The Importance of Puppy Nutrition

March 14, 2023

The Importance of Puppy Nutrition

The Importance of Puppy Nutrition

By: Jessika, Pet Nutrition & Education Specialist, Biotech Adv. Dip, B.Sc Candidate 2024 

Article Featured in Pet Connection Magazine – December 2022 / January 2023 Issue. 

Good nutrition is the foundation of a long healthy life for both humans and animals. It is important to understand that the foods we choose to feed our dog can make a significant impact on their wellbeing and livelihood. Whether an energetic puppy or a mellow middle-aged adult dog, the food they are offered matters – dogs require nutrition that is tailored to specific life stages just like other mammals. 

One of the biggest questions is “Why”? Why do puppies thrive when eating a diet appropriate for their specific life stage. The reality is, the amount of specific nutrients required by puppies is different than adult dogs. 

Puppy food should be tailored to support the rapid growth experienced in the first year of life –biological needs during this time translate into a higher requirement for calories, protein, fat, and minerals. During the growth phase, small breeds rapidly grow to 20 times their birth weight while large breeds grow to 100 times their birth rate! It is essential that their body is supported optimally during this time. Adult dogs on the other hand have diets tailored to adult maintenance and often take into consideration dental and weight management goals.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership organization that utilizes nutritional standards and guidelines from organizations such as the National Research Council (NRC), FEDIAF and hundreds of published studies. They recognize two different life stages for dogs – Adult Maintenance (for adult dogs), and Growth & Reproduction (for puppies). When dog food is labelled for more than one life stage, the nutritional adequacy statement will state “All Life Stages”. All Life Stages is formulated to meet the needs of the most demanding life stage – Growth & Reproduction.

Let’s investigate some of the major difference between food formulated for Growth & Development vs Adult Maintenance starting with calories aka energy.


Puppies' bodies must work harder to regulate their body temperature than adult dogs do, they also require more calories per pound of body weight than adults. They are burning more calories just trying to keep warm, in addition to the increased amount of activity puppies typically do when compared to the average middle-aged dog. When formulating a diet for puppies, there is a delicate balance between creating a food that provides enough calories and enough nutrients.


Next, we have protein, a source of amino acids. The protein requirement of growing puppies is higher than for adult dogs. In addition to normal maintenance requirements, growing puppies need more protein to build the new tissues associated with the growing process. With sufficient precursors, many amino acids needed for healthy development can be manufactured within the body - there are 10 essential amino acids that are not and must be provided through a complete and balanced diet.

The 10 essential amino acids for puppies and dogs are:

The minimum protein requirement set by AAFCO on a dry matter basis for adult maintenance is 18% whereas the minimum protein amount for puppies is 22%. Most raw food will exceed these values easily. 


Dietary fat is extremely calorie-dense at approximately 9 kcal per gram. Fat is the primary source of energy (calories) in dog food and plays a critical role in growth and reproduction. It plays a key role in the absorption and digestion of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K – in order to be fully utilized within the body, enough dietary fat must be consumed.

Long chain poly unsaturated fatty acids are of particular importance, most specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as it plays a vital role in brain and retinal development in young animals and the brain itself is composed of 50% fat with DHA making up 10 - 20% of this. Studies have shown that supplemental DHA after weaning improves the cognitive development and trainability of puppies when compared to puppies not supplemented with DHA. 


Minerals are divided into two groups – macro and micro minerals. Macro minerals are required in larger quantities and micro minerals are required in trace amounts. The two macro minerals of greatest concern with growing puppies are calcium and phosphorus as they are necessary for the formation and maintenance of the skeleton. Excess calcium intake can be extremely problematic for growing puppies, especially for large and giant breeds. Unlike adult dogs, puppies cannot regulate how much dietary calcium they absorb from the intestinal tract, and this can cause skeletal malformations if they absorb too much. Phosphorus is also used by the body as a structural component in the skeleton, DNA, RNA and various other phospholipids. When improper amounts of both minerals are consumed, the overall growth of the puppy is compromised. 

In addition to choosing a properly formulated diet that takes these differences into consideration, the duration of feeding is also very important. While there are no hard and fast rules, the general recommendations are to keep small breed puppies on puppy food for 10 - 12 months, medium breed puppies on puppy food for 12 - 14 months and large/giant breeds on puppy food for 16 - 24 months.

Feeding a diet that is appropriate for the puppy’s life stage – that is made from superior ingredients and provides balanced nutrition can build a strong and healthy foundation for the adult dog they will become.

The Iron Will Raw Puppylicious Dinners were formulated with all these considerations in mind. Each ingredient plays a key role in the overall nutritional composition of the final product, the base is composed of high quality, human grade ingredients and is complimented with a unique supplement blend to support optimal growth in puppies.

Do you have questions about Iron Will Raw Puppylicious Dinners? Reach out to our knowledgeable team at Iron Will Raw.

Shop here for Iron Will Raw Puppylicious Dinners >>

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