Check out our New Antler Chews! 🦌

🌺🐶 Spring Gift Guide For Dogs

The ABCs of Proper Puppy Nutrition

Written by: Michelle Toma Olson



Time to read 4 min

Just like human babies cannot and should not eat the many of the foods that adult humans do, baby pups have special dietary needs that are different from those of grown-up dogs as well. After all, puppies have milk (baby) teeth, immature digestive systems, and quickly growing bones, eyes, brains, and…well, just about everything! So what are the key differences that make a dog diet ideally suited for puppy versus adult? Is it ingredients, texture, preparation method, or all of the above that provide proper puppy nutrition? Let’s look into the most essential nutrients for puppies; how much of each of them they need; and what role, if any, healthy dog treats play in a puppy’s menu.

(A)nimal, Vegetable or Mineral? What’s on the Puppy Menu?

Dogs drinking water from a bowl
Water is essential for pups.

While canines love their meats, puppies and their doggie parents are actually omnivores. Yes, their wolf ancestors – and cats for that matter – are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot get their required nutrition from plant-based sources alone. However, domesticated dogs have evolved to be able to digest and derive nutrition from a variety of sources. This means we can feed our puppies from animal and plant sources

In fact, according to the experts at the American Kennel Clubwell-balanced puppy nutrition contains the proper proportions of the following six essential elements

  • Water
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Minerals 
  • Vitamins

Although this list doesn’t vary between adult dogs and puppies, getting the right nutrients during puppyhood ensures the healthiest possible growth and development. It also works in reverse: if a puppy doesn’t get the requisite nutrition, her health and development can suffer. 


For example, too little protein in a puppy’s diet can cause immune deficiencies and deter the achievement of growth milestones. Not enough veggies and grains used as healthy carbohydrate sources can lead to malnutrition by limiting overall nutrition intake or causing an overage of fat or protein. And shortages of minerals like calcium and zinc can lead to weak bones and teeth and skin problems, respectively. 

(B)uilding Blocks of the Best Puppy Treats

Sweet Potatoes are healthy for puppies.
Sweet Potatoes are healthy for puppies.

Another similarity between introducing foods to puppies and human babies is that it’s best to start puppies off with simple, mild, and low-allergenic foods. For proteins, this means sources that include turkey, which is also low in saturated fat; lamb, which doubles as a rich source of iron; and salmon and eggs, which also provide uber-healthy omega fatty acids.


In addition, ensuring the protein comes from muscle or organ meat sources is very important. These are the purest sources of proteins and associated nutrients, as opposed to meat meals or by-products that muddle their inherent nutrition with low-quality additives and contaminants. 


Regarding carbohydrates, healthy, mild sources include whole-grain oats, brown rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Puppies can also tolerate legumes like beans, as well as some fruits like bananas and apples. 


Whether a food is meat- or plant-based, look for terms like natural, organic or responsibly-sourced on the packaging. Combined with recognizable terms in the ingredient list, this can signal to us pet parents that the recipe avoids artificial preservatives, chemicals, sweeteners, etc., that can irritate puppy’s tummy and hamper his development. 


For any of these foods or others like carrots and peas, be sure they are cooked and free of seasoning or added flavorings like herbs and salt. This holds whether you’re cooking foods up in your kitchen or getting them inside of a product from a reputable manufacturer. Why? Because it helps to eliminate any risk of microbial contamination or difficulty with digestion that some uncooked meats, grains and veggies can pose to puppies’ delicate constitutions.


A diet that includes a balance of these puppy-perfect meat and plant sources of nutrition should by default, provide the healthy fats, vitamins and minerals essential to proper puppy nutrition. Just feed his meals from clean bowls accompanied by plenty of fresh water, and you can rest assured you are presenting your puppy with the best meals possible! 

(C)alories Count in Proper Puppy Nutrition

Puppy looking at Farm to Pet Chicken Chip
New Puppy Packs are healthy proteins. 

Now that you know what to feed your puppy, it’s time to consider how much to feed her, and for how long, to be sure you are providing proper puppy nutrition for as long as she needs. 


Most experts agree that, after weaning at eight weeks, puppies need on average twice the calories per pound than their adult counterparts. After all, baby dogs are in serious growth mode, and growing burns a tremendous amount of calories. The calculations can be tricky, so it’s best to seek your veterinarian’s advice for your fur baby’s specific caloric needs. The key is to use well-balanced, high-quality food sources and keep puppy fit with plenty of time for activity, sleep, exercise and play. 


As for how to break down his diet for optimal growth, this quick guide courtesy of VCA Animal Hospitals shows the ideal percentage of calories per source on a dry matter basis:

  • Protein: approximately 22-33%, with the most needed right after weaning and decreasing from there
  • Fat: approximately 10-25%, to provide essential fat-soluble vitamins and fatty acids
  • Carbohydrates: approximately 20-25% from digestible sources like those listed above


How long to keep a puppy on a non-adult diet is primarily determined by her size and breed. While small to medium breeds mature between 6 and 12 months of age, large and giant breeds can take up to 24 months to reach full maturity. Again, your vet will know best, so please look for guidance to be sure what is right for your pup.


What about treats for puppies? Can they factor into a puppy’s diet healthily? The fact is that dog treats can be an invaluable training tool at the most critical time in a puppy’s behavioral development. However, treats must be puppy-appropriate for their tummies and teeth. Super hard or crunchy treats or chews are best left for full-grown doggos. For the younger set, opt for treats that are easy to chew and contain limited or single ingredients, and be sure not to allow treats to exceed 10% of their daily calories.

So there you have it: the ABCs of proper puppy nutrition from the Farm To Pet point of view. We look forward to being right by your side as a trusted resource – and source of healthy dog treats! – for all your fur friends from puppyhood to their senior years!

Leave a comment