How Do I Choose a New Puppy Food?

Having lots of dog food options is nice, but can make things seem more complicated.
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If you get bogged down in all the marketing, buzzwords, brands and competing feeding philosophies, choosing a new puppy food may seem like an overwhelming challenge. Don't worry, it's not as difficult as it seems. Today, most high-quality commercial dog foods provide everything most pets need. Still, there are individual considerations to influence your decision.

Consider Nutritional Value

Obviously, a primary concern is providing your puppy a new food that meets all her nutritional needs. Check the label to confirm a food meets the Association of American Feed Control Official's guidelines for "feeding" -- make sure that word is used -- a dog in your pet's life stage. If so, the food you're looking at supplies your pooch with all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients she needs. Compare the calorie content with similar foods to make sure it isn't significantly higher.

Consider Individual Needs

Don't make dietary decisions without consulting your vet. Understand your dog's nutritional needs and how her diet may affect individual health conditions or special needs. Many puppies with skin or coat problems benefit from extra fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, for example. If your pet has a food allergy or intolerance, you need a food free of problem ingredients. Your puppy's activity level, breed, predispositions to genetic problems and other individualized factors need consideration, as well.

Consider Canned Versus Kibble

Wet versus dry food is a longstanding debate. Both foods have pros and cons. Canned food is often preferred for its generally higher quality protein, fewer artificial ingredients, better flavor, high moisture content, calorie efficiency and other factors. Kibble does offer cost-effectiveness, convenience, a long shelf life and other benefits. The best option, though, may be to feed your puppy a combination of the two to avoid problems such as an overly picky palate, which can develop with an exclusively canned diet.

Consider Ingredient Quality

Spend some time familiarizing yourself with pet food label terminology and reviewing ingredient lists on puppy foods you're considering. Don't get blindly wooed by terms such as "real beef flavor," "premium" or "natural." Opt for protein from real meat, and be wary of "by-product" and "meal," which provides protein of varying quality. Avoid products with lots of preservatives -- especially chemicals -- and artificial ingredients and nonfood-like sounding stuff you can't pronounce or define. Ingredients are listed by prominence of weight in the food. Remember while that means there's more of the first ingredient than any other single ingredient, there may be more of the second and third ingredients combined than the first.