You’ve just brought your cuddly new puppy home from the breeder.

Now what?

Before you start training and socializing your new pup, you have to make one very important decision:

What are you going to feed him?

There are countless puppy food brands and dog food formulas for puppies out there, so how are you supposed to make a choice? How do you tell a high-quality product from a low-quality product?

Choosing the best dog food for puppies can be tricky, but know this:

We’ve done all of the hard work for you!

We have scoured the reviews, read the ingredients lists, and researched the top rated puppy food brands to bring you our best picks. What’s our top choice?

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula

Not only is this product made with healthy, high-quality ingredients, but it is also affordable!

According to a 2015 report, Americans spend over $22 billion on pet food each year. The average price per pound for pet food is $2.28. For natural pet food, that number increases to $2.64 per pound and, for organic food, it jumps to $3.66 a pound.

The most expensive pet food, raw pet food, costs upwards of $12 per pound!

I hope you know that price is not the best way to shop for pet food.

But we understand that not everyone can afford to feed their pets top-shelf products. That’s why we encourage you to buy your dog the best dog food you can consistently afford. It might not be a 5-star product, but we hope you choose at least a 3-star product.

In this article, we’ll be talking about some of our favorite puppy food brands and what sets them apart from the rest of the pack. In addition to considering factors like quality and ingredients, we also want to touch on price.

We’ve assembled a list of our top 7 best puppy food brands that cost less than $2.00 per pound.

But before we get into the details about this product and other puppy food brands, let’s talk for a minute about the criteria we used to make our choice.

What Should You Look for in Puppy Food?

Choosing a pet food product may seem as simple as just walking into the pet store and picking something off the shelf, but I assure you it is not – or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

The dog food you choose for your puppy will be his primary source of energy and nutrition, so you need to choose wisely!

So, what should you look for in a good puppy food?

Let’s start with protein:

Protein is one of the three macronutrients – the nutrients that provide your dog with energy in the form of calories. Fat and carbohydrate are the other two but protein is particularly important because it supports your puppy’s growth and development.

A growing puppy needs a minimum of 22% protein in his diet, but more is always better. When you pick up a bag of puppy food, take a quick look at the guaranteed analysis to get a feel for how much protein, fat, and fiber is in the product.

But don’t stop there!

The guaranteed analysis tells you what percentage of certain nutrients the product contains, but it doesn’t give any indication as to the quality of their sources – you have to read the ingredients list to determine that.

As a general rule, the shorter the list of ingredients, the better.

If you compare the ingredients list for a $75 bag of dog food to a $15 bag of dog food, you’ll notice a few stark differences. For one thing, the lower quality food is more likely to have a lengthy list of additives and supplements at the end – this is to make up for the fact that high-heat cooking processes tend to destroy the nutrient content of the raw ingredients.

A short ingredients list isn’t always an indication of quality, but it is generally better to feed your dog a product made with a limited number of real ingredients than a product fortified with synthetic supplements. Your dog’s body is better able to absorb nutrition from real foods than from synthetic vitamins and minerals.

What else should you look for in an ingredients list?

No matter what puppy food you choose, you need to make sure that a high-quality source of animal protein is listed as the first ingredient. Low-quality puppy food brands use grains and other inexpensive fillers to bulk up their products – this makes it cheaper for you as well as for them.

But these ingredients are not what your growing puppy needs.

Your puppy needs meat!

The best puppy food recipes will start with a quality ingredient like fresh poultry, meat, or fish. But don’t be thrown off if you see the word “meal” following the name of the protein – that’s a good thing!

A meat meal is simply fresh meat that has already been cooked to remove moisture.

This is important because most dog food products are cooked in a process that removes much of the moisture content. So, it only makes sense that foods like fresh chicken which are rich in moisture would change during cooking. They might be at the top of the ingredients list by fresh weight or volume but, once that moisture is removed, they would technically appear lower down the list.

Meat meals, however, are already cooked so their volume isn’t going to change much – this makes them a much more highly concentrated source of protein than fresh meats!

What else should you look for when shopping for puppy food?

Check the first five ingredients on the list and make sure that, not only is the first one a quality source of animal protein, but that the remaining top four are high-quality ingredients as well. Be sure that any carbohydrates in the product are highly digestible for dogs and that they don’t comprise the majority of the recipe – you want as much protein as possible with plenty of fat for energy but limited carbohydrate and fiber content.

Okay, so now you know a little more about what goes into a quality puppy food brand.

But what kind of things do you NOT want to see in your puppy’s food?

The list is endless, but there are a few key things to look for.

