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What Can Puppies Eat? Nutritional Guidance for Your Growing Canine - PawSafe
Dog Healthcare

What Can Puppies Eat? Nutritional Guidance for Your Growing Canine

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Tamsin De La Harpe

what can puppies eat

Welcoming a new puppy into your home is an exciting journey filled with joy, playfulness, and a fair bit of learning — especially when it comes to feeding them right. If you’re asking yourself, “What can puppies eat?” or “what can I feed my puppy?” you’re not alone.

As a dedicated canine behaviorist and trainer with a specialization in canine nutrition, I understand the maze of dietary needs for these little bundles of energy. This guide is crafted to help you navigate the complexities of young dog nutrition, ensuring your new family member grows up healthy, strong, and happy.

From the safest foods for your young canines to the ideal macronutrient profiles for different breed sizes, we’ll cover all the essentials of what you can feed your pup, using the best sources on canine nutrition, especially our favorite veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Linda Case. So, let’s dive into the world of growing canine diets and set the stage for a lifetime of wellness.

As soon as puppies are weaned, they can eat most foods that are safe for dogs. However, the more relevant question is “what should puppies eat?”. And the answer to that is that it really depends on your puppy’s size, breed, and overall health or genetic predisposition.  In this article, I will give some serious insight on what’s okay to feed puppies, at what age, and specific health issues to be aware of.

Later in this article, we will get into some of the general guidelines of proper growing caning nutrition. But remember that puppies are individuals and can have individual nutritional needs. Here are some examples of breed specific nutritional requirements:

  • Some breeds like Newfoundlands and Cocker Spaniels need more taurine in their diets;
  • Boxers and Dobermans can needs more carnitine for heart health;
  • Some breeds like Labradors, Irish Wolfhounds, or Yorkshire Terriers may have liver shunts, which can limit how much and what kind of protein they should eat; and
  • Dalmatians, especially male dogs, can have trouble metabolizing the purines in red meat, and may need a white meat only diet to prevent kidney stones.

I cannot stress enough how much there is no such thing as a diet for all ages and all puppies. Each puppy is unique, and it is vital one feeds them according to their specific dietary needs. It’s also vital to feed your puppy to maintain a healthy body condition. Being overweight as growing dog, just like being underweight, can affect their long-term health.

Remember, most puppies need about three to four meals a day. But this can also depend on your dog’s age and size. With smaller and younger dogs needing to be fed more often than larger and older dogs.

So, puppies have different nutritional needs than full-grown dogs. It’s important to feed them a balanced diet that meets their specific requirements. Here are some foods that puppies can eat:

1. High-quality puppy food

Puppy food is specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of growing puppies. It contains higher levels of protein, fat, and calories than full-grown dog food. Look for a high-quality young dog food that is appropriate for your pup’s breed and size. Many dog owners choose dry food, but raw food is on the the rise and we will briefly discus the kind of food for a healthy dog below.

2. Cooked meat

Cooked meat is a good source of protein for puppies. Make sure the meat is lean and cooked thoroughly to avoid any risk of bacterial contamination. Avoid giving your growing dog raw meat or bones, as they can be a choking hazard.

3. Vegetables

Vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals for puppies. Some good options include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, and peas. Make sure to cook the vegetables before feeding them to your dog.

4. Fruits

Fruits are another good source of vitamins and minerals for puppies. Some good options include apples, bananas, and blueberries. Make sure to remove any seeds or pits before feeding the fruit to your pup.

5. Dairy products

Dairy products can be a good source of calcium for puppies. Some good options include plain yogurt and cottage cheese. However, some puppies may be lactose intolerant, so it’s important to monitor your dog’s reaction to dairy products.

Overall, it’s important to feed your juvenile canine a balanced diet that meets their specific nutritional needs. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your puppy.

Human Foods Safe for Puppies

Puppies are curious creatures and love to explore everything around them, including the food that their owners eat. While it is important to stick to a balanced and nutritious diet for your pup, there are certain human foods that are safe for them to eat in moderation. But remember, treats should never be more than 10% of your puppies daily calories.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some fruits and vegetables that are safe for them to eat include:

  • Apples (without the seeds);
  • Bananas;
  • Blueberries;
  • Carrots;
  • Green beans;
  • Kale;
  • Pumpkin (cooked and unsweetened); and
  • Sweet potatoes.

