A Complete Guide on Puppy Food vs. Adult Dog Food | Scratch

Deep dive: Puppy food vs. adult dog food

Picking food for your dog can feel like throwing a dart in the dark and hoping it lands.

Maybe you’ve just brought home a brand new pup, and now you’re facing the scary decision of what puppy food will sustain & support their growth. Maybe you’ve got a senior dog who needs food that will nourish them as they get older and creakier.

Or maybe you just want to feed your dog grub that actually does them some good – something that shouldn’t be quite as challenging as it is.

We’ve got you covered on the top questions you have about feeding dogs of all life stages, from pup to grand-dog.

Puppy with Adult Dog

What is adult dog food?

Food that feeds an adult dog, obviously. Less obvious is the millions of dog food brands out there, with the billions of dog food varieties they have. If you’ve ever wandered throughout the dog food aisle of a pet store you’ve probably seen just how much variety is out there.

Adult dog food can come in so many forms, from your bog-standard all-life-stages grub to kibble catered to different breeds, health conditions, dietary needs and more.

Adult dog eating

All dog food needs to fulfil the nutrient requirements set out by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) to call their food a ‘complete and balanced’ diet.

While it may sound weird to bring up an American org when talking about Aussie dog food, it’s because by-and-large AAFCO has the most thorough and well-researched guidelines on what a dog needs to eat to survive. They’ve determined how much of each nutrient a dog can safely have, what the bare minimum is, and what happens if these nutrient guidelines aren’t followed.

All Scratch recipes exceed the minimum standards for puppy and adult dog food.

Is there a difference between puppy food and dog food?

Traditionally there’s been a decent split between what goes into puppy food vs. adult food for your dog.

Growing up is tough. If you’ve ever raised a puppy, you probably get why they require a decent kick of calories, protein and essential nutrients to support them through the ageing process.

Most adult dogs would thrive on a similarly boosted protein, calorie & nutrient rich diet. In fact, adult and senior dogs could do equally well on a puppy formula (provided their calorie intake was monitored). Unfortunately, hiking up the good stuff generally hikes up the price of manufacturing a food – so brands have been guilty of releasing cheaper adult ‘formulas’ instead. Sure, they hit the minimum requirements your adult mate needs, but could be doing much better.

So the answer to “is there a difference between puppy food vs. adult food” is: it’s complicated. For a ton of traditional dog food brands, the answer is a definite yes.

For a brand like Scratch that invests in each dry dog food recipe for the betterment of both puppies and adults, the answer is generally no. The only exception is with large breed puppies, which we’ll get into now.

Are there different types of puppy food?

While some brands have come up with different variants of puppy food for specific breeds, in general there are two main differences. Puppy food safe for small to medium breed puppies, and food safe for large breed puppies.

For puppies expected to reach 30kg+ as an adult, their dietary needs get a little more complicated.

Large breed puppies have a ton of growing to do, and research has found that growing too quickly can increase their risk of hip & elbow dysplasia. Large breed puppy foods are carefully balanced with slightly different levels of calcium and phosphorus, keeping growth at slow and safe levels.

Do puppies eat more than adults?

As mentioned, puppies need pretty high-calorie diets to sustain them as they grow up. Particularly for the first 4 months of life, when puppies are growing exceptionally fast and need a lot more food per kg of body weight.

Puppy eating food

Between 4 & 12 months puppies have still got a ton of growing to do, but nowhere near as fast as in those first 16 weeks. You’ll notice you have to feed noticeably less once they reach this milestone.

Once a puppy reaches adulthood (anywhere between 12-18 months depending on the breed) and is finally done with growing, their calorie needs will reduce again. It’s really important to stay on top of this final milestone, because feeding an adult dog the calorie needs of a puppy can result in rapid weight gain. Whoops.

Is puppy food really necessary?

Having your small or medium breed puppy on a ‘puppy food’ isn’t actually necessary – it’s only necessary that they’re getting the nutrients they need. As long as the food you’re feeding is reaching all the nutrient targets set out by AAFCO, and therefore complete & balanced, there’s no need to reach for a bag labelled ‘puppy’.