Ingredients to Avoid in Puppy Food

As you’ve already learned, protein is the most important nutrient for a growing puppy.

But that protein should come from animal sources like poultry, meat, fish, and eggs. Plant proteins like pea protein concentrate, alfalfa meal, and even beans and legumes may increase the total crude protein content of the recipe, but plant proteins are much less biologically valuable than animal proteins for your puppy.

And they aren’t complete proteins, either!

A complete protein is simply one that contains all of the essential amino acids your dog’s body is incapable of synthesizing on its own. Animal proteins are complete proteins but plant proteins may only contain one or a few of the essential amino acids.

Other ingredients you want to avoid in puppy food include the following:

  • By-products
  • Cheap grains
  • Corn syrup
  • Artificial flavors/colors
  • Artificial preservatives

The list goes on and on, but these five things should be considered deal-breakers if you spot them in the ingredients list for puppy food.

The term “by-products” is very vague, which is part of the problem – you can’t be sure exactly what they are or where they come from. Does that sound like something you want to feed your puppy? And cheap grains like corn, wheat, and soy are best avoided because they offer little to no nutritional value for your dog, they are hard to digest, and they come with a high risk for triggering food allergies.

Corn syrup, a sweetener, has no place in dog food because it doesn’t offer any nutritional value – all it does is make a low-quality puppy food more palatable.

The same can be said for artificial colors and flavors. Artificial flavors make a poor product more appealing to dogs while artificial colors make it more appealing to people. But you shouldn’t be buying dog food based on how it looks – all that matters is the ingredient and how it’s made!

Okay, so now you know the basics about what you DO and DON’T want to see in puppy food.

But which brands are the best? Keep reading to find out.

The Best Puppy Food Brand

There are many brands of dog food out there, many of which we absolutely love.

But when it comes to the ideal combination of quality and affordability, our top pick for the best puppy food brand is:

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula (.70/pound)

Taste of the Wild is one of our favorite brands overall for many reasons.

For one thing, this brand produces only premium-quality, grain-free products that are designed to mimic your dog’s ancestral diet. They use a variety of premium proteins like bison, venison, and lamb as well as grain-free carbohydrates, healthy fats, and probiotics.

In addition to these benefits, another point that inspired us to choose the Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula over other puppy food brands is the fact that it comes in both a puppy recipe and an adult recipe – you don’t have to go through the hassle of converting your puppy to a different recipe when he reaches 1 year old!

Plus, priced at just $1.70 per pound when you purchase the 30-pound bag, this brand of dog food is surprisingly affordable for the quality it delivers.

Now, here’s a quick overview of what we love about this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 28% protein, 17% fat, 5% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Buffalo, Lamb Meal, Sweet Potatoes

This recipe starts off strong with both fresh buffalo and lamb meal as the primary ingredients. Both of these are high-quality sources of protein and novel proteins at that! Compared to common proteins like chicken and beef, they are less likely to trigger food allergies or sensitivities in your puppy. There are also other proteins like eggs, bison, venison, beef, and fish that appear later.

In addition to being loaded with high-quality protein, this recipe is naturally grain-free but supplemented with digestible carbohydrates for energy and fiber. It contains a healthy blend of animal- and plant-based oils for healthy omega-3 and omega-6 balance as well as probiotics for healthy digestion. It is also important to note that many of the mineral supplements are chelated.

Okay, so what other puppy food brands made it into our list?

  • AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Puppy Food ($2.00/pound)
  • Natural Balance Original Ultra Puppy formula ($1.96/pound)
  • Blue Buffalo Life Protection Puppy Formula ($1.90/pound)
  • Earthborn Holistic Puppy Vantage Dry Food ($1.86/pound)
  • Nutro Wholesome Essentials Large Breed Puppy Formula ($1.77/pound)
  • Whole Earth Farms Puppy Recipe ($1.33/pound)

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these formulas.

AvoDerm Natural Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Puppy Food (.00/pound)

The AvoDerm brand sets itself apart from the competition by using real California avocadoes in each of their recipes. Avocado is loaded with healthy fats to support your puppy’s skin and coat but it also provides him with a concentrated source of energy to sustain his growth and development.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 26% protein, 16% fat, 4% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Chicken Meal, Ground Whole Brown Rice, Ground Whole White Rice

This recipe starts off strong with chicken meal as the main ingredient. As we’ve already discussed, chicken meal is a highly concentrated source of protein which makes it an excellent ingredient in a high-quality puppy food. This ingredient is followed by digestible whole grains like brown rice and white rice, supplemented further down the list by oat bran and rice brain. This formula contains plenty of healthy fats and it is supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics.