Make sure to cut fruits and vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces to prevent choking, and always remove any seeds or pits.

Lean Meats

Lean meats are a good source of protein for your juvenile dog. Some lean meats that are safe for them to eat include:

  • Chicken (cooked and boneless);
  • Turkey (cooked and boneless); and
  • Beef (cooked and lean).

Make sure to remove any bones, fat, or skin before feeding your growing pup, as these can cause digestive issues. Remember to feed more white meat than red as red meat is linked to higher rates of cancer.


Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids for your young dog. Some fish that are safe for them to eat include:

  • Salmon (cooked and boneless); and
  • Tuna (cooked and boneless)

Make sure to remove any bones as these can cause choking or digestive issues.

Rice and Healthy Grains

Rice and oats are a good source of carbohydrates for your pup. And yes, your puppy can eat grains as grain allergies are very rare. Some rice and pasta that are safe for them to eat include:

  • Brown rice (cooked);
  • White rice (cooked); and
  • Oats (cooked).

Make sure to avoid adding any seasonings or sauces to the rice or pasta, as these can be harmful to your puppy.

Grains are a good source of energy for dogs and most dogs aren’t allergic to them. If your dog does have an allergy, you can just stop giving them that particular grain. Healthy grains like brown rice, oats, and a little barley are great because they have resistant starch, which is good for their tummy and helps keep their sugar levels steady. This can even help stop diabetes. Just remember to cook the grains before feeding them to your dog.

Commercial Puppy Foods

When it comes to feeding puppies, commercial puppy foods are a popular option for many pet owners. These foods are designed specifically for puppies and are formulated to provide all the necessary nutrients for their growth and development. At this point we are going to go over what to look for in a good commercial dog food to make sure your dog gets the best diet.

General Principles of Young Dog Nutrition

No matter the breed size, there are some general principles of canine nutrition that are universally important:

  • Proteins: High-quality proteins are the building blocks for muscle development and body growth. Puppies need more protein than when they are adults to help their bodies grow.
  • Fats: Essential for energy, fats in a growing pup’s diet support growth and are also crucial for brain development. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play a significant role in cognitive function and skin health.
  • Carbohydrates: While not as critical as proteins and fats, healthy carbohydrates provide energy and help keep the gastrointestinal system functioning correctly.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: A precise balance of vitamins and minerals supports a young dog’’s immune system and bone health. An excess or deficiency can lead to health issues, so these should be carefully monitored.
  • Water: Adequate hydration is vital. Puppies need constant access to clean water to support all their bodily functions.

Reading Pet Food Labels

Choosing the right puppy food is a decision that should not be taken lightly, and the information on pet food labels is a valuable tool in making that choice. Especially when comparing foods for small and large breed puppies, it’s crucial to recognize that there is no universal dog food that is suitable for all puppies. Each size has its unique needs.

Large Breed Food Analysis

For large breed puppies, the guaranteed analysis on the label should reflect a careful balance that supports their growth without accelerating it too quickly. Here’s what to look for:

  • Protein: An ideal range of 29-34% to support steady muscle growth without excess weight gain that can strain developing joints.
  • Fat: A moderate fat content of 11-16%, providing necessary energy and supporting cell integrity without contributing to excessive growth.
  • Fiber: A range of 2.4-5.6%, enough to aid in digestion but not so much that it interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus: These should be in the range of 0.8-1.4% and 0.7-1.2% respectively, with a Ca:P ratio of 1.1:1 to 1.3:1. This ensures proper bone development without predisposing the pup to bone disorders.
  • Magnesium and Vitamin D3: Magnesium should be about 0.9%, and Vitamin D3 should be around 700 IU/kg to regulate the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus.

The caloric content is equally important. Large breed puppies need a lower calorie diet to prevent them from growing too quickly, which can lead to skeletal and joint issues.

