Understanding the Difference Between Puppy Food VS Adult Food

The pet food aisle is already large and confusing with so many brands and so many varieties within each brand. And dog food isn’t exactly cheap. It may be tempting to buy one dog food for every dog in your home regardless of age. What will it hurt? So what: they’ll get more or fewer calories? Well, there’s a lot more to it than that. Read this post to learn about the differences between puppy food vs adult food vs senior food and why these differences matter.

Is there a difference between puppy food and dog food?

Yes, there is a difference between puppy and adult dog food, and it’s more than the calorie count, though calories are an important factor.

Dogs at different stages of development have vastly different needs:

  • Puppies use A LOT of energy, so they need a lot of calories, and they have special nutrient requirements to build healthy muscles, bones, eyesight, etc.
  • Adult dogs need protein, calories, and nutrients in certain amounts to maintain the proper weight and energy levels and preserve their health.
  • Senior dogs use less energy, so they need a very particular amount of protein and calories to maintain their weight, and special nutrient requirements can prevent the onset of diseases and health conditions that become risks as the dog ages.

More on the difference between puppy food and dog food

Special nutrient balance

What makes puppy food so important? Well, puppy food is designed specifically for the dietary needs of puppies, which is much more complicated than you probably expect.

Puppy food is packed with proteins, enzymes, and other nutrients that they need more than an adult dog does because these nutrients help their bodies grow. Adult dogs don’t grow anymore. Except sideways, and you want to prevent that. Giving a puppy an adult food, will, of course, deprive them of the amount of the nutrients they need and impair their health.

Calorie punch

Puppy food has a lot more calories than adult dog food because puppies burn a ridiculous number of calories, from exercise, play, and just existing. Yes, their bodies burn a massive number of calories in the one act of growing tissues. Puppies also need extra calories to help them maintain their body heat because they aren’t as well equipped to do this as adult dogs are. Puppies require these calories, but an adult or senior dog could easily become overweight or obese on this diet.

Proteins for growth

Puppies need a higher amount of proteins known as amino acids to build strong, healthy bones and muscles. An adult dog eating as many amino acids as is in puppy food can develop health conditions such as high cholesterol, joint issues, and heart problems. Since adult dogs don’t need these many amino acids, a puppy will be missing out if they eat food meant for adult dogs.


The essential fatty acid DHA helps build strong nervous systems and can make puppies smarter. This has the strongest impact on puppies, so adult dog food won’t contain as much of it.

Choosing a puppy food


Now that we’ve established the importance of choosing puppy food vs dog food, we need to discuss the fact that just grabbing a bag labeled puppy food isn’t enough either. Frustrating, I know. Your dog’s breed plays an important part in the puppy food they need because they may have special dietary requirements. Unusually small or large puppies may need fewer or more calories and there may be different nutrient requirements to meet different breeds’ individual health concerns. If you have a mixed breed or the average-sized puppy, the average puppy food is probably fine because there are no known concerns to address.

Otherwise, you’ll need to research the dietary needs of your puppy’s breed to learn which puppy food to buy for them, being mindful of calorie intake and nutrient requirements. Larger dogs don’t just need more calories, they also need more proteins to build their larger muscles and bones.

The actual size of the food

Some kibble pieces and wet food chunks are too large for small mouths to comfortably or safely eat. If possible, determine the size of the food pieces before purchasing. Some pet foods will show photos and others will be made specifically for small or large breeds, so you could assume ones labeled for certain puppies would be suitable for different sized puppies.



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