can easily rule certain types out by looking for key ingredients, nutritional values and caloric content.
Puppy Food Categories
When looking for puppy food, there are essentially three main categories as far as the ‘tiers’ of puppy food are concerned.
- Super-premium food. This food will likely be at a higher price point but with good reason. Super-premium puppy food is jam-packed with nutritional value. It will have an appropriate nutritional density, making it nutritious but easy for your puppy to digest. Because this type of food is typically dense with the right nutrients, the puppy will need to eat less than other options.
- Premium food. These puppy foods don’t offer the same attention to nutritional density as super-premium food does; however, they are still high in nutritional value and overall suitable for a puppy. They are slightly less expensive than super-premium foods and are widely available at pet stores or supermarkets.
- Generic brand food. Generic brand (store brand) puppy food offers a low price point. Before you think about buying for a low price, make sure you are looking at the ingredients. Most of these foods have fillers and reduced nutritional content. These fillers can cause digestion issues for your puppy and the nutritional value may not be sufficient for a rapidly growing pup.
Ingredients to Look for in Puppy Food
When vetting options at the pet store, you may not know the quality of the food just by examining the brand. You may need to look at the ingredients list and do a little research. Not sure what to look for? The points below are important values to look for in good puppy food.
- Whole, ‘human-grade’ meat. Pet foods that have human-grade meat have gone through a rigorous testing process that certifies them as safe and suitable for human consumption. If it’s safe for you to eat, it’s certainly more than safe for your pup.
- Whole grains. Whole grains in puppy food provide a safe addition of easily digestible fiber – great for your puppy’s bowels. Whole grains offer complex carbohydrates and energy which are vital for a growing puppy.
- No preservatives (or natural preservatives). A food with no preservatives is best as it is the most natural option. However, these can be hard to find and usually do not have a long shelf life. Natural preservatives like plant extracts, vitamin E and vitamin C are what you should look for.
- Animal-based protein. Your puppy’s food should list an easily identifiable animal protein as the first ingredient on the list. Common animal-based proteins that may be used are chicken, lamb, fish meal or beef. Protein is vital to healthy and normal growth for puppies!
- Amino acids. Your pup needs a mix of the right amino acids in their food, as amino acids are the building blocks for protein. You should look for amino acids like arginine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
- Fruits and veggies. It’s not only humans who need these! Fruits and veggies contain essential vitamins and minerals for your puppy’s health.
- Chelates. Chelates are minerals from inorganic compounds that occur in nature. These chelates help your puppy maintain good bone density and strength. Look for chelates like calcium, magnesium, sulfur and phosphorus.
- Fats (from an identifiable source). Fats from an identifiable source, such as sunflower oil, should be listed in your puppy food. Fats are necessary for a puppy’s development. Fats like omega-3s can help with coat health and overall wellbeing in dogs.
Ingredients to Avoid in Puppy Food
Just as there are desirable ingredients to look for in puppy food, there are also ingredients that should be avoided. These ingredients can be found in an array of puppy food. You may not even know they’re in your puppy’s food until you look.
The below points are ingredients to avoid in your puppy food and why:
- Food dyes. These dyes are added to make the food look more appealing (to people) but have no nutritional value and can cause health issues in some instances. Skip any puppy food with dyes – they are useless chemical additives.
- Rendered fat. Your dog does need fats to grow healthy and strong – but certain fats should be avoided. Rendered fat (AKA generic animal fat) is fat that was sourced from dying livestock, roadkill or expired grocery meat. Rendered fat provides less healthy fat and comes with risks.
- BHA and BHT. Make sure to avoid these at all costs – BHA and BHT are both chemical preservatives that are known to cause serious health problems in dogs, like kidney damage and cancer.
- Corn. Corn is a low-cost filler that may be common in puppy food. It is wise to avoid corn in dog food because it is hard to digest, provides no real nutritional value, and may cause allergies in some dogs.
- Meat meal. Although animal-based protein is important in puppy food, meat meal is a form of animal protein that should be avoided. Meat meal is a ground mixture containing animal waste like hooves, heads and bones.
- Corn syrup. Corn syrup can make dog food sweeter and more appealing – but the cost of feeding your dog high levels of corn syrup is not worth it. Dogs can become obese, experience behavioral changes, and develop diabetes because of corn syrup consumption.
- Cellulose. This is a structural carbohydrate used in the production of building materials, such as lumber. You should avoid this because by-products of wood pulp in your puppy’s food are not good for their health.
- Ethoxyquin. This is a common preservative in dog food that should be avoided. It has been linked to numerous health issues in dogs, including liver damage, kidney damage, cancer and immune system disorders.
- Propylene Glycol. This is an additive commonly used to prevent moisture and bacteria growth in puppy food. Though propylene glycol does prevent bad bacteria from growing, it also prevents good bacteria from growing, which are helpful for a puppy’s digestion. This additive is also known to cause harmful effects like cancerous legions in the intestines or intestinal blockages.
- Synthetic Vitamin K3. A manmade substitute for natural vitamin K3, this additive is known to cause extremely serious health issues in dogs such as irreversible damage to the liver and other organs.
There are many options to consider for puppy food in today’s world. The branding matters much less than what’s listed on the back of the bag for ingredients. After reading our tips, you should be able to identify suitable ingredients and weed out puppy food with bad ingredients.
As always, seek advice from a trusted vet if you are unsure about what puppy food you should choose. Investing in your dog’s wellbeing is always a good idea. Even though high-quality nutritional puppy food may cost you initially, it will save you loads in the long run when your puppy grows up to be healthy and happy!