Best Food For Golden Retriever Puppies (And What Not To Feed Them)

In this post, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about golden retriever puppy food.

There are so many options and very intense opinions about what to feed your puppy, that it can be a confusing decision.

But since a healthy diet is so important to growing puppies, it’s worth doing your research to find the right food for your pup.

Here’s the low down on puppy food:

The best golden retriever puppy food has at least 22.5% protein (which comes from a high-quality source such as chicken or beef), at least 8.5% fat, and is made of quality ingredients by a reputable brand.

Golden retrievers are susceptible to heart problems and cancer, so boutique, exotic ingredients, and grain-free foods should be avoided.

In this post, you’re going to learn:

  • Why you should feed your puppy high-quality food
  • What makes a food “high-quality”
  • Common golden retriever health issues that can be affected by diet
  • How much (and how often) to feed your puppy
  • Which foods to avoid
  • Whether or not you should supplement your puppy’s diet with vitamins
  • What we feed our puppy
  • And much more

Now before we dive in, here’s a quick disclaimer: the best resource for deciding what to feed your golden retriever puppy is your veterinarian.

They know your puppy best and are most knowledgeable about their health needs.

I am not a veterinarian and I won’t prescribe any brand or diet— I’ll only share what we fed our puppy and not the “top 10 golden retriever puppy foods.”

I’ll also share with you recent studies about food that every golden retriever parent should know, as well as answer some common questions you probably have.

Alrighty, now let’s dive in!

Why You Should Feed Your Golden Retriever Puppy High-Quality Food

what to feed your golden retriever puppy

Controlling what (and how much) your golden eats is one of the most important things you can do when it comes to their health.

And although many goldens have lived healthy lives on Walmart brand pet foods, feeding them high-quality food will stack the odds of them being healthy in their favor.

Here are some benefits of feeding them a high-quality food:

  • Healthy and beautiful coat (that you won’t want to stop petting)
  • Healthy bones and joints
  • Healthy heart
  • Healthy digestive system
  • Healthy skin
  • Fewer allergies

That’s a lot of health benefits, right?

Now high-quality food can be a little on the expensive side, but chances are likely that you’ll save more money in the long run on vet bills.

What Makes Food “High-Quality”

Dogs are omnivores, so a good dog food will have a mix of meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

They’ll have few preservatives, added sugar, salt, or artificial colors.

The protein will come from readily available sources such as chicken or beef, and not exotic or boutique sources like kangaroo or venison (more on this later).

Make sure to choose a puppy food that is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

On the label, it will say “(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.”

AAFCO has strict standards for dog food and decides whether or not it is suitable to be sold as advertised.

Now here’s a common misconception about dog food: animal byproducts are bad.

According to the AKC, quality, regulated animal byproducts can be good for your dog.

These byproducts can include organ meats or entrails, which often contain more nutrients than, say, plain chicken breast.

Of course, some foods may contain non-regulated byproducts, like hooves, intestinal contents, or even manure, so it’s important that you choose a reputable dog food.

Another misconception is that dogs should eat grain-free diets, which we’ll cover later.

How To Read A Dog Food Label

To help make an informed decision about what you’re feeding your golden, you’ll need to read the food label.

But food labels can be a little vague and confusing, so below is an explanation of what some of these terms mean, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual and the AKC.

Ingredients are listed in order of weight

The first ingredient listed is the ingredient that there’s the most of in the food, while the last ingredient is the ingredient that there’s the least of.

There is one caveat though.

Ingredients are listed in the exact type that they’re added in.

For instance, flaked corn, ground corn, and kibbled corn could be sprinkled in an ingredient list and not be listed as the first few ingredients, but in reality, if you were to add them all up (they are all corn, after all), you might find that this food is made mostly of corn.

The same goes for chicken, chicken meal, and chicken byproduct.

Meat vs. Meat Meal vs. Meat Byproduct

Let’s say you’re looking at a food label and you see “chicken”, “chicken meal”, and “chicken byproduct”.