Natural Balance Original Ultra Puppy formula (.96/pound)

The Natural Balance pet food company believes in using only premium quality ingredients for superior digestibility and balanced nutrition. This particular formula is designed to nourish your puppy and to support his growth with plenty of protein and healthy fats. Plus, as part of the Original Ultra Whole Body Health lineup, it is designed to nourish your puppy’s whole body from the inside out.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 28% protein, 17% fat, 4.5% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice

This puppy recipe starts with both fresh chicken and chicken meal at the top of the ingredients list. These premium proteins are supplemented with the addition of duck meal and dried egg. For carbohydrates, this formula uses digestible gluten-free options like brown rice and oats. It is also supplemented with probiotics for healthy and regular digestion.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Puppy Formula (.90/pound)

Easily one of the top dog food brands, Blue Buffalo is known as much for the quality of their recipes as for their variety. This particular formula is specifically designed for puppies and, as part of the Life Protection Formula product line, it is made with all-natural ingredients and supplemented with vitamins and minerals for nutritional balance.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 28% protein, 14% fat, 5% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice

This protein-packed formula contains both deboned chicken and chicken meal as the top two ingredients – it’s no wonder the crude protein content is so high at 28%. In addition to plenty of protein, this recipe is also rich in digestible carbohydrates including brown rice, barley, and oatmeal. For fat, this recipe contains chicken fat, flaxseed, and fish oil. You’ll also be glad to know that it is supplemented with probiotics and chelated minerals.

Earthborn Holistic Puppy Vantage Dry Food (.86/pound)

As their name suggests, Earthborn Holistic follows a holistic approach to pet nutrition by using only the highest quality ingredients in healthy, balanced formulas. This puppy recipe dry food is designed to give your puppy the protein he needs to grow and the energy he needs for play. Plus, it contains a balance of omega fatty acids for immunity as well as skin and coat health.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 28% protein, 20% fat, 4% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Chicken Meal, Whitefish Meal, Oatmeal

With two highly concentrated sources of animal protein at the top of the list, this puppy food formula is protein-packed. Both chicken meal and whitefish meal provide high-quality complete protein to sustain your puppy’s growth and development while oatmeal and other whole grains provide energy and dietary fiber. This recipe is also supplemented with chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption and dried fermentation products for probiotic support.

Nutro Wholesome Essentials Large Breed Puppy Formula (.77/pound)

The Nutro brand of pet food offers several product lines including the Wholesome Essentials line that is made with real meat as the #1 ingredient. This recipe is specifically designed for large-breed puppies, featuring both fresh lamb and lamb meal as the primary proteins with rice and oatmeal for carbohydrate energy and dietary fiber. It is also rich in glucosamine and chondroitin to support your large-breed puppy’s bones and joints.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 26% protein, 15% fat, 3% fiber, 10% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Deboned Lamb, Lamb Meal, Brewers Rice

This large-breed puppy formula is rich in animal protein with plenty of healthy fat for energy. It combines the nutritional value of both fresh meat and meat meal with the carbohydrate support of whole grains. It contains chelated minerals to ensure maximum nutrient absorption as well, and it is free from artificial additives.

Whole Earth Farms Puppy Recipe (.33/pound)

The Whole Earth Farms brand is a more affordable product line offered by Merrick. This brand is designed to offer the ideal combination of affordability and quality, which is exactly what this puppy recipe delivers. Rich in quality animal proteins, digestible whole grains, and healthy fats, this recipe would be a great choice for any growing puppy.

Here’s a quick look at the guaranteed analysis and ingredients list for this recipe:

  • Guaranteed Analysis: 26% protein, 12% fat, 4% fiber, 11% moisture
  • Top 3 Ingredients: Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Oatmeal

This puppy food formula contains multiple protein sources including chicken meal, fresh chicken, and salmon. In addition to being packed with premium proteins, this recipe includes digestible carbohydrates like brown rice, oatmeal, and pearled barley. It isn’t short on high-quality fats, either, and it is supplemented with probiotics for healthy digestion and vitamins and minerals to ensure proper nutritional balance.

So, now that you know about these premium puppy food brands, are you reconsidering what you feed your own puppy?

The quality of your puppy’s diet has a direct impact on his health, both now and for the future. You don’t necessarily have to shell out for a 5-star brand, but I would heartily recommend it, if that’s something you can afford to do!

Even if you can’t afford a 5-star puppy food, consider a 4-star or a 3-star brand because quality matters. If you want your puppy to live a long and happy life, start feeding him a high-quality puppy recipe today!

For more information about feeding your dog, check out our comprehensive canine nutrition guide.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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