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The Importance of Puppy Dog Food

The Importance of Puppy Dog Food

Cecilie Hemsen Berg

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” 

Agnes Sligh Turnbull  

As a new or prospective puppy parent, understanding the importance of feeding your furry friend with dog food specifically formulated for their life stage is vital. As puppies grow rapidly, they have specific nutritional needs to support their developing bodies and brain. Dog food tailored to your puppy’s needs therefore plays a vital role in ensuring your young dog grows into a healthy, happy adult. In this blog, we will explore why puppy-specific dog food is not just a marketing gimmick but an essential aspect of your young dog’s health and development.  

Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Puppies

Puppies have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs due to their rapid growth and development during their early life stages. Here are some key reasons why puppies require a specialised diet:

Importance of Puppy Dog Food
  • Growth and Development: During the first few months of life, puppies grow rapidly, developing bones, muscles, and organs at an incredible rate. This phase requires higher levels of certain nutrients. In addition, they are exploring their surroundings, learning about life in general and adapting to their human family. This rapid growth requires energy and nutrients in amounts and proportions different from those needed by adult dogs. 
  • Protein: Puppies need more protein than adult dogs to support the development and repair of tissues. Protein provides the building blocks for muscles, organs, skin, immune cells, blood cells and hormones.
  • Fat: Fat is a concentrated source of energy, and puppies require a higher fat content in their diet to fuel their growth and provide essential fatty acids for brain and nervous system development. Fat also helps make steroid hormones, including the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone. 
  • Calories: Puppies have higher energy requirements per pound of body weight than adult dogs. This increased energy is needed to support their growth, activity levels, and the development of a healthy immune system. 
  • Carbohydrates: Dogs are omnivores, and whilst protein and fat are essential nutrients – they will benefit from a diet where healthy sources of carbohydrates are included. Carbohydrates enrich the diet with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and they are the most important and readily available source of energy. Glucose (a simple carbohydrate) is also the brain’s primary source of energy.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus: Puppies need a carefully balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorus to support the development of strong bones and teeth. An imbalance can lead to skeletal abnormalities.
Importance of Puppy Dog Food
  • Nutrient Density: Puppy food is formulated to be more nutrient-dense than adult dog food to meet their higher nutritional requirements in smaller servings.
  • Immune System Support: Puppies have developing immune systems that require additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to help them resist diseases and infections.
  • DHA and EPA: These omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain and vision development in puppies. Puppy foods often contain higher levels of DHA and EPA to support these functions.
  • Digestive Sensitivity: Puppies may have more sensitive digestive systems than adult dogs. Puppy food is often formulated to be more digestible and easier on their developing digestive tracts.

Choosing the Right Puppy Food

Consider breed size

Puppies should eat specially formulated puppy food to meet their nutritional needs until they are 12-18 months old, depending on their breed and size. It is usually recommended that extra-large breeds should use specific large-breed puppy formulas to avoid developmental issues. The food must secure:

  • healthy growth (neither too rapid nor too slow)
  •  immune function
  • healthy weight
  • normal bone- and joint development

Look at the ingredients list

The quality of the raw material going into the food will determine the overall digestibility and nutritional value. You want to look for high-quality named ingredients such as “lamb” as opposed to “meat meal”, and “canola oil” as opposed to “vegetable fat”. Consult with a veterinarian to choose a diet that’s suitable for your puppy’s breed, size, and health condition. 

Special needs

If your puppy has any special dietary requirements such as food allergies, ensure the food you choose meets these needs. 

Importance of Puppy Dog Food

Choose the right texture

Puppy foods are available in dry and canned formulations. Generic dog foods should be avoided, and table scraps are not recommended for growing puppies. Be careful with homemade diets, unless you follow a properly-balanced recipe developed by an animal nutritionist. Balancing a homemade diet is difficult and if done improperly it will negatively impact your puppy’s long-term health.

Raw food can be risky for young dogs, as it can lead to malnutrition, especially with calcium and phosphorous. Raw meat also contains bacteria, parasites and other pathogens that would normally be killed during the cooking process. Feeding raw can bring extra risks to other people in your household so if you choose to raw feed, ensure you keep separate utensils and bowls between each meal and pay close attention to hygiene.   