Small Breed Food Analysis

Small breed puppies, with their higher metabolic rates, require a diet that’s rich in nutrients and more calorie-dense:

  • Protein: At least 30% to fuel their rapid development and high energy levels.
  • Fat: Around 20%, which is essential for energy, and can be reduced as they reach maturity.
  • Carbohydrates: A substantial 40%, providing the energy necessary for their active lives.
  • Fiber: A blend of soluble and insoluble fibers, totaling around 4 to 5%, is ideal for gastrointestinal health without compromising nutrient absorption.

Small breed puppies can demand upwards of 40 calories per pound of body weight, which is significantly higher than their larger counterparts.

The Verdict on One-Size-Fits-All Puppy Food

When reading the labels, it’s clear that one size does not fit all in canine nutrition. The detailed analysis provides insight into the specific needs of different sizes. Large breed puppies require careful nutrient management to prevent orthopedic issues, whereas small breed puppies need concentrated energy and nutrients to match their higher metabolic rates.

Tailoring Diet to Size: Large, Small, Medium, and Giant Breeds

Each size category — large, small, medium, and giant — has distinct dietary needs that must be met for optimal health.

Large Breeds

Large breed puppies, such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, require a diet that promotes slow, steady growth to prevent joint and bone problems. These breeds benefit from a controlled calorie intake and the right balance of calcium and phosphorus to ensure their large frames develop properly without excess stress on their skeletal system.

Small Breeds

On the other hand, small breed puppies like Yorkies or Pomeranians have faster metabolisms and thus, require a calorie-dense diet. They need more energy per pound of body weight than their larger counterparts. However, it’s crucial to monitor their food intake to prevent obesity, which can lead to health issues in a small frame.

Medium Breeds

Medium breeds, such as Beagles and Cocker Spaniels, sit in the middle, requiring a balanced approach. Their food should support their active lifestyle while preventing overfeeding, which could lead to obesity and its associated health risks.

Giant Breeds

Giant breeds, like the Mastiff or Great Dane, have a longer growth period and are at risk for developmental disorders if their diet isn’t managed correctly. They need a carefully calibrated diet with appropriate calorie content to avoid rapid growth while providing enough energy for their massive size.

Foods to Avoid for Puppies

Puppies are cute and cuddly, but they are also curious and love to explore their surroundings. As a result, they may try to eat anything they find, including foods that are not safe for them. It is important for puppy owners to be aware of the foods that are toxic or hard to digest for their furry friends.

Toxic Foods

Some human foods can be toxic to puppies and cause serious health problems. Here are some examples of foods that puppies should avoid:

  • Chocolate: Contains theobromine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even death in severe cases.
  • Grapes and raisins: Can cause kidney failure in dogs.
  • Onions and garlic: Can damage red blood cells and cause anemia.
  • Avocado: Contains persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Xylitol: A sugar substitute found in many sugar-free gums and candies, can cause a rapid insulin release, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, liver failure, and even death.

Hard to Digest Foods

Puppies have delicate digestive systems, and some foods can be hard for them to digest. Here are some examples of foods that puppies should avoid or eat in moderation:

  • Milk Dairy products: Puppies may be lactose intolerant, and dairy products can cause diarrhea and other digestive issues.
  • Raw meat and eggs: Can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can cause food poisoning in puppies.
  • Bones: Can cause choking, blockages, and punctures in the digestive tract.
  • Spicy foods: Can cause digestive upset, including vomiting and diarrhea.

Feeding Puppies at Different Ages

Puppies go through several stages of development, and each phase has its unique dietary needs. Initially, mother’s milk provides all the necessary nutrients. But as puppies grow, their energy needs increase, and so does the need for a more complex diet. Let’s break down the stages:

What Can Puppies Eat at 3 to 4 Weeks Old?

Three weeks is when puppies typically begin the weaning process. Their diet still primarily consists of mother’s milk, but you can start introducing solid food by offering a slurry—puppy food softened with puppy milk replacer or warm water. This helps them transition to more solid foods later on.

What Can Puppies Eat at 6 Weeks?

By six weeks, puppies should be eating a moistened form of quality young dog food consistently. Their diet should be high in calories, fats, and proteins to support their energy levels and growth needs. Six-week-old puppies should be fed multiple times throughout the day to maintain their energy levels and support healthy growth.

