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Do Puppies Really Need Puppy Food?

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Wednesday 30 December 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
do puppies need puppy food
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As a new puppy parent, it’s natural to have a lot of questions about puppy feeding. Do puppies need puppy food? Can they just eat adult dog food instead? These are questions that many owners ask, and thanks to research done by pet food manufacturers, we now know what puppies really need to grow up to be healthy and strong.

A lot goes on during your pup’s first year or two of life, and the best puppy foods will keep up with their nutritional requirements. Puppy food contains different amounts of important nutrients, is smaller, and sometimes a softer texture. These factors make puppy food easier on a growing pup’s teeth and digestive system. So, does a puppy need puppy food? We would recommend it for any puppy.

Do Puppies Need Puppy Food?

Ideally, puppies should eat puppy food, not adult dog food. On the surface, it may seem like giving adult food is a good strategy – adult food can be cheaper, and it’s sometimes more convenient to feed all of your dogs the same food.

However, the reality is that the nutritional needs of your growing puppy are vastly different than those of an adult dog. Puppies still have a year or more of growing to do. Their bones, muscles, and organs are undergoing lots of changes. Additionally, puppies cannot eat the larger sized kibble of adult dog food. Their stomachs are also a lot smaller and more sensitive. All of this growth and change means that your puppy needs and deserves specialized nutrition!

When shopping for dog food there are two nutrient profiles to be aware of:

  1. one profile is for “growth and reproduction“, and
  2. the other is for “adult maintenance“.

Look at the food label to make sure that you’re buying the correct food for your pup’s life stage. Some manufacturers sell “all life stage” dog food. While the AAFCO only recognizes the two aforementioned dog food nutrient profiles, manufacturers may market dog food as being for “all life stages” if it meets the guidelines for both nutrient profiles.

Puppy Food vs Adult Dog Food

There are several differences between puppy food and adult dog food. While it may be tempting to feed your pup with adult dog food, puppy food is optimized for the growth and development of your pup.


Fats contain more calories per pound than carbohydrates and proteins. As they grow, puppies require food that’s packed with energy so that they can play and develop as normal. For this reason, the AAFCO requires puppy foods to contain more fat than adult dog kibble. As per the AAFCO guidelines, adult foods only need to derive 5.5% of their calories from fat. Puppy foods, on the other hand, must derive at least 8.5% of their calories from fat.


The biggest difference between puppy food and adult dog kibble is protein content. While puppies derive 22.5% of their calories from protein, adult dogs derive only 18% of their calories from protein. In addition, the AAFCO requires nearly two times the amount of amino acids to be included in puppy food. Adult dogs can tolerate the higher protein content of puppy foods, but weight gain is a possibility. Puppies, on the other hand, struggle with developmental problems when fed on an adult diet as they are deprived of the proteins they need to grow.

Added Supplements

Under AAFCO, puppy food must contain different amounts of some minerals. For example, dogs require a minimum of 0.06% sodium whereas puppies require 0.3% in their diet. Puppies also require at least 1.0% calcium in their kibble whereas dogs need a minimum of 0.6%. Some requirements remain the same: magnesium, iron, potassium, iodine, and manganese just to name a few. As well as these, your puppy needs more eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in their diet. These are Omega-3 fatty acids that support your puppy’s brain and eye development.


How Long Do Puppies Need Puppy Food For?

As a general rule, puppies are considered adults and able to eat adult kibble at one year old. However, adulthood depends more on the size of your dog’s breed than their age. Because large breeds take longer to fully mature, they may need to eat puppy food for longer than smaller breeds.

Toy and small breeds weighing less than 30 lbs reach maturity between 9 and 12 months old. Medium breeds weighing between 30 and 80 lbs mature at 12 to 16 months. Finally, large and giant breeds weighing more than 80 lbs can take up to 24 months to mature. If you have a mixed breed dog or are unsure of where your dog falls in terms of their breed size, it’s best to ask your vet for advice.

When it’s time to stop giving your dog puppy food, you’ll want to transition gradually. A gradual transition from puppy to adult kibble helps to avoid stomach upset. The process should take between 7 and 10 days. You’ll also need to consider how often you feed your dog. Previously, you fed your puppy three meals per day. Adult dogs should eat two meals.

Do Puppies Need Puppy Food – FAQs

Need to know anything else about puppy diets? Feel free to consult our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details! If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.

Is Puppy Food Really Necessary?

Puppy food is the ideal option for your growing pup. Your puppy’s diet is manufactured with different amounts of essential minerals and amino acids in order to cater to your puppy’s development. For example, puppy kibble must contain more fats and protein than adult dog food. Puppy food must also contain higher amounts of sodium and calcium.

If your puppy is consuming low-quality food with harmful ingredients, they won’t get the necessary vitamins and minerals to stay healthy. If you start your pup with good nutrition from the beginning, their chances of developing certain health problems are vastly reduced. For example, canine hip dysplasia has links to malnutrition and electrolyte balance within the diet. Puppies who are malnourished will suffer from gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea, gas and irregular bowel movements are just a few signs of malnourishment in puppies.

Can a Puppy Eat Regular Dog Food?

While a puppy could technically eat regular dog food, doing so would be hazardous to your pup’s health and they could miss out on many essential nutrients. For starters, your puppy probably won’t be able to safely chew and swallow the larger kibble of adult dog food. This puts puppies at risk of choking on their food. In addition to this, adult dog food is often harder in texture – the smaller and softer teeth of young puppies will struggle to crush the kibble up, posing another choking hazard. If your puppy struggles to consume their food, they are likely to eat less of it, leading to malnutrition. You may prefer to give wet or moist dog food to your puppy as it is a lot more palatable.

Adult dog kibble does not contain the same nutrients as puppy food. If you feed your puppy with adult dog food, your puppy will get less calcium, sodium, protein, and fat in their diet. Without enough calcium, protein, and fat, your puppy cannot grow into a healthy adult. These nutrients are essential for bone growth, muscle development, and energy for play.

puppy eating regular dog food
Make sure to feed your pup puppy food!

How Long do you Keep a Puppy on Puppy Food?

You should feed your puppy with puppy food until they are mature. Puppies typically become emotionally and physically mature between 12 and 18 months of age. By this time, your dog will have all their adult teeth, will eat less, will need fewer calories, and will exhibit different behaviors.

The other thing to consider is when you spay or neuter your puppy. Calorie needs decrease by up to 20% a few days after the surgery, so you should adjust the amount you feed your puppy to maintain their weight. If you spay or neuter your dog as a puppy, it’s best to switch to a lower-calorie puppy food instead of switching straight to an adult dog food.

When Should I Stop Puppy Food?

Your puppy can switch to adult food once they are mature. This age will vary depending on your dog’s size and breed. Toy breeds mature between 9 and 12 months of age. Medium breeds mature between 12 and 16 months. Large and giant breeds may take up to 24 months to mature. As different breeds reach maturity faster than others, it’s recommended that you check in with your vet to ask when it’s best to move your dog on to adult food.

When you transition your dog to adult food, it’s important that the change is made gradually. The process should take between 7 and 10 days to complete. Over time, gradually increase the amount of adult dog food into your dog’s bowl, replacing the puppy food a bit more with each day. You’ll also need to reduce how often you feed your dog. Previously, you will have fed your puppy three meals per day. As an adult, your dog needs only two meals per day. This is because adult dogs need fewer calories than puppies, and have reduced appetites as a result.

Do puppies need puppy food? We recommend sticking with puppy food until your puppy is a mature adult. Until maturity, your puppy needs more protein, fat, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids that adult dog foods might fail to provide.

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