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Can Puppies Eat Adult Dog Food?

Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
By Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
Puppy Eating

“What can puppies eat?” “Can I feed my puppy adult dog food?” “What food is the best for puppies?” New puppy owners may find themselves asking these questions and more. Making sure your puppy has all the nutrition he needs is one of the most important things you can do to help him grow into a strong, healthy dog. Puppies and adult dogs have different nutritional needs, and as a result, it’s important to feed your puppy a complete and balanced food formulated for his life stage.

When can puppies start eating dog food? Generally, puppies begin to transition to adult food when they have reached maturity for their breed size. But this varies widely. It’s important to not rush to feed a puppy adult food since he is building the bones, teeth, organs, etc. This early growth is something he’ll need for a lifetime, so you want them to be the best they can be. As with anything else, it usually requires greater resources to build something than to maintain it. So if you’re feeding your puppy an adult maintenance dog food, he may not be getting all of the essential nutrients he needs in these crucial, early months.

What Can Puppies Eat?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes dog food guidelines, and in order for a dog food to be sold in stores as “complete and balanced,” it must meet AAFCO’s nutritional profile standards. There are two dog food nutrient profiles that you should be aware of when choosing food for your puppy. One is “growth and reproduction” (which is the designation for a food formulated for puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs). The other is “adult maintenance” (which means that it’s formulated for adult dogs). Look at the label to ensure that you are buying a food that is right for your dog’s life stage.

Can you feed a puppy adult food? If the label says that the dog food inside is formulated for “all life stages,” that means it meets the standards for both growth and reproduction and adult maintenance. In other words, it’s a food that has all the nutrients your growing puppy needs, and you won’t have to switch to a new food when your puppy becomes an adult dog.

Can adult dogs eat puppy food? Adult dogs can eat puppy food, but should they? As a general rule, adult dogs do not need the highly caloric food, but there are some exceptions. Some extremely active dogs can handle the high caloric values in puppy food. And some food labels indicate that the food inside is formulated for “all life stages,” but generally it is best to feed foods appropriately formulated for adult dogs. Dogs have different nutritional needs than puppies, and it is important that they get the nutrients they require. 

If you feed your puppy a traditional puppy food formulated for growth and reproduction (typically higher in calories), you’ll want to switch him to an adult maintenance dog food when he reaches maturity to avoid unintentional weight gain.

Here’s one last thing to consider. Just because your puppy looks all grown up on the outside doesn’t mean he has stopped growing on the inside. Most dogs aren’t mature until 12 months. Giant breeds may not fully mature until 24 months.

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