“Chicken” means that it’s chicken muscle, skin and/or bones.

“Chicken meal” means that it’s essentially ground and dried chicken muscle, skin and/or bones.

“Chicken byproducts” means that it’s byproducts (organs, bones, etc).

“Chicken byproducts meal” means that it’s essentially ground and dried byproducts.

The quality of these ingredients can vary widely, so be sure to talk to your vet about this and choose a reputable brand of food.

Golden Retriever Food-Related Health Issues

golden retriever food related health issues

There are several health issues that are relatively common among golden retrievers and many of those are linked to your dog’s diet.

Below are a few examples:

Obesity. Golden retrievers love food and they do have a tendency to become overweight if you let them. This problem can often affect these next two problems…

Joint issues. Golden retrievers are prone to joint issues and growing too fast because they eat too much can often make this problem worse (more on this in the next section).

Heart issues. There’s been a spike in DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) in golden retrievers recently and many people think it may be linked to them eating BEG (Boutique, exotic-ingredient, and grain-free) diets.

Skin issues. Golden retrievers are prone to hot spots and excess protein in their diets can be a factor that causes them.

Cancer. Cancer rates in golden retrievers are more than any other breed and the Morris Animal Foundation is conducting the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study where they’re studying 3,000 goldens to see if there are certain patterns (such as diet) that cause cancer.

Allergies. Many goldens suffer from food allergies.

How Much (And When) Should You Feed Your Golden Retriever Puppy

How much you feed your puppy depends on what your veterinarian says and what the label on the dog food says.

It’s tough to make general statements like, “feed your puppy one cup per day,” because 1) all puppies are different, and 2) different foods have different caloric densities.

One cup of Brand X food may have 300 calories per cup, while Brand Y has 400 calories per cup.

And here’s an example of why it depends on the individual puppy…

When we first got our puppy, Oliver, we were feeding him what the package told us to feed him.

During a vet visit our veterinarian said he looked too lethargic for a puppy his age (8 or 9 weeks at the time), and he recommended we feed him a little more.

So when deciding how much to feed your puppy, read the label on your food and talk to your veterinarian to see what’s best for them.

As far as how often to feed your puppy, this same rule applies.

Most people feed their puppies three times per day, and then eventually transition to two times per day when they’re a little older.

At this point, they’re not growing as much, so they don’t need to eat as frequently, plus it will usually help them poop less!

For us, we fed Oliver three times per day until he was a little over a year old.

That’s when we switched to adult dog food and changed to feeding him two times per day.

Why You Don’t Want To Overfeed Your Golden Retriever Puppy

Golden retrievers are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia and they love eating.

Those two statements may sound random, but they are related.

According to the Banfield Pet Hospital, overfeeding your golden retriever can cause them to grow too fast and increase their risk of hip dysplasia.

To make sure you don’t overfeed them, use a measuring cup when dishing out their food and never free-feed them.

The Dangers Of BEG And Grain-Free Diets

We touched on this earlier, but in recent years, DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) has increased in golden retrievers, according to this study.

There seem to be two potential causes of this.

  1. Taurine deficiency
  2. Eating BEG (Boutique, exotic-ingredient, and grain-free) diets

When they surveyed what these dogs were eating, “more than 90 percent of products were “grain-free”, and 93 percent of reported products had peas and/or lentils.”

So when choosing which food to feed your puppy, you may want to think twice before you decide to go grain free.

What About Feeding Your Golden Retriever A Raw Diet Or Homemade Food?

Other diets in the studies above included raw diets and homemade diets.

Here’s what Dr. Lisa Freeman had to say about it: “We also emphasize that changing to a raw or home-prepared diet may not be sufficient to improve cardiac abnormalities and may increase the risk for other nutritional deficiencies or infectious diseases.”

What Are The Differences Between Puppy Food & Adult Food?

differences between puppy and adult food

Since puppies are growing and adults are just maintaining their weight, they have different dietary needs.

According to AAFCO, puppy food should have at least 22.5% protein, compared to 18% protein for adult food.

