Puppy nutrition 101: what puppies eat for optimal health

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Cindy Feng
woman sitting on lounge room floor with two puppies unpacking Lyka box

With their adorable wagging tails and heart-melting antics, there’s nothing more exciting than bringing home a new puppy. There’s also lots to do to prepare for their arrival, with quality food being a big one!

Choosing the right diet for your puppy can be overwhelming (not to mention a lot of pressure). Our experts are here to make your choice simple: giving you all the information you need to consider.

Why does good nutrition matter for my puppy?

Puppyhood is a critical stage in your dog’s physical and cognitive development. Choosing the right food supports steady growth and strong immunity, increasing long-term quality of life.

Puppies have small tummies — the ingredients you feed take up invaluable space. Although they’re tiny, they need more daily nutrients than adults to fuel growth at a healthy rate, so balanced, nutrient-dense diets provide the highest possible benefit from the small amounts of food they can fit.

Compared to adults, puppies have slightly higher requirements of certain minerals to support their growing bones and joints.

Getting this nutrient balance right is crucial, as puppies can’t limit their absorption of these: if the ratios or amounts are out of balance, this can lead to musculoskeletal issues, especially in large and giant breed puppies. We cover this in more depth in our guide to safe puppy growth guide.

Deciding what to feed a puppy: what to weigh up

In Australia, the dog food industry is full of smoke and mirrors. Even for experienced pet parents it’s complex to navigate — with breeders, veterinarians, and friends at the dog park all having their own take on what to feed, but also how much, and how often.

Fortunately, there are some key requirements puppy parents can look out for: helping to guide your choice of what to feed your puppy.

Some aspects of a dog’s diet (like phytonutrients and antioxidants) aren’t considered essential by pet nutrition regulators. This doesn’t mean these compounds can’t help your puppy thrive: some dog food brands (like Lyka) go above and beyond minimum recommendations, maximising your dog’s health with real food ingredients.

Complete and balanced

Australia’s pet food industry is unregulated, so many companies refer to guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and/or the European Pet Food Industry Federation. These organisations specify the minimum (and if applicable, maximum) levels of key nutrients: including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

For puppies, complete and balanced means it meets minimum standards for nutrients, in the right proportions, for growth. For adults, complete and balanced means the food meets minimum standards for maintenance — in other words, to survive.

Puppies don't need puppy food

Puppies don’t need “puppy food”: they need the right portion of nutrient-dense real food.

Quality nutrition is key to raising a healthy and well-adjusted puppy. Our meals are complete and balanced, for all life stages including puppies: formulated by a team of board-certified veterinary nutritionists, to go above and beyond AAFCO and FEDIAF standards — helping puppies thrive.

Level of processing

When fed in puppyhood, highly processed diets (like kibble) have also been linked to chronic health issues like ear infections, obesity, and gut issues later in life. Because they are high in carbohydrates, this can increase inflammation in the body: limiting them overall has an anti-inflammatory effect for dogs.

Puppies can be more vulnerable to infections and diseases as their immune system is still developing: gently cooked options have been linked to decreased likelihood of autoimmune diseases (like canine atopic dermatitis). Our formulations bolster your puppy’s immune system with the inclusion of powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants, reducing the risk of disease and returning infections.

Gently cooked food helps maximise the nutrients for your pup’s gut to absorb. This means meals made from quality proteins, fats, fruits, and vegetables, instead of ultra-processed ingredients.

Deciphering protein quality

Protein is an essential building block in the development of muscles, tissues, and organs. Puppies need food to support them as they grow, with play and activity increasing their protein requirements.

A quality, high protein diet helps puppies develop muscle mass: reducing injuries and supporting their immune system. This is because the nutrients found in quality protein are easier for your pup to absorb and benefit from: it has high bioavailability.

On the flip side, highly processed commercial options often don't prioritise quality. A few signs of low-quality protein include terms like:

  • “with chicken”: to include this phrase on packaging, there only needs to be a 3% minimum chicken content. Similar applies to any other kind of protein.

  • “meat by-product" or meal: these are the animal remains, after the parts for human consumption have been removed. Can include 4D (Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Down) meats like organs, bones, and fatty tissue — or blood, hair, hoof, manure, and stomach contents. Some by-products (like liver and kidneys) can be nutritious for dogs, but they run the risk of containing too much fat.

  • “animal fat”: there are good fats and bad fats. This falls into the second category, as it’s produced in the rendering process that creates meat meal (where meat is cooked at a high temperature, and then dried out to form a meal). Quality is poor, with “animal fat” added to improve the taste of cheap, processed ingredients.

For more information on this, read our dog nutrition glossary, where we define every nutrition definition you might come across in your travels.