The only exception is, of course, large breed puppies. It’s crucial to make sure your large breed pup is on a large breed puppy food made specifically with their unique nutritional needs in mind.

How do I know if I’m overfeeding my puppy?

If you’re feeding Scratch, we’ve taken all the guesswork out of the equation. We’ve designed a calculator that takes in all the crucial information about your pup – their breed, weight, activity level and more – and delivers a perfectly tailored plan for you.

If you’re feeding a traditional brand of dog food, you can generally find a feeding guide on the back of the bag.

No matter what guide you’re following, it’s important to remember that they’re all estimates based on a “normal” puppy. But just like us, every puppy is unique – so keep an eye on your pup’s weight as they grow, and make tiny adjustments if necessary.

What if I accidentally overfed my puppy?

It’s best to avoid overfeeding your pup by keeping to a specially tailored feeding plan. Too much grub – even the good quality stuff – can be a bad thing, and lead to obesity, nutrient excess or even bloat.

If you’ve got overboard with your puppy’s daily meal, cut back on their calories for the next day or so to let their gut settle. Avoid free feeding them, as dogs (puppies or adults) generally aren’t the best judge of how much food is too much, and can easily eat themselves sick again.

When should I switch from puppy food to adult food?

There’s no set age that every puppy can move onto adult food. As a general guide, Adelaide Vet recommends switching to an adult diet at 12 months for small/medium dogs, and 15 months for large-breed dogs.

How much should you feed your dog?

Here’s where getting a tailored meal plan for your dog is really worthwhile. While traditional bags of food will have one very simplistic feeding guide, based on your dog’s weight and age, there’s a whole bunch of factors to consider when feeding your dog.

Activity is one of them, and a big one. A Kelpie driving sheep on a farm and a Shihtzu whose main job is lap warming will both have drastically different calorie needs.

The same goes for your dog’s body condition. A dog that needs to lose weight shouldn’t be following the same feeding plan of a dog that needs to gain weight.

How much to feed a senior dog

Golden oldies need to eat even less than their middle-aged counterparts. Like people, a dog’s metabolism gets slower as they age. They’ll need less food to function, burn less calories as they once did, and gain weight more easily.

When your dog reaches senior status (10 to 12 years for small dogs and 7 to 8 years for large dogs) it’s essential to cut back their calories again. Being overweight isn’t ideal for any dog, but for seniors – prone to joint and ligament issues – it’s even more harmful.

What’s the best dog food for puppies and adult dogs?

Choosing the best grub for your dog – from young thing to golden oldie – is all about what goes in.

So much of traditional food is packed with cheap fillers, inflammatory ingredients and dodgy meat. Pet food ingredient labels have loose, easily manipulated regulations that make lying to the consumer a breeze.

Bulldogs with food

Kibble is only as good as what goes into it. Picking a dog food brand that actually benefits your dog comes down to a few key things:

  • Using whole, Australian product (not the powdered stuff)
  • Transparent, honest labelling
  • Premium, human grade meat (rather than the crappy offcuts)
  • Nutritionally balanced recipes that comply, or better yet, exceed AAFCO standards

Adult dog with food

Picking good quality food for your dog is tougher than it ought to be.

Dogs have unique nutrient needs throughout their lifespan, from puppy to silver fox. It’s our job to make sure we’re feeding them something that will sustain, support and benefit their health all the way through.

By knowing more about what your dog needs to thrive, you can make better informed decisions the next time you grab a bag of dog food. And that’s good pet parenting. 👏

Three unique recipes, all complete for all life stages

Dog food bag: Turkey, Beef & Lamb

Turkey, Beef & Lamb

Our most popular option for dogs of all ages - even large breed pups.

From $83
Dog food bag: Kangaroo

Sensitive Kangaroo

For any woofer that can't seem to shake tummy, skin or joint issues.

From $110
With Grains
Dog food bag: Lamb

Pasture-raised Lamb

Clean, mean recipe full of hypoallergenic lamb and some nutritious ancient whole-grains. Great for very active dogs.

From $92
Chihuahua sitting on top of a Scratch dog food box