And for fats, puppy food should have at least 8.5% fats, compared to 5.5% for adults.

As far as when to switch from puppy food to adult food, talk to your veterinarian.

They’ll likely recommend making the switch when they’re done growing at about one year old.

To see a list of other milestones your puppy will hit (like when they lose their first teeth, or when their coat is fully grown) check out this article here.

Do Golden Retriever Puppies Need Vitamins?

Like most of the other questions in this post, this is something to talk to your veterinarian about.

Many foods will have the same vitamins that pills have already in them, but on the other hand, some breeders require that you give your puppy vitamins for their health guarantee to be valid.

What We Feed Our Golden

Oliver had a few different brands of food that he ate as a puppy.

First, we (unknowingly) started him off on one of the brands listed in the graph above that is correlated with DCM.

Once we heard about the study we switched to another brand, although he didn’t like that at all.

Then we switched to another brand that he just sort of liked.

Finally, after talking to a few veterinarians and golden retriever breeders, we decided to test out Royal Canin’s Adult Golden Retriever food (this was at the time we were switching from puppy food to adult food), which has been his favorite food so far.

If we were to have another puppy, we would definitely start with the Royal Canin Golden Retriever Puppy food.

How To Switch Food Brands

The other day I was talking to someone who was complaining that her puppy was having lots of stomach issues.

She said she’d tried several different food brands and her puppy had problems with all of them!

Well, in this case, it’s probably not the food that’s the problem…

It’s the fact that she kept switching foods so quickly!

Dogs have sensitive stomachs so if you want to switch foods, you need to do it slowly.

You should take about a week to transition from the old food to the new brand.

For example, on day one, their meal might be 10% new food, 90% old food.

On day two, their meal might be 25% new food, 75% old food.

You’d slowly add in more new food, and give them less of the old food, until you’ve fully made the switch.

And this rule applies whether you’re switching to a different brand of puppy food, or switching them from puppy food to adult food.

If you don’t make this transition slowly, you’ll probably be dealing with a lot of diarrhea (we did this once with Oliver and we felt so bad — don’t do it to your pup!).


golden retriever puppy food

Although it can be overwhelming choosing which type of food to feed your golden retriever puppy, it’s a very important decision.

To help make that decision, talk to your veterinarian and (if they were reputable) your breeder, and consider the study mentioned about DCM.

Also consider how long the brand of food has been around, whether or not there have been any recalls of that brand, and if there is any research behind it.

What do you feed your golden retriever puppy?

Have any questions about what to feed them?

Let me know in the comments below!

If you know someone who’s getting a golden retriever puppy, please share this with them!

And if you liked this article, you’ll love our Complete Guide To Raising A Golden Retriever Puppy.

Related articles:

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6 thoughts on “Best Food For Golden Retriever Puppies (And What Not To Feed Them)”

  1. This article was beyond helpful. I have been looking for the past 2 years for this information with no luck. I am now confident in what to feed my two Golden’s

  2. My golden puppy. Now 18 weeks had digestive issues and I was feeding him high quality large breed puppy food. We finally…after 4 others switched to royal canin large breed puppy and he has been great for 3 weeks now. FINALLY.

  3. Funny how the portion about raw food was full of “may”s. Vets discourage feeding raw because they think we’re too dumb to do research first and make sure that we’re feeding a balanced diet. *If* you’re smart enough to do your research, smart enough to get books of recipes written by vets and nutritionists, smart enough to feed your dog raw food in the correct proportions and get yearly blood tests, you’ll be amazed at how healthy your dog will be. They smell great too. Is it expensive? YES! But eating healthy always is. If you’re curious about raw, check out Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker. But if you’re just going to throw hamburger meat and rice at your dog, you’re better off feeding kibble.

  4. Thanks for this informative article. We are getting a Goldendoodle next month although we have had dogs before we are always looking for the best ways to bring up a dog and we will pay way more attention to what we feed him. We want the best for our new Ollie!
    Dick & Susan


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