You have plenty of options for choosing a good puppy food. Many manufacturers reliably balance commercially available products to provide the nutrients your growing dog needs. It's up to you to confirm that you get one of these. Some puppy foods contain high quantities of less desirable ingredients, too, though; recommended puppy foods are heavy on the good stuff and light on -- or better yet, free of -- unhealthy or potentially harmful ingredients.
Recommendations Are Personalized
Start with a puppy food recommendation from your veterinarian. What's best for one young pooch isn't necessarily best for another. A dog's age, breed and size inform a smart feeding decision. Other individualized considerations are important, too, such as the type of coat your dog has, how much exercise she gets, what medical conditions she has, whether she's predisposed to any health problems and whether she has any food sensitivities. If your puppy has an allergic skin condition, for example, your vet will likely suggest a food high in omega-3 fatty acids. Or, if she's already wearing a few extra pounds, he'll probably suggest a lower calorie option.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, sets nutritional guidelines for puppy foods. While the group has no regulatory powers, get peace of mind by selecting a puppy food with a label affirming the product meets AAFCO guidelines for nutritional adequacy. When you read the label's nutritional adequacy statement, make sure it uses the word "feeding" when it identifies adequacy for a particular life stage. Of course, choose a food formulated for your puppy's current life stage. AAFCO compliance, in conjunction with your vet's personalized input, ensures your puppy food provides all the necessary vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and other nutrients.
High-Quality, Natural Ingredients
Protein is the foundation of your puppy's diet, and she does best getting it from high-quality meats. Buy puppy food that lists meat ingredients first and without qualifiers like "by-product" or "meal," which often provide low-quality protein from miscellaneous unappetizing parts of animals. Signs you're not getting much high-quality meat in a food include terms like "dinner;" "flavor," as in "natural chicken flavor;" and "with," as in "with real beef." If the ingredients include lots of items you can't identify or pronounce, keep looking. Also, because many artificial preservatives have been linked to health problems in dogs or other animals, opt for a puppy food that uses natural preservatives. These typically include tocopherols, ascorbate and natural oils and spices.
Just like with people, canine taste varies. The healthiest, most nutritious food doesn't do any good if your puppy doesn't eat it. You may have to try a few different products until you find a recommended food your pet likes. Don't try to solve the problem of a picky eater with products that include high-fat or high-sugar tidbits to tempt your dog. These morsels are unhealthy, and your dog may single them out to eat to the exclusion of the healthy pieces. Also, keep in mind that products made with high-quality, natural ingredients sometimes vary a little in flavor, appearance or texture. Find one with adequate consistency for your puppy.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.