Yonge Sheppard Animal Hospital

102 – 280 Sheppard Ave E., Toronto, ON M2N 3B1 | 647-260-8387 | yonge.sheppard.vets@gmail.com

The Essential Guide to Puppy Nutrition

Puppies are bundles of joy, bringing happiness and energy into our lives. As pet parents, we know that providing a balanced and nutritious diet is vital for the growth, development, and overall health of our puppy. However, many pet owners face confusion when trying to find the right food for their puppies, and who can blame them!  Given the multitude of options available on the market it can be challenging to know what is good nutrition and what is just good marketing. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore various aspects of puppy nutrition, including considerations for large breed versus small breed puppies, the raw food diet trend, grain-free diets, and the role of AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) in ensuring quality pet food.

Puppies are at a critical stage of life, and proper nutrition lays the foundation for their future health. Good nutrition not only supports their physical growth but also contributes to cognitive development, immune system function, and longevity. Understanding the unique nutritional needs of puppies is essential for their well-being.

Large Breed vs. Small Breed Nutrition

Puppies come in a variety of sizes, and it’s crucial to understand that their nutritional needs differ based on their size. Large breed puppies, such as Great Danes or Labrador Retrievers, have distinct growth rates and development patterns compared to small breed puppies like Chihuahuas or Pomeranians. Providing appropriate nutrition for each size is essential to ensure their bones, joints, and muscles develop properly.

For large breed puppies, it’s important to focus on controlled growth to prevent skeletal issues. Rapid growth can put excessive strain on their developing bones and joints, increasing the risk of conditions like hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia. Feeding a specially formulated diet that promotes slow and steady growth while providing the necessary nutrients for optimal bone and muscle development is crucial for their long-term health.  


On the other hand, small breed puppies have higher metabolic rates and faster metabolisms. Due to their smaller size, they require more energy-dense meals and may need to be fed more frequently throughout the day. Their tiny stomachs can only hold small amounts of food at a time, so dividing their daily portion into several smaller meals ensures can help prevent low blood sugar and ensure they receive the necessary nutrients without overwhelming their digestive system.  

Raw Food Diets for Puppies

Raw food diets have gained popularity among dog owners seeking to provide a more “natural” and “ancestral diet”. Advocates claim that feeding raw food can improve a puppy’s coat, digestion, and overall health. However, it is crucial to consider the potential risks associated with raw food diets, especially the higher amounts of bacteria present in raw meat.  The underdeveloped immune system of a puppy is simply not equipped to handle the higher levels of bacteria present in raw food.  For this reason raw food should be avoided in puppies.

Grain-Free Diets for Puppies

Grain-free diets have become a popular choice for many pet owners. These diets exclude grains like wheat, corn, and instead, rely on alternative carbohydrate sources. Recent studies have linked grain-free diets to an increased risk of heart disease in certain breeds. Until the pathophysiology of this condition is better understood we recommend avoiding grain free diets.

Dispelling the Myth of Byproducts in Puppy Food

There is a common misconception among pet owners about the inclusion of byproducts in puppy food. Byproducts are often misunderstood and unfairly stigmatized, leading to the belief that they are of low quality or harmful to pets. However, it’s important to dispel this myth and understand the truth about byproducts in the context of puppy nutrition.

Byproducts refer to parts of animals that are not commonly consumed by humans, such as organs, blood, or bone. While they may not be the prime cuts of meat that humans byproducts are an important source of nutrients and can be highly beneficial for puppies. Organ meats, for example, are rich in essential vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B12, and iron. Including byproducts in puppy food allows for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly use of the whole animal, reducing waste and promoting a more responsible approach to food production.

It’s important to note that not all byproducts are created equal, and the quality of the ingredients used in puppy food is crucial. Reputable pet food manufacturers carefully select and process byproducts to ensure they meet strict quality and safety standards. 


When choosing puppy food, it’s essential to focus on the overall quality of the product rather than dismissing it solely based on the presence of byproducts. Look for brands that prioritize transparency, provide detailed ingredient lists, and clearly state the nutritional benefits of their products. Trusted brands often go through rigorous testing, research, and development to ensure that their puppy food provides a balanced and complete diet. Royal Canin and Hills are two trusted food brands that are dedicated to the science of pet nutrition. 

The Role of AAFCO in Puppy Nutrition

AAFCO sets nutritional standards and guidelines for pet food in the United States. When choosing puppy food, look for products that meet AAFCO’s standards for growth and development. AAFCO-approved labels ensure that the food contains the necessary nutrients in appropriate amounts for puppies. It is important to prioritize quality and choose brands that have undergone feeding trials to ensure their effectiveness like Royal Canin and Hill’s.

Feeding Frequency and Portion Control

Establishing a proper feeding schedule and controlling portion sizes are key to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing overfeeding or underfeeding. Puppies require frequent meals throughout the day, with the number of feedings gradually decreasing as they grow older. It is important to monitor your puppy’s body condition and adjust the portion sizes accordingly to avoid obesity or malnutrition. Most high quality puppy food will have feeding guidelines on the bag based on the puppies weight and age. 

Supplements for Puppy Health

Many puppy owners are eager to provide supplements to ensure their furry companions receive optimal nutrition. However, the truth is that if you are already feeding a high-quality puppy diet, additional supplements are generally unnecessary.  In fact inappropriate supplements and vitamins could harm your puppy.  Be sure to talk to your veterinarian before starting any supplement or nutraceutical. 

Providing your puppy with proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of their care. Understanding their unique needs based on breed size, considering different diet options such as raw food or grain-free diets, and ensuring compliance with AAFCO standards will set your puppy on the path to a healthy and happy life. Remember to consult with your veterinarian for personalized guidance and support throughout your puppy’s nutritional journey.