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The Ultimate Puppy Feeding Guide

Is there anything cuter than a new puppy? Bringing home a puppy is always an exciting time. Once you’ve found the perfect pup to join your family, it’s time to start thinking about what the little floof needs to eat. This guide is designed to help your puppy transition into its new life as smoothly as possible. Outlined below are some simple steps, going through puppy nutrition and what your puppy needs in order for it to grow into a healthy adult dog.

The puppy nutrition basics

It may come as no surprise that puppy nutrition differs from that of an adult dog. Dogs are not true carnivores but are instead considered obligate carnivores. This means that they require meat in their diet but also need some nutrients from plants as well. A well balanced diet is important to consider when thinking about dog nutrition.

Puppies more than adult dogs require a higher level of protein in their diet. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), puppies need at least 22.5% protein and 8.5% fat in their food. Protein and fat can come from a variety of different ingredients such as chicken, beef and fish. Even some plants can provide protein! In addition to protein and fat, a puppy also requires a higher content of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. This differs from adult dogs, as puppies need these extra nutrients for brain, muscle and bone growth. 

Since dogs are not true carnivores, fruit and vegetables can also provide some nutritional benefits as well. Plant ingredients add vitamins and nutrients that help keep your dog healthy in the long run. Vitamins and antioxidant compounds found in fruits and vegetables help to reduce damage to cells and degradation of internal tissues. This inturn can potentially prevent debilitating diseases like diabetes and cancer.

The best way to know if a certain food meets your puppy’s nutritional needs, is to look at the label. If it says “formulated for all life stages” or “formulated for growth stage”, it is safe for your puppy. When a puppy is fed a diet that is too low in certain nutrients, it can lead to deficiencies and lifelong health complications. Different dogs also prefer the taste of particular ingredients, so it is good to offer your puppy various options to determine which food they find the tastiest.

Different Food Types

When it comes to dog food there are MANY different types and brands of food to choose from. The following is a quick overview of a few of the different options.


Readily available, kibble is the most common option for pet owners. With kibble, all nutrients are packaged into dry, extruded food. It is an easy form of food for pet owners to portion and store. Contrary to popular belief, kibble can be a healthy option for your puppy and some dogs even prefer the crunchy texture. When it comes to kibble, it is important to read the label and avoid filler ingredients, as well as artificial colors and flavors. Furthermore, avoid diets with grains like corn or wheat, listed as the first ingredient. Ideally, protein ingredients should be the first ingredient listed on any form of dog food.


Canned food can be extremely tasty to dogs and it offers a high protein content. Similar to kibble, canned food is easy to store, readily available and nutritionally balanced. However, canned food does usually contain a higher proportion of protein and fat than kibble. If puppies are overfed, the extra protein and fat can easily promote obesity. Over feeding canned food is quite common as it is a little more difficult to portion. Since it is low in plant ingredients, it also lacks some of the nutritional benefits that fruits and vegetables bring.


Raw dog food is designed to provide your puppy with a more ancestral diet, composed of raw meat and bones. This type of diet may be highly palatable to dogs because of the high protein content. Some drawbacks to raw food include potential for bacterial contamination and nutritional deficiencies. If you are purchasing raw food, ensure that the label specifies that it is nutritionally balanced according to AAFCO guidelines and is packaged and stored in a safe way that reduces the risk of microbial contamination. Like canned food, it lacks some of the nutritional qualities provided by fruits and veggies.


Fresh-cooked pet food elevates the option of homemade food. Less common than other traditional commercial dog foods, fresh food takes whole foods and processes them in a way that destroys bacteria but preserves the integrity of vitamins and nutrients. Fresh food combines the nutritional variety and balance of kibble with the palatability of wet food. One drawback may be storage, if you do not have adequate freezer space. However, most fresh food is already pre-portioned to ensure that dogs are not being over or under fed. Fresh food also contains a higher moisture content than most other forms of pet food. This can help reduce the incidence of renal and urinary stones, as well as boosting overall hydration!

How much should a puppy be fed?

There are several factors to consider when thinking about how much to fill your puppy’s bowl. Below are a few things to ponder when deciding how much food to provide your new puppy:

What is the activity level of my puppy?

An active puppy will need more food in order to supply energy for play and zoomies. A lazy puppy will not be burning as many calories during their lengthy naps and will require less food.

Male or female puppy?

Male and female puppies have different nutritional needs based on their size, metabolism and activity levels. Male puppies will often require slightly more food than females of the same age. 

Body condition score?

It is difficult to determine how much a puppy should be fed based solely on weight. A puppy may be a target weight for its age but if they have an overall larger body size, they may actually still be underweight. The same is true for obesity. This is why it is also important to consider body condition score. Below is a chart outlining puppy body condition score. Taking into account weight and body condition score, food should be proportioned accordingly. 

Body condition scoring in dogs graphic illustration defining underweight ideal overweight and obese dogs

Puppy Feeding Chart

Daily feeding requirements are mostly based on the calorie content of food. Puppies require more calories than adult dogs and should be adjusted based on the predicted adult weight of the puppy. Puppies should be fed a higher calorie content from about 4-12 months of age. Below are some of the average adult weights of popular large and small breed dogs.

Dog breed weight chart
Dog breed weight chart

Different forms of dog food have different levels of digestibility. This means that energy and nutrients are more readily accessible to dogs in some food than others. Digestibility of dog food should be considered and therefore should be adjusted accordingly based on the type of food being fed. For example, fresh food is considered to be more digestible than kibble, meaning that less calories of fresh food should be fed per day than for kibble.

The following is a chart outlining the optimal calorie intake for a puppy and should be adjusted depending on a puppy’s specific body condition score and health status. Caloric content is based off of a puppy’s resting energy requirement (RER) and is adjusted for puppy growth

Puppy growth chart
Notes: This chart was created based off of Dog Training Excellence and assumes an average activity level.

Feeding Frequency

While some dogs prefer grazing or eating at their own leisure, it is important to have an idea of how much and how frequent your puppy is eating. This can help to monitor any changes in health. Ideally, puppies older than 4 months should be fed 2-3 meals per day. This will help to reduce over feeding and promote satiety.

Accepting a new pet into your family is always an exciting time. Proper nutrition and the correct diet can go a long way in ensuring that your new puppy will live a long and healthy life.

Golden Retriever puppy curious
Golden Retriever puppy curious

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February 20, 2024
5 minutes
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