What Can Puppies Eat at 8 Weeks Old?

At eight weeks or two months old, puppies are typically ready to transition to a diet of solid food. Puppy-specific kibble or wet food should be introduced gradually, mixed with a bit of water to make it easier to digest. The kibble should be small enough for their tiny mouths and designed to meet the nutrient requirements for their developmental stage. During this time, they’re developing their teeth, so a mix of soft and slightly harder foods can aid in this process.

What Can a Four-Month-Old Puppy Eat?

By four months, your young dog should be fully weaned off mother’s milk and introduced to solid foods. At this stage, their diet should consist of high-quality puppy food that’s rich in proteins and fats to support their rapid growth. This is also a time to introduce a variety of flavors and textures to prevent picky eating habits. Be mindful of the size and breed of your pup, as larger breeds may require food with specific nutrient ratios to prevent growth-related disorders. 

Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements for Puppies

Puppies grow at an astonishing rate, and their diets must be rich in the vitamins and minerals that support this rapid development. Essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K, along with B-complex vitamins, are crucial for bone growth, nerve function, and energy production. 

Minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium play pivotal roles in building strong bones and teeth. However, they need to be in the correct amounts and proportions. They need the right balance of calcium and phosphorus for strong bones. Look for food that has about 0.8% to 1.4% calcium and 0.7% to 1.2% phosphorus. This balance is super important for their correct bone growth.

An excess of certain nutrients, like calcium in large breed puppies, can lead to growth abnormalities and other health issues.

Big puppies, like those who will grow up to be really large dogs, can sometimes not get enough zinc, which can make their skin itchy and flaky. Make sure their food has a special kind of zinc called ‘chelated zinc’ to help prevent this.

Puppies also need lots of DHA, which is a special omega-3 fatty acid for their brains to develop well. It’s mostly found in fish oils. They need another good stuff called EPA, too.

For staying healthy overall, big puppies need a good mix of omega-6 and omega-3 fats, with about five times more omega-6 than omega-3.

Breed-Specific Diet Considerations

Each dog breed comes with its unique set of genetic predispositions that can influence dietary needs. For example, large breeds prone to joint issues may benefit from foods with joint-supporting supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Small breeds with a risk of dental problems might require diets that promote dental health.

Transitioning to Adult Dog Food

When puppies reach the age of one year, they are considered adult dogs. At this point, it is important to transition them from puppy food to adult dog food.

Adult dog food contains different levels of nutrients compared to puppy food. It has fewer calories, fat, and protein, which are not necessary for adult dogs. Instead, it has more fiber and carbohydrates that are beneficial for their digestive system.

Before transitioning your puppy to adult dog food, consult with your veterinarian. They can recommend the best type of food for your dog based on their breed, size, and overall health.

It is important to gradually transition your puppy to adult dog food to avoid any digestive issues. Start by mixing a small amount of adult dog food with their current puppy food, gradually increasing the amount of adult dog food over the course of a week or two.

During the transition, monitor your dog’s behavior and appetite. If you notice any changes in their behavior or eating habits, consult with your veterinarian.

In summary, transitioning your youngster to adult dog food is an important step in their development. 

Raw vs. Kibble vs. Canned Food: What’s Best for Your Puppy?

The debate between raw, kibble, and canned food diets is ongoing. Raw diets can provide fresh, unprocessed nutrients which are lower in disease-causing compounds called glycotoxins. But carry risks of bacterial contamination and nutritional imbalances. If you decide on raw food, make sure it is completely and properly balanced for your dog’s long-term health.

Kibble is convenient and has a long shelf life but often contains preservatives and fillers. Canned food is palatable and high in moisture but can be expensive and may contribute to dental decay.

The best choice depends on your pup’s health, dietary needs, and your ability to provide a balanced diet. 


Choosing the right diet for your young dog  is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for their health and well-being. By understanding the specific nutritional needs of your dog, reading pet food labels carefully, and consulting with your veterinarian, you can ensure that your pooch grows into a healthy and happy adult dog. Remember, a well-fed pup is a strong foundation for a life of wellness and vitality.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.