Essential Nutrients for Development

There are some essential nutrients you should look out for when choosing puppy food for your dog. This is to ensure they get the optimal diet for growth and development. Essential nutrients for puppies include:

  • DHA omega 3 (Docosahexaenoic Acid), is a type of Omega-3 fatty acid important for brain development, cognitive function/learning and vision. 
  • Calcium, phosphorus and vit D are crucial for healthy bone and teeth development. These must be carefully balanced in puppy food to promote optimal growth without overdoing it, which can be harmful.
  • Antioxidants from sources like baobab fruit, rooibos, sea lettuce, alfalfa, oregano, and cinnamon contain plant chemicals and antioxidants supporting the immune system. Other nutrients that support the immune system include alfalfa, DHA omega 3, zinc and vitamin C, D and E. 
  • Probiotics benefit the gut microbiome and are essential for a healthy digestive system and the production of vit K, folate and biotine. 70% of the immune system is also located in the gut. 
Importance of Puppy Dog Food

How Nala Health caters for puppies

Experienced animal nutritionists have formulated Nala Health puppy food to support:

  • Active learning and cognitive development: Marine algae is a sustainable source of DHA omega 3 which contributes to concentration, attention and memory. DHA Omega 3 is an important nutrient for growing puppies’ brains.
  • Growing bones, joints and muscles: Calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and Omega 3 support joint health and overall skeletal development.
  • Digestive health: Fiber and probiotics help to maintain healthy intestinal flora.
  • Skin and coat: Cold-pressed rapeseed oil and coconut oil contain fatty acids that contribute to shiny fur and soft skin.
  • The immune system: Rooibos, baobab fruit, sea lettuce and botanical extracts add antioxidants to the food that help protect the body against harmful free radicals.
nala health

How often should I feed my puppy?

Puppies depend on their mother’s milk (colostrum) until they are 4 weeks old. This milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies that help protect the puppies from illness while their immune systems are still developing. 

Most puppies are fully weaned to solid food between 7 and 10 weeks of age, and they should eat three times a day from weaning through four to six months. After six months, they should eat twice a day.   

Preventing lifestyle diseases

Scientists believe that 25% of health is connected to genes, whereas 75% of health is determined by lifestyle. Eating a healthy and balanced diet while maintaining a healthy weight can prevent many health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. A healthy lifestyle can be achieved by ensuring your dog: 

  • Eats a healthy diet with appropriate portions (use a scale rather than a measuring cup).
  • Stays hydrated.
  • Gets daily exercise.
  • Is well groomed (brush teeth, cut claws and maintain their fur).
  • Keeps up with their vaccines. 
  • Manages tics and fleas. 
  • Receives love and care.
Importance of Puppy Dog Food

The Risks of Feeding Adult Dog Food to Puppies

Feeding puppies adult dog food may lead to malnutrition and developmental problems. Puppies need the same nutrients as mature dogs, but adult dog food lacks the necessary nutrients in the required ratios for healthy puppy growth. For instance, insufficient calcium and phosphorus can lead to weak bones, while too little protein can stunt growth and muscle development.

The Transition to Adult Dog Food

The transition from puppy food to adult dog food is another critical phase. This should be done gradually, typically around 12 months of age for most breeds, but larger breeds might require longer on puppy formulas. A sudden switch can cause digestive issues and disrupt nutrient intake.

Variety and diet rotation

Most dogs benefit from eating a variety of foods, to make meal time more exciting with different flavours and textures. By rotating protein sources your dog is also less likely to develop sensitivity or allergy to certain ingredients. You can for example rotate between an insect-based diet and a venison-based diet. Discuss with your vet what would be best for your dog.

Importance of Puppy Dog Food

In general, added foods should represent only a small portion of the calories your dog consumes to avoid obesity and an unbalanced diet. Also make sure you add food that is safe for dogs.

Healthy toppings to boost extra flavour and nutrition.

  • Egg –  lightly scrambled, soft-boiled, or hard-boiled.
  • Cottage cheese, kefir or plain yoghurt.
  • Steamed vegetables – butternut, sweet potato, green beans, cauliflower, zucchini.
  • Fruits and berries – apple, watermelon, blueberries, blackberries;  grated, mashed or cut into small pieces.
  • Offal/organ meat – Offal is rich in iron, copper, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and B12 in addition to the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is a sustainable choice to include offal in the diet, rather than throwing it away. Just be aware of the total amount of fat-soluble vitamins and copper (which is especially high in beef liver). Heart and poultry gizzards are more like muscle meat and a safe option. Some dogs can have digestive problems if they get too much offal in one meal.
  • Fish – lightly steamed hake, sardines (try to avoid farmed fish like salmon as they often contain trace amounts of antibiotics, growth hormones and pathogens).
nala health


In conclusion, providing your puppy with the right nutrition is one of the most important responsibilities we have as dog parents. Puppy-specific dog food plays a vital role in ensuring your young dog grows into a healthy, happy adult. Remember, investing in quality nutrition during these formative months is investing in your puppy’s future health and well-being.

Feel free to share your experiences or ask questions. We love hearing from fellow dog enthusiasts!