When it comes to your puppy’s food, the type of (and amount of) carbohydrates matters. High glycaemic index carbohydrates can cause rapid blood sugar spikes and crashes, resulting in mood swings, aggression and hyperactivity — not ideal for a puppy!

Give your puppy the best chance at a sustained and balanced energy levels throughout the day by opting for diets with low total carbohydrates: and ingredients like sweet potato, which contain less sugar than ingredients like cereal or legumes. This means a happier, sociable, more trainable puppy.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

You can improve your puppy’s learning and memory with a diet high in DHA — this is an omega-3 fatty acid. Studies have found that diets high in bioavailable omega-3s (like DHA and EPA) hold significant benefits for eye and brain health, as well as immunity: which has a direct link with skin and coat health.

Highly processed diets (like kibble) meet regulators’ minimum requirements for DHA, but at Lyka, we believe puppies benefit from even higher omega-3 amounts, compared to omega-6. Omega-3s (like DHA) balance out the effects of too much omega-6, which can have a pro-inflammatory effect if in excess, increasing risk of chronic health issues.

In Australia, pet food labels don't have to show omega 6:3 ratios but at Lyka, we believe in transparency and are proud of our ratios. Instead of looking for this information on packaging, you can choose foods that contain ingredients rich in DHA, like:

  • Sardines

  • Blue grenadier

  • Fish oil

  • Flaxseed oil

Ideally, these ingredients should be free of toxins (like mercury): look for brands where they demonstrate the ingredients’ origin, indicating their quality as a purposeful addition to the formulation. We also adhere to FEDIAF’s stricter guidelines, providing extra vitamin E in high omega-3 content diets.

Diversity of ingredients

Variety can help you avoid issues with fussy eating — especially if you introduce different foods, tastes, and textures early in life. Diversity in ingredients is also important for microbiome health: the gut-brain axis plays a core role in overall health for dogs.

Real food ingredients contain prebiotic blends and key phytonutrients to support a diverse and balanced microbiome that keeps your puppy healthy.

Puppy real food snacks

FAQs on feeding a puppy

How much should I feed my growing puppy?

Studies show that portion control has lifelong benefits: making serving size crucial to get right in puppyhood. Required serving sizes will change as your puppy hits certain weight milestones — Lyka makes this easy, with custom portions: all you need to do is update this in your customer dashboard, and we’ll take care of the rest!

How often should I feed my puppy?

This depends on a variety of factors — like your puppy’s age, weight, activity level, breed, and health status. For more detailed information on how often to feed your puppy, read our puppy feeding guide (which includes a handy downloadable puppy feeding worksheet!).

What treats should I give my puppy?

For all the puppy food options on the market, there are just as many treats! Generally, it’s best to look for single protein treats, with minimal ingredients and no additives. We answer every question under the sun, in our go-to guide to treats. Treats should form no more than 10% of your puppy’s daily intake.

Why is my puppy refusing to eat?

Puppies can be picky, and may take a little time to warm up to their environment: and tucking in to a good meal means letting their guard down. Fussiness can happen because of:

  • New sounds and smells in the house

  • New toys

  • New friends (other dogs, cats, or household members)

  • Missing their littermates

Make sure you transition slowly to minimise risk of tummy upset, especially if they’re moving away from highly processed foods like kibble.

Here’s what life on Lyka looks like for puppies:

There are plenty of benefits of real food for dogs, like:

  • Promotes sustained energy levels

  • Supports a strong immune system

  • Maintains healthy muscle mass with quality protein

  • Improves microbiome health, which has benefits for overall wellbeing

  • Helps with optimal body condition, preventing excess weight gain

Lyka breeder partner testimonial

Lyka partner breeder testimonial

Lyka's range has high, yet safe amounts of protein (46% - 67%), moderate fat, and low glycaemic index carbohydrates. The perfect balance of macronutrients supports your puppy’s early development through to adulthood and their golden years.

Our food is formulated by in-house Integrative Veterinarian, Dr Matthew Muir, alongside a team of board-certified veterinary nutritionists, with highly digestible and targeted nutrients — backed by scientific research and long-standing evidence.

Start fuelling your playful puppy’s best life

Give your puppy the strongest chance at a happy, healthy life with real food. From better skin to balanced digestion, Lyka puts your puppy’s health first: backed by up-to-date scientific evidence.

"Lyka provides each pup with the required nutrients, along with the perfect amount of calories to support their growing energy requirements."

— Dr Darcy Marshall, Lyka Veterinarian

Bring more joy to mealtimes and get started today — your puppy’s best life is just around the corner. Our flexible meal plans are delivered in custom serving sizes, making nutrition easier for puppy parents everywhere.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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