What is the best puppy food? [2021]


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc(Hons)

Whether you're a first time puppy parent or you've owned a dog furever, choosing the best puppy food can be an overwhelming decision. You've invested a lot of time and money researching and making sure that your new family member is the perfect fit, so naturally you want to feed them the best nutrition that also suits your budget.

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Skip to a section:

1. Why is a puppy diet important?

2. Feeding large and giant breed puppies

3. Diets marketed as 'all life stages'

4. When to transition to an adult maintenance diet

5. Which puppy food is best?

a) Top diets for small breeds

b) Top diets for medium breeds

c) Top diets for large breeds

6. Extra resources for new puppy parents

7. WATCH: Our Vets' Video Guide to Puppy Care

4 Top-Selling Puppy Food Brands in Australia

ADVANCE Puppy Food

Advance's super premium, Australian made puppy food is complete and balanced, and comes vet recommended for growing pups. Advance is also one of our best value premium diets, with extra large 40kg bulk value bags to ensure families on every budget can afford premium quality.

Royal Canin Puppy Food

A premium puppy food range that contains optimal levels of energy and minerals to support healthy bone and joint development. Royal Canin is particularly known for it's breed specific formulas, available for Labradors, German Shepherds, Pugs, Poodles, and many more.

Hill's Science Diet Puppy Food

Hills Science Diet creates complete and balanced wet food in tins and sachets, as well as dry kibble. As one of our most trusted and vet-recommended brands, Hills food is tasty, nutritious, and made with high quality ingredients.

Ivory Coat Puppy Food

An Australian made all natural puppy food, with an option tailored for large breeds. This grain free diet is rich in antioxidants, omega fatty acids and a natural probiotic to support healthy development.

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1. Why is a puppy diet important?

Puppies have very different nutritional requirements to adult dogs. The food they eat directly influences their growth, skeletal and immune system development. Puppy diets are formulated with a specific balance of energy, protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients to support their rapid growth phase. Inappropriate nutrition can lead to malnourishment and disease, while overfeeding can lead to skeletal abnormalities and obesity later in life.

The key is to feed your puppy for optimal growth, not maximal growth. This involves keeping your puppy lean as they grow. An excellent resource for tracking your puppy's growth rate can be found on the WALTHAM Centre For Pet Nutrition website, with individual growth charts available based on your puppy's size and sex.

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2. Feeding large and giant breed puppies

Commercial large and giant breed puppy diets have been formulated to account for the rapid growth rate and heavier body weight that is placed on their growing skeletons.

The main difference between a regular puppy food and a large or giant breed puppy food is the energy density, calcium content, and the calcium to phosphorus ratio.

Large and giant breed puppy diets are less energy dense to reduce the risk of overfeeding, because an overweight body condition is an important risk factor for the development of orthopaedic disease. These diets typically also have an appropriate balance of calcium and phosphorus with a lower overall calcium content than a regular growth diet.

You might have heard the suggestion to feed large and giant breed puppies an adult maintenance diet in an effort to restrict calories and limit overfeeding. With the introduction of large breed growth diets, this suggestion is no longer appropriate for two reasons. Firstly, the calcium to phosphorus ratio is inappropriate for these puppies who are undergrowing rapid growth. Additionally, some adult diets, particularly those marketed as 'high protein' or 'grain free', tend to be energy-dense and may exceed the safe limit for calcium intake in growing puppies (4.5g/1000 kcal, National Research Council). Research in Great Danes has also shown that orthopaedic diseases can occur if the calcium content is too high, even if the calcium to phosphorus ratio is correct.

For Large and Giant Breed Puppies, we recommend: feeding a diet from a reputable pet food company that is marketed specifically for large or giant breed growth, and has ideally undergo AAFCO feeding trials. See our top recommendations. The diet should be fed in controlled amounts to promote slow rate of growth and a lean body condition score of 4/9. See the WSAVA Body Condition Scoring In Dogs for more information on assessing body condition scores.

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3. Diets marketed as 'all life stages'


There are guidelines set out by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) which detail the minimum levels of nutrients required for each life stage. A diet that is formulated to meet the AAFCO profiles for 'all life stages' means that the diet meets the minimum nutrient levels for both growth and adult maintenance.

As a general rule, a diet marked for 'All Life Stages' is suitable only for small and medium breed puppies. For large and giant breed dogs with unique nutritional requirements, opt for a 'Large Breed Puppy' formula instead.

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4. When to transition a puppy onto an adult diet

The general rule of thumb is to transition puppies onto an adult maintenance diet when they have reached 80-100% of their adult body weight.

It's important to remember that these guidelines are not stringent, and the best way to know whether your puppy can be transitioned onto a less calorie-dense adult food is by assessing their body condition score. Puppies should ideally sit at 4-5/9 on this scoring system before transitioning to an adult diet.

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5. Which puppy food is best?

Look for diets made by reputable pet food companies with a history of producing quality diets. Larger companies generally have more stringent quality control processes to assess for toxins and unexpected contaminants, and employ expert nutritionists and food scientists. It's also important to check the packaging for an AAFCO statement. Diets that have undergone animal feeding trials for the appropriate life stage are generally preferable over diets formulated to just meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for that life stage. Most importantly, the diet you choose should be one that they do well on - a dull coat, low energy and lots of backyard waste is a good indication explore dietary alternatives!

a) Best-Selling Small Breed Puppy Diets

1. Royal Canin Mini Puppy

2. Hill's Science Diet Puppy Small Bites and Hill's Science Diet Puppy Small Paws

3. Ivory Coat Puppy Chicken

4. Advance Small Puppy

5. SavourLife Puppy Lamb

6. Eukanuba Puppy Small Breed

7. Pro Plan Healthy Growth & Development Small & Mini Puppy

8. Open Farm Puppy

Breed specific diets are also available for small-breed puppies such as Poodles, Pugs, Chihuahuas, and Frenchies.

Shop our most popular small breed puppy diets:

Shop Large Breed Puppy Food Now

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Extra Resources for Puppy Parents

As a new puppy parent, the more reading you can do, the better. We recommend taking a look at the following resources:

Pet Circle Vet Dr Carla discusses everything you need to know about puppy care. For more helpful videos, head over to Pet Circle's Youtube Channel.

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