Puppy vs adult food: what our experts want you to know

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Dr Matthew Muir, Cindy Feng
Small brown puppy near metal food bowls

There’s a world of choice when it comes to finding the right food for your puppy. But what’s the difference between puppy and adult food and when should you make the transition, if at all? 

The truth is puppies don’t need different food if they’re given nutrient-rich meals made from real produce. Providing the right food for your pup is a lot simpler than you might think.

Do puppies need puppy food?

Before we answer this question, we need to understand the nutritional requirements of puppies

The first six months of a puppy’s life is the most significant stage for physical growth and cognitive development. Dogs can take up to 24 months to reach maturity, depending on the breed, so they need more nutrients than adults to support their steady and healthy growth.

Puppies don't need puppy food

What additional nutrients do puppies need?

  • Protein is an essential building block for the development of muscle, tissues, and organs, and supports overall growth. Puppies need more protein than adults to provide the material for their growth.  

  • Balanced calcium and phosphorus are key in the development of strong bones and teeth. The correct ratio of these minerals is crucial to ensure healthy growth and prevent skeletal abnormalities. 

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid vital for brain development and vision in puppies.  

  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, at an optimal ratio, play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and a shiny coat – the first barrier against germs and allergens – important for puppies with immature immune systems.

"Lyka gives puppies a healthy start by going above and beyond nutritional standards. Independent evidence shows real food rich in superfoods and omega 3 can help prevent diseases like IBD, ear infections and allergic skin disease — a game changer for dog nutrition."

— Dr Matthew Muir, Lyka Co-Founder and Integrative Veterinarian

Puppy nutritional needs

What’s the difference between puppy and adult food?

Dry adult food, like kibble, is unlikely to provide the right nutrients for puppies’ higher requirements. It’s too low in nutrients and often doesn’t contain DHA.  

This is why many dog food companies have developed specific puppy food.

What does ‘complete and balanced’ puppy food mean?

Australia’s pet food industry is largely unregulated, so many companies refer to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and/or the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). 

The AAFCO standards specify the minimum and, if applicable, maximum levels of key nutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Complete and balanced for puppies means the food meets the minimum standards for nutrients in the right proportions for growth.  

Complete and balanced for adults means the food meets the minimum standards for maintenance.

What’s the best food for puppies and adolescents? 

The best food for puppies is made with real, nutrient-dense ingredients that promote physical growth, brain development and strong immunity. 

At Lyka, we believe that AAFCO standards are the bare minimum. It’s enough to support life, but we want all dogs to thrive, not just survive! 

Lyka meals have been designed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists to go above and beyond AAFCO standards making them suitable for dogs of all ages and stages of development, including growing puppies.  

Giving extra nutrients, like quality protein, to adult and senior dogs is not dangerous, in fact it appears to reduce obesity and maintain muscle mass in later years.  

Usually, puppies will transition to adult dog food when they’ve reached maturity. However, if they’re on a real food diet, like Lyka, puppies and adolescents can get more protein and nutrients by eating a bigger portion relative to their size. When they become adults, they receive the same meals but a different serving size.

Feeding Lyka definitely helps to promote healthy skin and coat for our dogs. With the meals being completely balanced, it saves us time and we know they’re getting all the correct nutrients they require. Our puppies that are raised on Lyka are robust, playful and have very soft and shiny coats."

— Lauren Mazzuoli, Lyka Breeder Partner, Onatah Dachshunds

Lyka helps dogs of all ages thrive

Why are real food meals best for puppies? 

The right balance of real food nutrients establishes a strong foundation of health for the rest of your puppy’s life.

Bioavailable nutrients

Meals made from high-quality protein, healthy fats, fresh fruit and vegetables instead of ultra-processed ingredients, provide your puppy with highly digestible nutrients that are easily absorbed. 

Weight management

Foods that are high in carbohydrates, like many dry food options, can lead to weight gain. While chunky puppies may look cute and cuddly, being overweight can lead to serious health problems. 

Look for real food diets that use low glycaemic index ingredients (like purple sweet potatoes and butternut squash) to provide steady energy release without risking weight gain.

Supports adult health 

Although certain breeds can be genetically predisposed to certain health issues, many of these genes are triggered by environmental factors, like diet. Studies have shown that diet can change a dog’s genes, making them less likely to develop issues like itchy skin or canine eczema in later life.

Develops immune resilience

Puppies have immature immune systems that can make them vulnerable to illness and infections. Their gut microbiome is responsible for regulating their immune system. A real food diet supports microbiome diversity and can balance their immune response, making them more resilient to pathogens without causing allergy issues.

"Prioritising high-quality nutrition in puppies ensures they’re getting the required nutrients in the correct amounts, along with enough calories to support their growing energy requirements. It also helps reduce the risk of developing some chronic diseases later in life."

— Dr Darcy Marshall, Lyka Veterinarian

Microbiome immunity benefits of real food

What should I feed my large breed puppy? 

Large breeds, like Great Danes and Newfoundlands can take up to 2 years to become fully grown. If these breeds experience accelerated growth, they can develop skeletal health problems. 

Large or giant breed puppies should be on a slow-growth feeding plan with controlled amounts of calcium and calories, so they don’t grow too quickly. There used to be a theory that higher protein diets caused hip dysplasia, but this has since been debunked. 

Giant breeds need slow growth feeding plan

Lyka: real food for dogs at all life stages 

Lyka meals are rich in nutrients with sustainably sourced proteins, omega fatty acids in optimal ratios, and a calculated balance of calcium and phosphorus to support your puppy’s growth into adulthood.

Each meal is custom portioned, so your pup gets the right nutrient profile for their growth rate. Simply record your puppy’s milestones on their profile and Lyka’s unique veterinary-approved algorithm designs their optimal serving size that adjusts as they mature. 

We believe all dogs should get nutrient dense food like puppies, which is why adults and seniors are given the same meals but in custom portions to support and maintain health.  

All meal plans include delivery direct to your door, so you can spend more time bonding and training with your puppy to give them the best start in life. It’s a win-win situation!

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

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